The Stranger who Sojourns with You: Toward a Moral Immigration Policy

The Stranger who Sojourns with You: Toward a Moral Immigration Policy
Andrew M. Yuengert

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he
said to his people, "Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too
mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply,
and, if war befall us, they join our enemies and fight against us and
escape from the land." Therefore they set taskmasters over them to
afflict them with heavy burdens.... And the Egyptians were in dread of
the people of Israel.

Exodus 1:8-12 (RSV)

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him
wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native
among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in
the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:33-34 (RSV)

The Scriptures teach us that people have always been fearful of
immigrants. Pharaoh, confronting a fast-growing population of
Israelites, enslaved them and instituted the first documented
population-control policies.1 Once settled in their own country, the
Israelites themselves forgot the honor due to foreigners, even though
each of the patriarchs had been a sojourner in a country not his own.
Consequently, the Torah reminds the Israelites that they should treat
sojourners as well as they treat their own people.

Immigration provokes the same fears and passions today that it provoked
two thousand years ago. In recognition of these fears, many have
advocated restrictions in varying degrees to the relatively generous
immigration policy of the United States. Harvard economist George
Borjas, for example, has consistently argued for a redirection of
immigration policy toward a Canadian model that favors skilled
immigrants who are less likely to burden social services.2 Peter
Brimelow and Pat Buchanan have taken a more extreme position, advocating
a temporary halt to immigration in order to allow the United States to
absorb both culturally and economically the immigrants who are already
in the United States.3

What are we to make of these arguments? One response is to recall the
previous large migration a century ago, -during which an equally fierce
opposition led to the restrictive policies that governed immigration
from 1924 to 1965. We know now that the fears about the effect of
impoverished Southern and Eastern European Catholics and Jews on the
fabric of American culture and economy were unfounded. Should we not
conclude also that current fears about poor Latin Americans and Asians
from Catholic and non-Christian cultures are similarly unfounded? Or are
the new immigrants fundamentally different from the old immigrants? Is
it the case that the old immigrants from Western, Judeo-Christian
cultures were assimilable, while the new immigrants from non-Western,
often non-Christian cultures, are not? Other important question are
raised by the much larger role that the United States government plays
in the provision of social services than it did a century ago: Do
generous, publicly provided social services attract a different kind of
immigrant? Do they help or impede assimilation?

Questions like these have shaped public deliberations about immigration
policy in the United States and Western Europe, and have also directed
the course of research agendas in economics, sociology, and political
science. The examination of immigration issues has been a subject of
particular interest in contemporary Catholic social thought, as well.
John Paul II's position on immigration emerges from his primary focus on
the dignity of the human person. Although John Paul II addresses
immigration policy only tangentially in his encyclicals, he has devoted
a series of annual World Migration Day messages to the subject of
immigration policy.4

Catholic social teaching brings a word to the policy conversation that
is seldom heard.5 This word, which the popes speak quietly but
insistently, is rights. The Catholic social tradition consistently
asserts a very broad right to migrate; this perspective immediately
transforms the debate. More precisely, rights-language reverses the
perspective from which the issues are currently addressed. Immigration
policy is evaluated from the point of view of the immigrant, not from
the point of view of the host country. Once the matter of a right to
migrate is introduced, policy arguments-which merely attempt to
calculate the recent costs and benefits of immigration to native workers
and to government budgets-are exposed as inadequate. Rights-language
challenges policy makers to factor the interests of immigrants into
their calculations.

The right to migrate is not inviolable in Catholic social teaching. It
is analogous to the right to property but not to the right to life.
Hence, research on the burdens of migration on host countries is
inherently relevant to deliberations about the extent of that right.
Recent research into the effects of immigration shows that it probably
brings a small net benefit to the United States, although the benefits
and costs are unevenly distributed across the native population.
Immigration may depress the wages of unskilled workers slightly. In
addition, the fiscal burdens of immigration, though small, are
concentrated in a few states and cities. The decline in the wages of
unskilled natives, though modest, is troubling, since their incomes are
already low. One may thus be tempted to suggest immigration restrictions
in order to mitigate this decline.

It is important to recognize, however, that this inclination puts a
significantly greater weight on the losses of native, unskilled
workers-however slight-than on the benefits for the poorer immigrants.
Moreover, to effectively shield unskilled workers from competition with
foreign workers, the United States would have to restrict not only the
immigration of unskilled labor but also imports of goods made with
foreign unskilled labor. A more practical and efficient protection of
American unskilled workers would be to find alternative means of
improving the economic prospects of low-wage natives, such as
eliminating the common practice of granting high school diplomas to
students who are functional illiterates. Clearly, securing a sound basic
education for United States natives is preferable to restrictions on
immigration and trade because it will bring about a net benefit to the
poorest of Americans.

The Right to Migrate According to Catholic Social Teaching

The Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any
unjust restriction on the natural right of individual persons to move
freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention
must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to
respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration.

John Paul II, Ecclesia in America6

Previous popes have emphasized the right to emigrate. This emphasis on
emigration as opposed to immigration reflects the context in which the
issue has arisen in the past, when the most visible barriers to
migration were those that prevented people from leaving their home
country. Of course, as John Paul II poignantly expressed in his address
for World Migration Day 1995, the right to emigrate is worth little if
no country will guarantee the right to immigrate.7 Emigration and
immigration are flip sides of the same coin; the right to migrate
entails both and is founded on three principles.

1) The Right of a Family to Sustenance

For the same reason that man has a right to private property-so that
families can provide for their needs and development-man has a right to
migrate in order to provide materially for the family that migrates.
John XXIII in Mater et Magistra clearly ties the right to migrate to the
right to private property:... Private ownership of material goods has a
great part to play in promoting the welfare of family life. It "secures
for the father of a family the healthy liberty he needs in order to
fulfill the duties assigned him by the Creator regarding the physical,
spiritual, and religious welfare of the family."8 It is in this that the
right of families to migrate is rooted.9

Both private property and migration are important means to the
development of the migrant's family. Paul VI in Populorum Progressio
notes that the welfare of families is at stake even when they do not
accompany the migrant; immigrants remit large sums of money to families
back home.10

2) The Priority of the Family Over the State

In the pursuit of its own development, the family has priority over the
state. The principle of the priority of the family over the state goes
back at least to Leo XIII, in his discussion of the right to property in
Rerum Novarum:

It is a most sacred law of nature that the father should provide food
and all necessaries for those whom he has begotten.... Provided,
therefore, the limits which are prescribed by the very purposes for
which it exists are not transgressed, the family has at least equal
rights with the state in the choice and pursuit of the things needful to
its preservation and its just liberty. We say, "at least equal rights";
for, inasmuch as the domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea
as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must
necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of the
community, and founded more immediately in nature.11

John Paul II in Laborem Exercens makes the prerogative of the family to
build a better life very clear: "Man has the right to leave his native
land for various motives-and also the right to return-in order to seek
better conditions of life in another country."12 Because the rights of
families are prior to those of states, migration is not a moral evil,
even if it is regrettable from the point of view of the home country.13

The concept of priority as it is used here is easily misunderstood. It
does not mean that persons and families have no responsibilities toward
the state, or toward the other communities in which they live. Neither
does it imply that the state should leave the family unconstrained.
Instead, families and persons cede to the state the authority over their
lives, so that the state may procure for them certain common goods. The
principle of priority asserts that while the state exists for the good
of persons and their families, families and persons do not exist for the
good of states. Indeed, there are no true goods of states that are not
goods of persons and families.

3) The Right of Economic Initiative

Closely tied to the right of the family to migrate is the right to
economic initiative. John Paul II in Solicitudo Rei Socialis observes
that many persons migrate because their right to economic initiative is
unduly restricted in their home country.

It should be noted that in today's world, among other rights, the right
of economic initiative is often suppressed. Yet, it is a right which is
important not only for the individual but also for the common good.
Experience shows us that the denial of this right, or its limitation in
the name of an alleged "equality" of everyone in society, diminishes, or
in practice absolutely destroys the spirit of initiative, that is to say
the creative subjectivity of the citizen.... This provokes a sense of
frustration or desperation and predisposes people to opt out of national
life, impelling many to emigrate....14

Faced with this direct threat to "the creative subjectivity of the
citizen" and the common good of the home country, persons may justly
seek out other places where they may exercise this right.

Implications of a Right to Migrate

A decision to migrate across international borders affects three groups
directly: the immigrant and his family, the migrant's home country, and
the host country that receives him. Policy discussions in the United
States focus primarily on the impact of immigration on the host country,
and the resulting evaluations of immigration policy rely almost entirely
on the assumed impact. Conversely, the impact of immigration on the
immigrant is considered only insofar as it has implications for the
immigrant's contribution to the welfare of the United States.

John Paul II describes the migrant as a subject, that is, one who
exercises a creative agency in society. This description implies that
the host country should welcome the immigrant, who can enrich the
culture and economy of the nation in which he settles. Immigrants are
not burdens; they are creative persons.

Notwithstanding its solicitude for the plight of the migrant, Catholic
social teaching does not go so far as to claim that the right to migrate
is absolute. John Paul II states clearly that "illegal immigration
should be prevented," thereby implying that states have a right to
enforce restrictions on migration.15 Just as clearly, John Paul II
states elsewhere that the right to migrate must be regulated in light of
the burdens it imposes on the host country.16

If the right to migrate is not absolute, by what principle is it to be
regulated? In his address for World Migration Day 2001, John Paul II
ties the mediation of rights closely to the universal common good:

... Rights are concretely employed in the concept of universal common
good, which includes the whole family of peoples, beyond every
nationalistic egoism. The right to emigrate must be considered in this

Note that John Paul II invokes the universal common good, not just the
common good of a particular country. Countries that rely on a narrow
concept of their own common good, one that ignores the rights of those
outside of their borders, are likely to ignore the right to migrate.

The proper balance between the rights of the migrant and the common good
of the various nations affected by migration can only be found in the
concept of the universal common good. This poses a challenge for policy,
since the concept of common good has been neglected until relatively
recently, and researchers are only beginning to attempt a theory of the
universal common good.18

Economic Analysis of Immigration

The significant benefit of employing economic analysis for our purposes
is that it will illuminate some fundamental issues not fully addressed
in Catholic social teaching. Economists have two sorts of expertise that
are relevant to this analysis. First, economics offers a useful
framework within which to discuss the causes and effects of immigration
in an interdependent world economy. Not only people move across borders.
Billions of dollars worth of goods and trillions of dollars worth of
investments move across national borders annually. Economists offer
insights about how all of these movements are related, as well as
insights into how influxes of labor into a local labor market affect
national markets for labor and capital.

Another contribution of economic analysis to the immigration debate is a
careful accounting of the costs and benefits of immigrants, native
workers, native business owners, and state and federal governments.
Estimates of the effect of immigration on labor income, capital income,
and government revenues and expenditures paint a clear picture of the
economic costs and benefits of immigration. If the economic benefits of
immigration to natives outweigh the costs, or if the costs to natives
are small compared to the benefits to immigrants themselves, then the
case for abridging the right to migrate in light of the common good of
the United States will be weak.

The current United States immigration policy is geared toward the needs
of refugees and those immigrants who are separated from their families.
The large numbers of immigrants who are admitted legally, and the
reasons for their admittance, accord with the right to migrate in
Catholic social teaching. Nonetheless, the large number of immigrants
who are currently denied permanent residence the United States, and the
large number who come here illegally, raises questions about whether
current immigration policy consistently recognizes the right to migrate.
The fundamental question is this: Even though the United States welcomes
millions of the world's poor, is it morally obligated to welcome even

The answer to this question depends in part on the costs and benefits of
immigration to United States citizens. Nevertheless, the entire issue
cannot be resolved by reference to the impact of immigration on natives.
It involves an additional comparison of the benefits to immigrants and
the net benefits to natives.

The Effect of Immigration on United States Natives

In the economic theory of trade, people who are similar in every
respect-in talents, preferences, and assets-have no reason to trade and
will not benefit from exchange. It is differences between people and
nations that open up the possibilities for mutually beneficial exchange
and specialization. Theoretical approaches to the effects of immigration
emphasize the gains to specialization that result when immigrants who
have a different set of skills from natives enter the workforce. If the
immigrant population had the same distribution of education and other
skills as the native population, there would be no gains to natives for
welcoming immigrants, since the immigrants as a group would have no
advantages over United States natives. The theoretical literature on
this subject reveals a tension that is not sufficiently emphasized, a
tension that seems counterintuitive to non-economists: The greater the
disruption in an economy induced by trade or immigration (measured by
changes in prices, wages, and profits), the greater the net gains to
natives.19 Thus, if no native workers are negatively affected by
immigration, then there are no net gains to the United States from

United States immigrants are different from United States natives-the
former are relatively less-skilled, for example. Their arrival allows
United States natives to focus more heavily on the production of more
skill-intensive goods without sacrificing their consumption of goods
made with unskilled labor. The net benefits for natives of the recent
immigration wave are, however, almost certainly small because the recent
immigrant wave is not particularly large relative to the United States
labor market. Economist George Borjas estimates the benefits at seven
billion dollars per year; James Smith and Barry Edmonston estimate the
gain somewhere between one and ten billion dollars per year.21 These
estimates may seem large, but they are very small relative to the size
of the United States economy: The estimates amount to, roughly,
one-tenth of one percent of the total GDP. As new immigrants, and
particularly their children, assimilate to the United States market,
they will become more like United States natives in their education and
preferences and thus over time the benefits will decrease.

The specialization brought about by immigration is a net economic
benefit to natives, but the benefits are not distributed evenly, and
some natives, instead of benefiting, will experience a decline in their
standards of living. The hardest hit will be those who compete most
directly with immigrants: the unskilled whose wages will fall. In
contrast, those who own businesses will benefit from lower wages, as
will skilled workers who manage the unskilled.

The most that can be said is that immigration can account for perhaps
one-quarter of the increase in wage inequality over fifteen years (a
three-percent fall in the wages of unskilled workers), although some
argue that it has had a greater effect.22 It is important to recognize
that even a small decrease in the wages of unskilled native workers
represents a hardship for those at the bottom of the wage distribution;
hence, even a small impact should not be taken lightly. Nonetheless,
restrictions on immigration alone would not prevent a loss to unskilled
natives. Restrictions on imports of goods made with low-wage labor would
be necessary in order to shield low-wage natives from indirect
competition with low-wage workers. There are more desirable alternatives
for improving the lot of unskilled native workers, such as providing
native children with a better education and reducing the high school
dropout rate.

It is important to recognize that immigration will not benefit United
States natives very much if it does not appreciably affect wages and
profits. On the one hand, if the rise in immigration cannot account for
much of the relative fall in unskilled wages, then there will be little
benefit to natives as a group. On the other hand, if immigration has had
little effect on the wages of native unskilled labor, then there is no
defensible economic ground for opposing immigration. Although one might
argue that even a modest fall in the wages of unskilled natives provides
sufficient ground for restricting immigration, such a calculation must
weigh the wage decrease for native unskilled workers more heavily than
the significant increase in wages that is enjoyed by immigrants from
much poorer countries.

How Well Do Immigrants Do?

Before examining the literature on immigrant assimilation, it should be
noted that for some immigrants assimilation is irrelevant. One-third or
more of immigrants eventually return home. We do not know what
proportion of this group intended only a temporary migration when they
arrived and what proportion was disappointed by their experience in the
United States. The size of the remigration flows should remind us not to
assume that all immigrants arrive in the United States to stay. A
temporary migrant will invest in skills-for example, language and
labor-in his host country, and may have a very different assimilation
profile from that of the immigrant who will remain in the host country
for life.

Concerns that we are being overwhelmed by waves of unskilled immigrants
have led some Americans to advocate restrictions on immigration and
changes to the criteria for awarding visas that favor more-skilled
applicants. If we are to consistently apply Catholic social teaching,
the news that certain immigrant groups are adjusting to the American
labor market more slowly than others is not a sufficient warrant for
supporting restrictions against unskilled immigrants. The reason for
this is that the right to migrate within the Catholic framework applies
equally to skilled and unskilled persons. If the immigrants' struggle
will not place large burdens on the host country, then measures to make
assimilation easier or to remove impediments to assimilation are in
order. For example, a 1996 study presents evidence that the wages of
immigrants who are educated in the United States converge more quickly
to those of natives than the wages of immigrants educated abroad.23

The study also shows that, within immigrant groups, more highly educated
immigrants (whether abroad or in the United States) assimilate more
successfully than poorly educated immigrants. If this is true, then
proposals to restrict the access of immigrant children to public
education will only make the assimilation of those children
significantly more difficult. If the correlation between English
language adoption and assimilation reflects an underlying causal
relationship, then we should teach English to immigrant children in
order to facilitate their assimilation.

An important research question is this: How do the children and
grandchildren of unskilled immigrants fare? If the progeny of unskilled
immigrants, regardless of their country of origin, become as successful
as other native workers, then concerns about the entry of unskilled
immigrants applies only to the short run. The literature on the relative
success of the children and grandchildren of immigrants is not
extensive. George Borjas reports that the earnings of immigrant
descendants converge slowly to native levels across generations, not
equaling native earnings until the fourth generation.24 A study by David
Card, John DiNardo, and Eugena Estes confirms Borjas' findings, but they
also indicate that second-generation immigrants achieve higher education
and earnings than the children of similarly poor natives.25 Depending on
the size of the earnings differences that persist across generations, a
shift in immigration policy toward skilled immigrants may not affect
matters in the long run. In the short run, it is worth noting that a
shift toward selecting immigrants whose education is comparable to their
American correlates will decrease the (already small) gains from
immigration on the overall economy, unless there are significantly large
economic advantages in industries that could be gained by employing
highly skilled people.26

The consensus in all economic research into the effects of immigration
on native workers is that immigration has had only a modestly negative
effect on the wages of native, unskilled workers. This evidence should
diminish any concerns that current levels of immigration pose a threat
to the material well-being of American citizens. Hence, this evidence
disposes of one of the two economic concerns that militate against the
argument for the right to migrate. The remaining task is to examine the
other economic argument that can be raised against the right to migrate:
the effects of immigration on government finances.

The Fiscal Burden of Immigration

A common concern is that immigrants benefit disproportionately from
government assistance programs while bearing a disproportionately lower
tax burden than native workers. This raises the fear that immigrants
will impose large burdens on public finances and that natives will as a
result lose their access to basic public goods, such as well-maintained
roads, public health care, and public education or, alternatively, that
governments at every level (local, state, and federal) will tax natives
a higher proportion of their incomes.

Researchers measure both the long- and short-term fiscal impacts of
immigration. Short-term studies account for the net contributions of
immigrants to government expenditures to annual, government budgets. The
short-term impact of immigration in state and local governments is
negative but concentrated to the areas of most immigrant density.
Long-term studies account for the new contributions of immigrants to
government programs over several decades. It turns out that over time,
immigrants are net contributors to federal budgets, because immigrants
do not request social assistance in the form of Medicare or Social
Security services. In addition, immigrant children fare well in school
and often better than native children. By obtaining greater education
than their own parents, immigrant children can also be expected to be
net contributors to government finances, rather than drains. Evidently,
then, these two time frames yield very different pictures of a typical
immigrant's use of government services, and his contributions to public
revenues. For example, the positive contributions of immigrants (and
their children) to the Social Security and Medicare systems will only be
realized over several decades, and will be invisible in short-term

Studies of the impact of immigrants on the state and local budgets of
New Jersey and California have been commissioned by the National
Research Council study in order to document the net fiscal burden of
immigrants in those states.27 In New Jersey, in 1990, the net fiscal
burden per native household as a result of immigration was estimated at
$232. In California, in 1995, the net, fiscal burden per household was
more significant, $1,178. California natives bear such a large burden
both because of the size of its immigrant population and because of its
relatively generous government services.28

The fiscal burdens found in California and New Jersey do not, however,
represent the fiscal burdens of the average native in every other state;
immigrants cluster in a few states and, consequently, the fiscal burdens
of immigration are concentrated in those states. Thus, the real problem
is not the fiscal burden of immigrants but the concentration of the
fiscal burden in a few localities. This unevenly spread burden of
immigrant, social service expenses was one impetus for the Unfunded
Mandates Reform Act of 1995 that required the federal government to
calculate the burden of its mandates on state and local governments. The
1996 Welfare Reform also eliminated immigrant access to welfare.

National Security and Immigration

We have examined the impact of immigration policy on two areas of the
national interest: the economy and labor markets. Immigration may,
arguably, affect the national interest, but it does not necessarily
threaten national security. Terrorist attacks, however, present a threat
to national security, since they are an attempt to destroy the integrity
of a nation by inflicting fear, death, loss of property, and civil
disorder upon its population. Whenever immigration policy facilitates
the occasion for terrorism in a nation, then, the policy considerations
must expand beyond those of national interest into the matter of
national security. For the average American, however, national security
had not been a serious consideration or worry until the terrorist
attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, awakened them to the
gravity of the national security concerns posed by international

It is important in the present environment to avoid the conflation of
national security and national interest in policy debates. It is clear,
for example, that Haitian boat people and Mexican illegals are not
threats to American national security, although the disposition of these
cases may affect American national interest in many ways. Similarly, the
costs of immigration do not present a threat to national security.

The above clarification is not tantamount to arguing that immigration
policy and procedures have no impact upon national security. The
legitimate concerns of terrorism in the United States warrant an
extensive reform of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). It
is significant to point out that the reform considerations have focused
on restructuring of the INS with the purpose of instituting systems for
closer scrutiny of the foreign visitors admitted into the country.

Most of the anti-terrorism legislation after the attacks of September
11, 2001, has aimed to improve the ability of the INS to screen out
possible terrorists, to track immigrants temporarily admitted into the
United States, and to expel those who violate the terms of their entry.
These legislative measures are quite appropriate because the past
inefficiency of the INS compounded by the problem of inadequate
information sharing from other federal bureaus, such as the State
Department and the Justice Department in screening and tracking visitors
has de facto facilitated the entry of terrorists into the United States
and thereby jeopardized the national security. New applications for
visas, green cards, and other official permits to enter the United
States have increased by fifty percent in the past six years.29 Visa
application fraud may be as high as twenty to thirty percent.30 The INS
as it is currently organized, funded, and operated is not capable of
taking on the new tasks of carefully screening visitor's-visa applicants
and keeping track of them after entry. A systematic implementation of
these tasks will most likely require the appropriation of resources from
the many wasteful (and unjustifiably funded) federal allocations toward
a thorough INS overhaul.

Permanent immigration is not a threat to national security. Instead,
what jeopardizes national security are the regulatory disarray and the
inefficient information sharing on the part of the INS and other federal
entities, such as the State Department and the Justice Department, that
have a role in the temporary admission of foreigners into the United
States. The crucial concern for national security in immigration matters
is, then, the scrutiny of temporary visitors and their timely exit when
their temporary visiting permits expire. Each year, thirty-four million
tourists, businessmen, and relatives of United States citizens or
permanent residents enter the United States from many parts of the
world.31 Since the United States will not reduce the number of temporary
entry permits because the costs of such a restriction would be too
great, it is likely that terrorists will attempt to enter as temporary
visitors so long as the federal mechanism for screening them prior the
approval of their temporary visas and for tracking their whereabouts
until their visa expires remains inefficient.

The Universal Common Good

The United States can probably increase its rate of immigration without
incurring significant costs. The question is, what level of costs is too
high? What is the threshold? Let us suppose that one million additional
immigrants over five years will increase government expenditures by
seven hundred million dollars. Is this expenditure too high? Would one
billion dollars be too high? Furthermore, should a cost-benefit analysis
of immigration account for the benefits enjoyed by the immigrants
themselves? If it is true that there is a right to migrate, in what
practical ways can this right be promoted so that nations will consider
it in their deliberations about immigration policy?

According to John Paul II, a country cannot balance justly the benefits
of migration, on the one hand, with concerns over migration's burdens,
on the other, unless it employs the criterion of the universal common
good. At this point we must distinguish the concept of the common good
from that of the universal common good. The common good entails the sum
total of conditions that people need for their individual fulfillment as
persons. Traditionally, the sphere of the common good has been
understood to coincide with a political community, such as a
nation-state. The sphere of the common good is thus generally demarcated
by a nation's borders, and the beneficiaries are all those living within
those borders.

By contrast, the beneficiaries of the universal common good include
every person in the world. In other words, the universal common good is
that which affects mankind as a whole. In context of a nation's
immigration policy considerations, what must be recognized is that the
decision to migrate directly affects the people of two communities: the
host (or new) community, and the home (or original) community.
Consequently, the host community is too narrow a sphere for judging the
desirability of migration. The effects of migration upon the home
community must be also included. From the perspective of the universal
common good, then, the dignity and rights of natives are not the only
concern; the dignity and rights of immigrants, as well as those of the
members of the home communities left behind, also carry moral weight.

Because immigration has effects across national boundaries, any
institution attempting to evaluate the just limits to migration (i.e.,
taking into consideration the rights of all parties) must be an
international institution. The universal common good has, then, a moral
character that applies to nation-states, subsidiary groups, and
individuals. In fact, the universal common good is the most adequate
guide for relations between nations in the absence of any pre-existing
treaties established for the purpose of directing their negotiations or
transactions toward mutually beneficial ends. The application of the
criterion of universal common good to matters of international relations
requires the exercise of two principles in Catholic social thought:
solidarity and subsidiarity.


The principle of solidarity is an implication of the Christian
commandment of love, since solidarity calls forth an awareness of the
interdependence of all persons. This awareness stems from the attitude
of responsibility for and commitment to the good of one's neighbor.
According to John Paul II in Solicitudo Rei Socialis, when an individual
recognizes his own personal interdependence with the rest of mankind,
the natural and appropriate response is solidarity. Solidarity is not an
intellectual construct. It is a virtue, John Paul II writes, "not a
feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress.... On the contrary, it
is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common

The universal common good is a call to international solidarity in
migration policy. The exercise of solidarity across nation-states shifts
the focus from internal concerns exclusively to broader considerations
that account for the global implications of immigration policy
decisions. John Paul II asserts that solidarity makes demands on both
the strong and the weak. The strong (in this case, developed host
countries) should "feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share
with them all they possess."33 The weak (in this case, most immigrants)
must not be passive in their acceptance of the help and hospitality
offered by the strong. Instead, the weak should "do what they can for
the good of all."34 For immigrants, this means obeying host country laws
and contributing otherwise to the common good of the host country.

A significant consequence of international solidarity is the recognition
of the rights of immigrants not as a trade-off of the host country's
common good for the benefits of migrants but, rather, as a requirement
for the full development of the host nation's society. Indeed, the full
development of any social group, including a nation, requires that it be
properly oriented toward the common good of the larger society of which
it is a part. The human person needs community in virtue of his social
nature, and this need will orient him toward the common good in order to
contribute to the preservation of his community.

The call to solidarity implicit in the universal common good includes
not only a solicitude for immigrants but also a concern for the
conditions in countries from which they emigrate. The analysis of
immigration cannot be separated from the analysis of emigration if we
consider that the very decision to migrate is often made in the context
of a search for human flourishing that has been either impeded or
altogether denied in the home country. The universal common good demands
that all countries seriously examine the source of the plight afflicting
developing countries from which most migrants come.


The orientation toward the universal common good requires more than
merely practicing solidarity, since "socialization also presents
dangers."35 The principle of subsidiarity "aims at harmonizing the
relationship between individuals and societies."36 John Paul II defines
subsidiarity as follows:

A community of a higher order should not interfere in the life of a
community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but
rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its
activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view
to the common good.37

Lower-order communities give rise to what John Paul II calls "networks
of solidarity": concrete opportunities for individuals to devote
themselves to the common good of the community.38 Without these
communities and each community's corresponding understanding of its own
common good, individuals would not be able to grasp the sense of the
common good that is grounded in their experience. The common good would
be apprehended as a mere abstract concept employed for interest group
politics or other self-serving gains in political activity. The state
can never replace the initiative of individuals acting through
subsidiary communities toward the common good, for a nation-state that
assumes the functions of the communities under it will become so
burdened that it will be unable to carry out those functions proper to
it.39 This is not to say, however, that the state is dispensable. The
chief point here is that it would be pretentious for the state to
attempt to be a comprehensive community whose role is to solve every
social problem through its own institutions. Individuals acting through
their local communities (families, parishes, clubs) and larger
communities (worldwide churches, non-governmental organizations,
nation-states) contribute their share toward the attainment of the
common good for each community.

If we apply the principle of subsidiarity to the relation between the
common good of a nation and the universal common good, then we will find
that the attainment of the universal common good is only possible when
every individual nation enjoys appropriate autonomy in its pursuit of
its national common good. Similarly, the common good of the nation is
only possible when individual communities in the nation also enjoy
appropriate autonomy in their pursuit of their common goods. According
to the principle of subsidiarity, higher-order communities may assist
lower-order communities to achieve the common good only if these seek
such assistance, or are genuinely unable to function autonomously in
pursuit of the common good. Above all, lower-order communities are not
simply agents that must submit to the dictates of higher-order

One of the challenges of pursuing the universal common good is that
immigration policies of different nations are often irreconcilable or
conflicting. Some nations, for example, do not accept that persons have
a right to migrate and, as a result, will not agree to the protection of
such a right in any international treaties and conventions of which they
are a part. Most nations do recognize the right to migrate for refugees
and asylees (those whose lives are in danger or who are persecuted), and
these nations have established an international system of treaties and
conventions that protect refugees and asylees. Two organizations, the
United Nations High Commission on Refugees and the Convention Relating
to the Status of Refugees, promote the right to migrate of those persons
who are under the threat of persecution. The right of refugees to seek
asylum in other countries is also included in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights.40 It is clear that migration not caused by
life-threatening circumstances is not an absolute right according to the
notions of solidarity and subsidiarity in Catholic social teaching. In
addition, international treaties do not recognize the right to migrate
(as understood here) of those who simply want to increase their
earnings. Nonetheless, this kind of migration may also help to bring
about greater universal common good.

From the framework of economics, human capital is not employed
productively if people are not allowed to move freely to places where
they perceive their labor services to be best directed toward the
achievement of their individual plans of human fulfillment. This view is
clearly reconcilable with Catholic social thought.

In the final analysis, some may interpret the right to migrate as a
severe restriction of a nation's ability to control its own borders, or
to promote the interests of its own people. It is important to consider,
however, that the opposite may be true: A recognition of the right to
migrate, when it is applicable, will open up horizons of cooperation and
growth that are overlooked when immigrants are viewed simply as burdens.


1. Exodus 1:15-22.

2. George Borjas, Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and the
American Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

3. Peter Brimelow, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's
Immigration Disaster (New York: Random House, 1995); Patrick Buchanan,
The Death of the West: How Mass Immigration, Depopulation, and a Dying
Faith Are Killing Our Culture and Country (New York: St. Martin's Press,

4. See the following, all by John Paul II: Message for World
Migration Day 1995 (July 25, 1995); Message for World Migration Day 1998
(November 9, 1997); Message for World Migration Day 2000 (November 21,
1999); Message for World Migration Day 2001 (February 2, 2001);
Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens (September 14, 1981); Encyclical
Letter Solicitudo Rei Socialis (December 30, 1987); Encyclical Letter
Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991).

5. Several Protestant denominations have indeed voiced their
position in immigration policy debates over the years under the
patronage of denominational statements. This paper relies on Catholic
social teaching specifically because its body of authoritative documents
offers a cohesive framework upon which the matter of immigration may be
the subject of economic analysis. It is nonetheless significant to
acknowledge the contributions to Christian social thought on the matter
of immigration by individual Protestant churches and individual
Protestant theologians that have considered its relevance to Christian

6. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America
(January 22, 1999), no. 65.

7. John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day 1995, no. 3.

8. John XXIII is quoting his predecessor Pius XII, Radio Broadcast
of Pentecost, June 1, 1941.

9. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra (May 15, 1961),
no. 45.

10. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (March 26, 1967),
no. 69.

11. Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum (May 15, 1891), no. 13.

12. John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, no. 23.

13. Ibid.

14. John Paul II, Solicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 15.

15. John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day 1995, no. 2.

16. John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day 1993.

17. John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day 2001, no. 3.

18. See Helen Alford OP, "Globalizing Human Development: The Key Role
of the Common Good," manuscript, Pontifical University of St. Thomas,
Rome, May 2001. See also David Hollenbach, The Common Good and Christian
Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), forthcoming.

19. George J. Borgas, "The Economic Benefits of Immigration," Journal
of Economic Perspectives 9 (1995): 3-22, and James P. Smith and Barry
Edmonston, The New Americans, National Research Council Report in 1997,
feature this point prominently.

20. This result may not hold under increasing returns, but increasing
returns are probably not that significant in the industries that hire
most United States immigrants. See Borjas, "The Economic Benefits of

21. Borjas, "The Economic Benefits of Immigration," and Smith and
Edmonston, The New Americans, 153.

22. Borjas, in Heaven's Door, chapter 4 argues that immigration may
account for as much as one-half of the fall in the wages of high school

23. Robert F. Schoeni, Kevin F. McCarthy, and George Vernez, The Mixed
Economic Progress of Immigrants (Santa Monica: The RAND Corporation,

24. George J. Borjas, "The Intergenerational Mobility of Immigrants,"
Journal of Labor Economics 11 (1993): 113-35; and idem, "Long-Run
Convergence of Ethnic Skill Differentials: The Children and
Grandchildren of the Great Migration," Industrial and Labor Relations
Review 47 (1994): 553-73.

25. David Card, John DiNardo, and Eugena Estes, "The More Things
Change: Immigrants and the Children of Immigrants in the 1940s, the
1970s, and the 1990s," in Issues in the Economics of Immigration, ed.
George J. Borjas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

26. Borjas, "The Economic Benefits of Immigration." Also, see George
Borjas' Heaven's Door for a book-length argument in favor of skilled

27. Deborah Garvey and Thomas Espenshade, "Fiscal Impacts of Immigrant
and Native Households: A New Jersey Case Study, in The Immigration
Debate: Studies on the Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of
Immigration, ed. James P. Smith and Barry Edmonston, (Washington, D.C.:
National Academy Press, 1998); Michael Clune, "The Fiscal Impacts of
Immigrants," in The Immigration Debate, ed. Smith and Edmonston.

28. Smith and Edmonston, The New Americans, 292-93.

29. General Accounting Office, "Immigration and Naturalization
Service: Overview of Recurring Management Challenges," publication
GAO-02-168T, October 2001.

30. General Accounting Office, "Immigrant Benefit Fraud: Focused
Approach Is Needed to Address Problems," publication GAO-02-66, January

31. 2000 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, table 37.

32. John Paul II, Solicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 38.

33. Ibid., no. 39.

34. Ibid.

35. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995), n. 1883.

36. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995), n. 1885.

37. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, no. 48. See Pius XI, Encyclical
Letter Quadragesimo Anno (May 15, 1931), no. 79, for the first
formulation of this principle.

38. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, no. 49.

39. Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, no. 78.

40. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that it is a
right to emigrate from any country, but a right to immigrate only to
one's own country of origin. The right to emigrate is only as extensive
as the right to immigrate.