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Catholic Living


Immigration is vital to Catholic living everywhere in the American Catholic church and specifically here in Hawaii as the following pastoral letter of Bishop Larry Silva compellingly expresses:

“My ancestors came to Hawaii among the first wave of Portuguese immigrants in the late 1800s to work on island plantations. Around the same time, hundreds of newcomers also came from China, Japan, the Philippines and other countries. The descendents of these groups, and later others, melded to become one of the most beautiful ethnically-blended societies on earth. Thanks in large part to the Hawaiian people, who were hospitable nearly to the point of their own ruin, Hawaii gave birth to vibrant new cultural blend, a preview of a future global village. While Hawaii’s immigration story has not been totally free of prejudice and discrimination, as a whole it has been raised by the aloha spirit into an achievement of which we can be proud.

Today our country faces a serious immigration dilemma. The system is a mess. An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants live an unsettled existence, while legal immigrants have to endure years separated from their families. Young men and women who were brought illegally into our country as children by their parents now live in a legal limbo. And some states have resorted to taking anti-immigration enforcement into their own hands. Hawaii, though isolated by the vast Pacific Ocean, is also affected by our broken immigration system. Not only do we have undocumented residents among us, but many of our legal permanent residents often have to wait years, even decades, before their spouses, children and siblings are permitted to join them. This excessive hardship on our families could be easily fixed with more sensible laws.

Contrary to what many people think, undocumented immigrants pay taxes and contribute to the economy. At the same time, they are not permitted to take advantage of welfare or other public assistance and are less likely than legal citizens to commit crimes. Except for Native Hawaiians and Native Americans, we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. Today’s newcomers are no different from us. They too want to work, raise and educate their families and enjoy a better life. We did not become the greatest country in the world by keeping people out, but rather by opening wide our doors. Our richness, energy and strength flow from diversity, new growth, progress, tolerance, accommodation, and our welcoming, pioneering spirit.

I join the rest of the bishops in the United States in urging Congress to enact generous immigration reform that provides a fair pathway to citizenship, ends employer exploitation and keeps families together. I am not afraid of the word “amnesty” because it means forgiveness and compassion, values all Americans should promote. At the same time, I support appropriate requirements for citizenship. In the end, we are all instructed by Jesus — who with his parents once lived as a refugee in Egypt — to “welcome the stranger.”

Catholic Teaching:

"The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him." Catholic Catechism, 2241.

The Catholic Catechism instructs that good government has two duties, both of which must be carried out and neither of which can be ignored. The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations:

The second duty is to secure one's border for the sake of the common good. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right:

"Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens." Catholic Catechism, 2241.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have released a pastoral letter on migration entitled, "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope." In their letter, the Bishops stressed that,

"When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right." No. 35. The Bishops made clear that the "[m]ore powerful economic nations… have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows." No. 36. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) opposes "enforcement only" immigration policies and supports comprehensive immigration reform. In Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, the U.S. Catholic Bishops outlined the elements of their proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. These include:

Earned Legalization:

An earned legalization program would allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence. This  would create an eventual path to citizenship, requiring applicants to complete and pass background checks, pay a fine, and establish eligibility for resident status to participate in the program. This would help stabilize the workforce, promote family unity, and bring a large population "out of the shadows," as members of their communities.

Future Worker Program:

A worker program to permit foreign‐born workers to enter the country safely and legally would help reduce illegal immigration and the loss of life in the American desert. Any program should include workplace protections, living wage levels, safeguards against the displacement of U.S. workers, and family unity. Click here for more information.

Family‐based Immigration Reform:

It currently takes years for family members to be reunited through the family‐based legal immigration system. This leads to family breakdown and, in some cases, illegal immigration. Changes in family‐based immigration should be made to increase the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting times.

Restoration of Due Process Rights:

Due process rights taken away by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) should be restored. For example, the three and ten year bars to reentry should be eliminated. Click here for more information.

Addressing Root Causes:

Congress should examine the root causes of migration, such as under‐development and poverty in sending countries, and seek long‐term solutions. The antidote to the problem of illegal immigration is sustainable economic development in sending countries. In an ideal world, migration should be driven by choice, not necessity.


The U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would‐be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.


FAQ on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Read Bishop Larry Silva's Pastoral Letter: Regarding Immigration Reform.

Read the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities letter to Catholic members of the House of Representatives.

Learn about Catholic Charities Hawaii Immigrant and Refugee Services.

Explore the Church's teaching on immigration on the USCCB website.

Click here for USCCB Bulletin Insert.

Visit justiceforimmigrants.org to lean more about the position of our U.S. bishops on immigration.