The section of the Catechism that speaks about immigration (section 2241) is divided into two paragraphs that seem to be in tension with one another. Both are equally true, and to dismiss one of them in favor of the other would distort the Church’s teaching on this highly polarizing issue. So I wanted to take a detailed look at this section of the Catechism in its entirety in order to parse out what the Church is trying to teach us. The first paragraph of this section concerns the right to emigrate:
“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.”
Let’s start by noticing the language that the Catechism uses in that first section, “more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner…” Welcoming immigrants from less prosperous countries is a moral obligation, not a mere suggestion or allowance. This is because persons have a “natural right” to emigrate. A natural right is a right we are endowed with simply by existing. These rights transcend civil laws and thus such laws are judge by the degree that they respect these rights.