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Global Migration and Immigration


Aileen Reynolds / Zelia Cordeiro SSpS / Felix Jones SVD*


Why the Church Needs to Be an Advocate for the Migrant
This article reviews briefly the situation of migrants, particularly in the USA, since many migrants are attracted to this country.
The authors explain some aspects of human rights and international law regarding migration and the relevant perspectives of Catholic Social Teaching. There are many initiatives by the Church to
support migrants in their situation. Many of them address also the
political and legal frameworks of the powerful nations. Migration is
not in the first place an economic problem but it shows a humanitarian crisis which requires the UN to include the topic in its post2015 agenda.

The international migration of people between countries has been

a constant global phenomenon in recent centuries. However, the reasons for migration, the origins and destinations of the migrants and
the difficulties and obstacles that they face are in flux. It is important
to have a fact-based social and economic perspective on the reality
and magnitude of migration today in order to act in appropriately
constructive ways in the face of a growing global crisis.
At the global level, the total number of international migrants was
232 million in 2013.1 The United States has seen an increase in immigrants since the 1940s, with over one million new, legal permanent residents calculated in 2012 alone.2 It is estimated over 68,000
unaccompanied children have entered into the United States in
2014.3 In addition, the number of undocumented immigrants living in
* Aileen Reynolds is a graduate from Fordham University and an intern with
VIVAT International. Zelia Cordeiro is a Servant of the Holy Spirit Sister
from Brazil. Since February 2008 a member of the Executive team of VIVAT
International in New York, an NGO accredited to the United Nations. Felix
Jones is a Divine Word Missionary from India. He is also a member of the
Executive Team of VIVAT International since February 2008.
Migration Policy Institute tabulations of U.S. Department of Homeland
Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics
(various years). Available at
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the United States has been estimated to be between 11 and 12 million.4 Overwhelming figures such as these emphasize the migrant as
a vital member of our global community who deserves personalized
attention. The United Nations has highlighted population dynamics
as a potential item on its post-2015 agenda; immigration reform continues to be a hot-button topic in the United States and abroad; thousands of non-profit and non-governmental organizations have dedicated their mission towards improving the plight of the migrant. The
Catholic Church, and its members, have the capacity and the vocation to serve the migrant and defend human rights in an impactful
way. As said in the Catechism, the Churchs social teaching proposes
principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives
guidelines for action.5
The Demand to Migrate
Although 630 million of the worlds adults desire to move to another country, about 19 million of them are actively making preparations to do so.6 Despite popular assumption, not every migrant is
moving South to Northmeaning from a developing nation to a
developed one. In reality, only forty percent of migrants move in that
pattern. Of the remainder, a third of migrants move from South to
South and a fifth of migrants move North to North. 7 The United
States is the most desired destination for migrants; 145 million people name the United States as their ideal future residence. 8 The Department of Homeland Security in the United States indicates that
family-sponsored migrants constitute the largest percentage of those
who become legal permanent residents, with workers following as the
second largest percentage.9 There are reasons for these trendsthe
presence of a social network within a nation has a significant, positive relationship on the desire and likelihood of migration to said
4 and

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2423.
6 Neli Esipova / Julie Ray / Anita Pugliese, Gallup World Poll: The Many
Faces of Global Migration: Based on Research in More than 150 Countries,
Geneva: International Organization for Migration 2011.
World Migration Report 2013: Migrant Well-being and Development, International Organization for Migration 2013.
Esipova / Ray / Pugliese, Gallup World Poll.
R. Monger, Annual Flow Report, April 2010, Department of Homeland
Security, Office of Immigration Statistics 2010.
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Global Migration and Immigration


country. Likewise, employment status influences a natives desire to

migrate; in the Middle East and North Africa, underemployed adults
are three times more likely to plan to migrate than those who are
fully employed.10
According to Gallups Net Migration Index, if everyone who wanted to migrate did so, developed nations would be overwhelmed and
developing nations would lose valuable human capital, especially the
brain drain of professionally qualified people. However, it is important to consider that almost all data and statistics about migrants
only account for those who have obtained legal residence in the country of destination; undocumented migrants are rarely represented in
data collections due to fear of being prosecuted, deported, or worse.
Therefore, the figures about migrants today serve as a minimum representation of the number of migrants who are currently living in
new countries worldwide.
Beyond those who want to migrate, there are people and peoples
who need to migrate for their safety (i.e., to become refugees or asylum seekers). Global migration evolves into a humanitarian crisis
when people must flee wars, civil wars, criminal and other violence,
and ecological devastation. Since 2011, the United States has seen a
dramatic increase in unaccompanied minors migrating to the United
States, particularly across the United States/Mexico border. An
overwhelming majority of these children are migrating due to the
increase of violence and gang activities in their home countries,
namely in Central America.11 Countries that experience internal conflict produce the largest number of refugees, with Afghanistan being
the leading country of origin and various sovereign nations leading as
destination countries.12 On a different but equally important note,
12% of adults think they will need to migrate because of severe environmental problems in their country of origin; global climate change
is expected to increase this number.13 Leaving their current situation
becomes the priority of refugees, asylum-seekers, and potential migrants who are fleeing from their native land. Unfortunately, this can
cause people to go to drastic measures and face great challenges in
order to leave their country and enter another one, including risking
their lives. In the Mediterranean, 21,344 people have died attempting


Esipova / Ray / Pugliese, Gallup World Poll.
Esipova / Ray / Pugliese, Gallup World Poll.

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Aileen Reynolds / Zelia Cordeiro SSpS / Felix Jones SVD

to migrate into Europe over the past 25 years, with over 3,000 of
those deaths occurring in 2014 alone. 14
A Catholic Perspective
Catholic Social Teaching provides an important perspective for
understanding global migration; for I was hungry and you gave me
food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me (Mt 25:35). Five principles of social justice have been
highlighted as guiding the Churchs view on migration. Firstly, persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland. 15 All
people and peoples deserve to live in dignity and achieve full life, and
therefore have the right to find economic, political, and social opportunities in their homeland. Nonetheless, the second principle states,
persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their
families.16 The earth belongs to all people and, thus, people have the
right to migrate if they cannot support themselves and their families
in their country of origin. It should be noted, however, that ultimately
the first principle should be pursued by those with resources to do so,
since a nation that is denying its people opportunities for survival is
unjust. The third principle states, sovereign nations have the right
to control their borders.17 Although this right is recognized, the
Church emphasizes that developed nations, proven to be the most
desired destinations for migrants, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows. Fourth: refugees and asylum seekers
should be afforded protection.18 The global community has a responsibility to protect those fleeing unsafe living conditions. Temporary
residency, such as refugee status, must be granted without any negative interactions to all those in such situations. Lastly, the human
dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.19 Whatever the legal status of a migrant, all human beings
have a basic set of human rights that must be respected by all, from
neighbors to employers to enforcement officers. These five principles

Sabir Festival, Migrate to survive, stop the massacre! Lampedusa, Italy,

1-5 October 2014.
Strangers No Longer. Together on the Journey of Hope, 23 Jan. 2003,
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Conferencia Del Episcopado Mexicano 2003.
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Global Migration and Immigration


summarize the reasoning for the Catholic Church to support the migrant.
These five principles in defense of the human rights of the migrant
are not being met around the world today. Families are being separated at the border and the members treated as separate entities:
the adult and the child; undocumented migrants are publicly condemned yet their labor is exploited; xenophobic social structures inhibit the migrant from integrating into a new culture, finding work
and housing, obtaining education, etc.
This is where policymakers, advocates, organizers, and institutions come in to be proponents of migration and migrant rights. With
the strong foundation of Catholic Social Teaching, the Church can be
a leading advocate for the migrant beyond providing spiritual support
and pastoral guidance.
Ongoing Activism
Faith-based organizations and Churches have the opportunity to
provide migrants with the necessary services they need once they
have arrived in a new country. For example, Catholic Migrant Services is an organization dedicated to welcoming the stranger by
empower[ing] underserved immigrant communities.20 Catholic Migration Services provides legal advice, opportunities for education
opportunities, and pastoral services to migrants who enter their offices regardless of religion or ethnicity. This organizations proactive
dedication to assisting the migrant in his/her/their transition into a
new country is rooted in the Gospel and is a vital component of thousands of immigrants potential success. All Churches, faith-based
organizations, and Christians as individuals should be equipped to
assist the migrant, whether that be as the provider of requested services or as a sponsor to refer him/her/them to agencies that can assist
them to obtain what they need.
Several Catholic and evangelical leaders recently came together to
draft a letter to Congress on the issue of immigration reform. Bishop
Nicholas DiMarzio, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn
and co-author of the letter, spoke at a press conference proclaiming,

This issue of immigration is a moral issue. [] We need

to look at [humanitarian consequences] because its not
just an issue of legality and illegality. Its very clear why
these people are here. They come because theres a de20
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mand for work. The law of supply and demand is at work

here. People come because there are employment opportunities. They are not coming here to camp in our parks.
They all have homes, rented or bought. There is a moral
content; and its a family issue and a moral issue. We really want to stress: together we stand shoulder-toshoulder in this really civil rights issue in many ways also. Its a workers rights problem that we are addressing.
We really stand together and believe the same things. 21
Leaders in the Church such as Bishop DiMarzio have the unique
opportunity to utilize their large network to expose the truth about
what is taking place in the life of the migrant and the root causes. It
is important that more leaders in the Church attend functions advocating for the migrant, to demonstrate the solidarity the Church
holds with the migrant. Preaching as one, unified voice not only resonates with those we are addressingusually policymakers and politiciansbut also assures the migrant that we support him/her/them.
Faith-based organizations have come together to present a unified
front in immigration reform. This is particularly impactful when addressing key politicians on specific issues. Several United Statesbased organizations wrote a letter to President Obama highlighting
reforms that need to be made for the sake of guaranteeing the migrants human rights. These included ending dangerous deportation
practices; regulating conditions at Customs and Border Protection
detention facilities, which currently fail to meet basic health and
sanitation standards; and ending family detention, to name a few.22
Focused demands such as these make it clear to those being addressed what are the priority rights and needs of the migrant community, communicated through faith-based organizations.
Larger organized efforts on specific issues also exist, such as the
Ignatian Solidarity Networks dedication to addressing the Humanitarian Crisis of Unaccompanied Children. The Ignatian Solidarity
networks website provides resources for education on the issue, firsthand accounts from unaccompanied children themselves, and opportunities for letter-writing to policy officials, and organized events for
collaboration on the issue.23 Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle urged
the Obama administration to acknowledge the importance of this
issue, emphasizing unaccompanied childrens vulnerability to human

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traffickers and smugglers during migration, as well as the dangers

they may face if they are forcibly returned to their home countries. 24
It is necessary that the Church, its leaders, and its members remain
involved in proactive efforts such as these to maintain visibility on
this issue and others surrounding global migration to keep the topic
visible until all needs are met.
Immigration Reform
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published
several documents outlining proposals and demands for immigration
reform, rooted in the Churchs teachings and the Gospel. A future
worker program has been proposed as a way to increase the amount
of foreign-born workers entering the country legally for employment
purposes, as a way to reduce the overwhelming number of migrants
who face treacherous conditions traveling through the American desert to enter the country illegally. The Future Worker Program would
not only assist in establishing legal residence, but also provide workplace protections, living wages, and facilitate family unity. 25 The
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also urges a specific,
family-based immigration reform to be pursued by the governments
of the United States and Mexico to increase the number of family
visas available so families can reunify.26 The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) took away
due process rights, for example, by instituting multi-year bars to
reentry for unsuccessful migrants. The United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops declares this Act unjust and calls for a restoration of
due process rights.27 In light of these reforms, it is important that all
branches of governmentin particular, Congressexamine the root
causes of migration and propose long-term solutions to both improve
conditions in countries of origin and modify policies to accommodate
the increase in migrants entering the United States. 28 Similarly, the
Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops recognizes the legitimate function of the United States government in regulating its border, however they believe that increasing the means for migrants to
enter the United States lawfully would provide a long-term solution

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to the epidemic of undocumented migrants as well as eliminate lethal

enforcement actions by Customs and Border Patrol agents.29 Immigration reform must provide short-term and long-term solutions both
to address the immediate needs of current migrants and to increase
the destination countrys preparedness for influxes of migrants. Developed nations such as the United States, being economically prosperous and politically powerful, hold a heavier responsibility to accommodate migrants, allowing them into their countries to benefit
from resources and opportunities that all humans deserve.
A Humanitarian Crisis
On a global level, the United Nations post-2015 agenda provides
an opportunity for the world to put global migration and migrantrelated goals at the center of its agenda for years to come. As migration inherently involves multiple cultures, communities, peoples,
countries and nations, the post-2015 agenda has the ability to foster
enhanced cooperation on migration and population dynamics on all
levels.30 Franois Crpeau, special rapporteur on the human rights of
migrants, has criticized the millennium development goals as solely
serving economic growth rather than improving human rights. He
has urged the UN General Assembly to avoid tackling low-hanging
fruit and rather focus on the truly important human rights issues in
our world todayone of which being global migration.31
Global migration is a multifaceted issue that can be integrated into every aspect of the sustainable development goals of the post-2015
agenda. At the same time, the post-2015 agenda to eliminate poverty,
create gender equality, eliminate violence, and protect the environment has the ability to reduce forced migration. Creating and preserving decent opportunities for education and employment in countries of origin would also decrease the amount of people migrating out
of necessity because countries of origin would be more sustainable. 32
In eradicating poverty, reducing the cost of labor migration and reducing the cost of sending remittances helps both the migrant and

Matthew Stockton, Dhaka Declaration 12-13 March 2013.
Civil Society Stockholm Agenda on migrant and migrant-related goals and
targets in post-2015 global and national agenda

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people living in poverty in their countries of origin.33 To empower

girls and women and achieve gender equality, women and girls need
to be legally and socially protected before, during and after migration.34 Migrants and their children deserve the same access to quality
education and healthcare as native-born persons, increasing a migrant familys probability of having sustainable success in their new
country.35 To ensure good governance and effective institutions, migrants must have access to justice and due process. 36 Migrants who
do not have to worry about being discriminated against solely because he/she/they are migrating have a better chance of attaining a
more peaceful and therefore productive life. To achieve this, public
awareness of the cultural, social, and economic contributions of migrants must be increased to display the positive contribution of the
migrant.37 Lastly, the safety of the migrant must be protected. International human trafficking and all other forms of violence against
migrants must be prevented and addressed, particularly through
systemic responses.38
The post-2015 agenda can address the migrant in every goal it
sets. These proposals are being presented by civil society, and need to
be continually proposed to ambassadors and other key members at
the United Nations until January 1, 2016 when the agenda will be
set. The Church, as a member of civil society, has the capacity to participate in these discussions and pursue the needs of the migrant
In Conclusion
As a longtime defender of Human Rights, the Church must stand
as an advocate for the migrant. In a recent homily at Lampedusa,
Pope Francis warned of the globalization of indifference; we must
regain our sense of fraternal responsibility in regard to the plight of
the migrant.39 There are over one billion Catholics in the world today,40 which means that there are one billion people who are potenIbid.
35 Ibid.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 Ibid.

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tial advocates for the migrantmany are migrants or descendants of

immigrants themselves. Whether it is national immigration reform in
developed countries, sustainable changes in living and working conditions in countries of origin, or putting migrants and migration at
the forefront of the global agenda, the Church and its members need
to practice their faith by actively organizing and advocating for the
rights of the migrant. Many organizations are already doing so, but
until the needs of the migrant are entirely met, we cannot rest. The
migrant is a member of Gods family, and deserves to be treated as

Dieser Beitrag beschreibt in Krze die Situation von Migranten, besonders in den USA, da dieses Land viele von ihnen anzieht. Die Autoren erklren einige Menschen- und Vlkerrechtsaspekte im Zusammenhang mit Migration und die entsprechenden Aussagen der Katholischen Soziallehre. Es
gibt viele kirchliche Initiativen, mit denen die Migranten untersttzt werden. Viele davon beziehen sich auch auf politische und legale Rahmenbedingungen in den mchtigen Nationen. Migration ist nicht zuerst ein wirtschaftliches Problem, sondern weist auf eine humanitre Krise hin, die die
Vereinten Nationen dazu herausfordert, dieses Thema auf ihre Agenda fr
die Zeit nach 2015 zu setzen.
Este artculo revisa brevemente la situacin de migrantes, particularmente en los EE.UU, ya que este pas atrae ms migrantes que otros. Los autores explican algunos aspectos de derechos humanos y derecho internacional
en referencia a la migracin as como las perspectivas relevantes de la doctrina social catlica. Existen muchas iniciativas de la iglesia que apoyan a los
migrantes en su situacin. Muchas se dirigen tambin a los marcos polticos y
jurdicos en las naciones poderosas. Migracin no es en primer lugar un problema econmico sino que, ms bien, pone en evidencia una crisis humanitaria que demanda que las Naciones Unidas incluyen este tema en su agenda
post 2015.
Cet article fait un bref tour dhorizon de la situation des migrants, particulirement aux tats-Unis puisque de nombreux migrants sont attirs par
ce pays. Les auteurs expliquent certains points des droits humains et de la
loi internationale en ce qui concerne la migration et les lments correspondants de lenseignement social de lglise. Il existe de nombreuses initiatives
de lglise pour soutenir les migrants dans leur situation. Un grand nombre
dentre elles interpellent galement larsenal politique et lgal des grandes
nations. La migration nest pas dabord un problme conomique, mais elle
rvle une crise humanitaire qui exige que les Nations Unies reprennent le
sujet dans leur programme au-del de 2015.

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