'When Did We See You a Stranger?' Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on Immigration
A Catholic leader says that supporting immigrants' rights is what God wants him to do.
BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. and one of a growing number of religious leaders who advocate immigration reform. He spoke with Beliefnet recently about the U.S. Catholic bishops' stance on immigration and the criticism the bishops have faced.
In your speech at the D.C. rally on April 10, you said, "We do not deny that every government has the right and the duty to control its borders. We accept and defend that right, but we are not doing it today in a way that is either efficient or humane." What's a moral, humane way to control borders? If you were in charge of the laws and the border control, what would you do?
I'm very glad I'm not in charge, because it's a very difficult question. But we have experts who have to do that.
Everyone should be open to having other people come into their country, for good reason. We're America, a nation that only exists today because people were allowed to come in to try for a better life, to escape persecution or great poverty. Every nation should have some opportunity for people to come in; otherwise they become lost in being nativist, protectionist, and isolationist.
Once that is said, a nation should be able to say "I only want a certain number to come in," so that there is a natural growth and a natural flow. But because [we] have not had an effective policy, millions of people are living in a shadow.
That's where morality comes in. If they're doing bad things, obviously you can get rid of them. But if they're trying to raise a family, making a contribution to our economy by paying taxes, working in areas that other people don't want to work at, and bringing values to our country--values we sometimes tend to lose in our secular society--then you have to take another look at the immigration policies of the United States.
What, to you, are the most essential changes to make?
First of all, we need to cooperate with other countries so people can stay where they are. The most important right people have is the right to make it where they have roots planted. If that doesn't happen, often because of economic policies of well-developed nations, that's something we have to look at. We [should] help other countries develop economically themselves, so people aren't forced to look around [for] a place to find a better life.
Some people say that even if more fair-trade policies were implemented, it wouldn't benefit people in the Third World.
That is certainly said. But if we were to revise our trade policies to make it possible for other nations to find markets, I think we would be able to help improve the quality of life in other countries.
I'm convinced that this not the way God made the world--that some nations should be starving and others eating. We really have to find a way to close the chasm between the rich and poor.
That's number one. When it comes to our policies here, the most moral thing would be not to divide families. People who are documented and citizens sometimes have to wait a long time before their relatives and parents can come to this country.
It's been proposed that, if the Catholic Church feels strongly about welcoming immigrants, illegal immigrant children should be sent to Catholic schools at no cost, instead of public schools. And illegal immigrants who are ill should go to Catholic hospitals for free, not public ones. How would you respond to such proposals?
We'd love to do it. I'd love to have these youngsters in our schools, because they'd be a great blessing and treasure to us. If they came to our hospitals, that would be great. Obviously, there is a question of finances. I guess then they wouldn't pay taxes anymore, because taxes are what keep the public schools and hospitals open. If they weren't paying taxes, they could pay to go to Catholic schools and hospitals. But if they're going to pay taxes, it's only fair. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
If they're not paying taxes, then we have to work out some [way]--they really ought to be paying taxes. If they want to be part of our country, they have to support the country.