Why the Catholic Bishops Are Wrong on Immigration

My purpose here is neither bishop-bashing nor politician-baiting, and I have no reluctance in supporting an immigration measure that respects the rule of law and actually accomplishes the goals set down by the U.S. Senate’s most recent “Gang of Eight” in its Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013: progress towards citizenship and secure borders.

However, my guess is that this law – which can’t even be rendered as a proper acronym! – will be about as effective as that monument to futility, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Marco Rubio’s career – he’s one of the Eight – may get a boost from . . . BSEOIMA, but as long as the border’s a sieve and Latin American governments are either socialist or plutocratic, nothing will change the pace of illegal immigration except a depressed economy in el Norte.

Anyway, I suspect Sen. Rubio, who is Cuban-American and speaks Spanish, believes he is the answer to the Republican Party’s recent electoral woes, and the GOP is just desperate enough to believe him. We’ll see how that works out in 2016.

And I suspect Christian compassion plays a role in animating both the politicians’ and the Catholic bishops’ concerns about the plight of Central American immigrants.

That said, immigration reform as it now stands is a baldly political business, and that’s as true of the bishops as it is of the politicians: votes for the latter; devotees for the former.

I reviewed here a book (God in Action) by Francis Cardinal George in which he favors what amounts to unlimited immigration across our southern border. (Neither he nor any other member of the hierarchy seems overly concerned about our Canadian border or about European, African, or Asian immigrants entering the U.S. through Immigration and Customs Enforcement stations at our air and sea terminals.) I wrote that hardly anyone objects to legal immigration and posed an open question to Cardinal George, which one might also ask of Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Gomez (two whose archdioceses are favored by immigrants):

“Are visas un-Christian?”

If so, why? If a Lutheran Swede needs a visa and a green card on his way to citizenship, why isn’t he the subject of the sort of moral hyperventilating we hear about the Catholic Mexican?

I believe part of the bishops’ advocacy arises from a desire to have these mostly Catholic southern immigrants come bolster demographics in America’s flagging dioceses.

Thus the Catholic hierarchy also seems untroubled by the current Administration’s bald refusal to enforce immigration laws already on the books and are content with . . . BSEOIMA, which will almost surely not secure the border or establish a chronological red line after which restrictive laws such as govern our northern, eastern, and western borders will actually be enforced at the Rio Grande, at the Baja border, or along the Gulf coast.

The best we’ll be able to say, once whatever new open-borders regime is implemented, is that at least the bishops have ceased to be scofflaws, which is what they are now.

It used to be joked that the Episcopal Church was “the Republican Party at prayer.” That sure isn’t true anymore. And, because of antagonism in which the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration find themselves over religious liberty, there might be a temptation to say that the USCCB is now the genuflecting GOP, but that’s also untrue. (Although Republicans are certainly on their knees.) If anything, the bishops are to the left of some Democrats on immigration.

They’re apolitical when it suits them, of course.

That Mr. Obama wants unlimited immigration and essentially no confirmed voter registration (and no income verification for Obamacare) is quite obviously because “undocumented” workers and “undocumented” voters alike cast ballots for Democrats, and it’s why Bennet, Durbin, Melendez, and Schumer – the Democrats in the Gang of Eight – can’t believe their luck. Their Republican colleagues (along with Rubio: Flake, Graham, and McCain) actually believe . . . BSEOIMA will somehow level the playing field at the polls.

I’m not even sure the bishops ought to have a policy on immigration or any other political issue. As George Neumayr has written:

Imagine if the USCCB had a web page called taxjusticeforamericans.org and offered a “parish kit” that explains the “Catholic Church’s position on tax reform.” And what if it proposed an “intercessory prayer” (as it did for “immigration reform”) for the passage of a Flat Tax act? The cries of “clericalism” would be resounding.

Far be it from me to deny that God’s sovereignty is paramount in matters of justice. But is national sovereignty un-Christian? A first principle of civil governance is respect for the law, but is it Christian to support a law that only giggling cynics believe will do what it promises?

And the sourest point is this: for their “outreach” to immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally, the bishops will get the same sort of thanks the Church has been receiving from Catholics in those Central and South American nations that are the wellspring of immigration: Gracias y adiós.

The census of Catholics in America is already a charade. For a thousand-and-one reasons most have left the Church, spiritually if not physically, but in Latin America it has been a veritable exodus into Evangelical and Pentecostal versions of Protestantism.

In 1980, 90 percent of Hispanics in the United States were Catholic, but according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, today just over two-thirds are, and in less than two decades it could be closer to half.

What’s going to reverse that trend? Pope Francis? Marco Rubio? Charismatic Catholicism? Spanish-speaking bishops?

The irony of the bishops’ position is that the immigration they support may actually speed the Church’s demographic decline.

Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.