PO BOX 5079 (51102)
SIOUX CITY, IA (51105)


Church offers unique vision
on subject of immigration reform

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This correspondence was recently sent to all our priests. Now I want to share the same with you.

As you know, the current subject of immigration reform is one about which the Church has a unique vision to share. Our priorities, coming from the Gospel of our Lord, do not align with those of either party, and so it is difficult for many people to hear the wisdom of what we try to preach. Nevertheless, I urge you, in the coming weeks, to make some effort to share the teachings of the Church on the dignity and rights of immigrants, on solidarity, and on the norms of justice aimed at by civil law.

There are several resources to help you. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) provides extensive information on immigration reform, including a bulletin insert that will be used the weekend of Sept. 8, or another weekend. This is, I think, the minimum we can do to help teach our parishioners what the Church teaches on this topic.

The following are some of the most significant themes to touch on, in explaining Catholic teaching about immigration:
• Dignity and rights of immigrants:
o The human dignity of immigrants is not less than that of anyone else; how do we show that in our actions and attitudes?
o People have a right to move in search of work, even across international borders. States have a duty to regulate this movement, not to prevent people from crossing, but to ensure good order and to prevent terrorism, violent crime, and the trafficking of people and drugs.
• Solidarity, and the Universal Destination of the Goods of the Earth:
o We have a certain moral obligation as followers of Christ to welcome the stranger.
o Immigrants who cross borders illegally, especially if under some duress, and who are otherwise law-abiding, should not be called or categorized as “criminals.” To do so is both a contemptible form of hypocrisy by us who routinely break laws (e.g. traffic laws, speed limits) which inconvenience us, and also a sin against charity.
o In our stewardship of resources entrusted to us by God, the end of those resources is not our own enrichment, but the flourishing of others. We have a moral obligation to conserve and to share these gifts. One obvious way to do this is not to withhold this sharing from certain classes of people. What we offer to one (e.g. access to education, health care, etc.), we must in principle be willing to offer to all.
o Citizenship is another such “resource” which we highly value. We have traditionally been willing to admit immigrants to this status, whenever they demonstrate a desire and a capacity to serve our country, even in the most ordinary ways of peaceful work and community participation, and are not violent criminals. Again, we should be willing in principle to grant citizenship to all, regardless of their country or culture of origin, who meet these basic criteria.
• Norms of Justice:
o When laws seek only to prevent people from peacefully crossing borders in search of work, they are (usually) unjust laws.
o When laws impose significant delays or hardships on those who desire to follow them willingly, they are (usually) unjust laws.
o It is unjust when laws, or the enforcement of laws, separate husbands from wives and parents from children, or when the enforcement of laws is done arbitrarily or capriciously.
These kinds of themes, so resonant in our Catholic Social Doctrine, are why the Church teaches that just immigration reform must keep families together, provide a path to eventual citizenship, be open even to low-skilled workers, provide or restore timely due process to those currently applying for entry, and attempt to address the causes of emigration from the various countries of origin.

Additional information and resources, in both English and Spanish, are available from the Justice for Immigrants office of the USCCB or by visiting

Please do as much as you are able to do in the coming weeks, to embrace these principles of justice drawn from the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. May He daily bless you with great abundance and deep devotion!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
Bishop of Sioux City


Back to top Back to Commentary