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‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’

A pastoral letter on the human rights of immigrants.


BISHOP TAYLOR: Says God will judge us on our treatment of aliens.
  • BISHOP TAYLOR: Says God will judge us on our treatment of aliens.

Editor's note: Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of the Little Rock Diocese of the Catholic Church has emerged in Arkansas, as in a previous assignment in Oklahoma, as an advocate for immigrants and an opponent of punitive legislative measures targeting them.

Not long after his arrival, Bishop Taylor issued a pastoral letter on human rights of immigrants. At our invitation, he shortened the letter for publication here.

The complete pastoral letter can be downloaded in English or in Spanish from the website of the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock:



The protection of human rights is a necessary component of our Catholic faith and you and I are obligated to bring the truths of our faith to bear on the pressing issues of our day. Throughout the Bible great emphasis is placed on God's presence among his immigrant people and that we will be judged on our treatment of the alien in our midst.

“Come … inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world … for I was a stranger and you welcomed me” … “When did we welcome you away from home?” … “As often as you did it for one of my least brothers and sisters, you did it for me.” … “Out of my sight, you condemned, into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! ... for I was away from home and you gave me no welcome” … “When did we see you away from home … and not attend you in your needs?” … “As often as you neglected to do it to one of these least ones, you neglected to do it to me.” These will go off to eternal punishment and the just to eternal life (Matthew 25:34-46).

National borders have almost never prevented demographic shifts when there were strong economic reasons for such migration — the law of supply and demand. Between 1986 and 2008 the undocumented immigrant population tripled to 12 million because there were insufficient legal avenues for immigrants to enter the United States, compared with the number of jobs in need of workers. Few Americans realize the impossible barriers placed on people who want to enter our country legally. Do you know that it is virtually impossible for Mexicans to immigrate to the United States legally unless they already have close relatives who are American citizens? There is a 16-year wait for family reunification visas because no more than 26,000 of family sponsored visas are allotted to Mexican immigrants annually — the same number allotted to Liechtenstein! 


Is immigration an

intrinsic human right?

“Human rights were inscribed by the Creator in the order of Creation …  [they are not] concessions on the part of human institutions, [or] on the part of states and international organizations … (John Paul II: Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Vittorio Messori: Vatican City, 1994, pp. 196-197.)

Intrinsic human rights derive from our inherent dignity and transcendence as persons created by God and redeemed by Christ. They do not derive from the state and cannot be taken away by the state. 

The Declaration of Independence lists three inalienable rights: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Of these, the only one which is absolute is the right to life, to which the Catholic Church continues to give eloquent witness. All other rights are limited by the common good, the shared good of all residents in one's community and nation and by extension the entire human family.

The right to migrate is not a right per se in the abstract and indeed there are instances where the common good might prevent migration. But there is a right to migrate when necessary to protect and provide for one's family or to escape persecution. It and other rights of immigrants, such as the right to work and the right to full participation in the life of the community are an extension of our intrinsic and inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The right to immigrate is also limited by the common good: the right of others to the basic necessities of life, including those already living in the land to which the immigrants wish to migrate and the need to learn the local language. Recent studies, including that of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, demonstrate that the most recent wave of immigration has produced economic benefits for the United States that outweigh the costs and it is noteworthy that 75 percent of immigrants become conversant in English within 10 years of arrival.


Isn't illegal immigration

a bad thing?

“Civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee … Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force.” (John Paul II: Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life, Vatican City, 1995, paragraph 71.)

Yes, illegal immigration is a bad thing. It is harmful to the immigrants and to our country as well. When the children of undocumented immigrants hear their good, honest parents described as “illegal,” or worse as “criminals,” the whole concept of illegality or criminality is diminished, making genuine criminal acts seem less serious as well. People are afraid to report crimes to the police or even to seek the help of the police when they are victimized because they fear that the police might arrest them instead. This makes the work of the police much more difficult because they need the support of the community in order to be effective in combating crime.



The solution to illegal immigration is not to make immigration even more difficult and perilous, but rather to remove the causes of illegal immigration, as follows:

• Remove the impediments to the free flow of otherwise law-abiding people across national borders, and enact immigration policies that better reflect the economic realities that underlie most migration.

• Work to remedy the international inequality of wealth and economic development, especially in migrant countries of origin. People leave home because they must, in order to protect and provide for their families.

• Create a system that welcomes immigrants, facilitates their adaptation to life in the United States, and provides an easy path to citizenship.



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