Should Christians take sides in the on-going immigration debate? U.S. Catholic bishops have have called for “a path to citizenship for the 11-12 million undocumented in the country; a temporary worker program to allow migrant workers to enter safely and humanely; and family-based immigration reform which allows families to be reunited more quickly.”

They have been joined by some evangelicals. “We are announcing the Gospel that welcomes the stranger and we will denounce those that block immigration reform,” writes Michael Wilker, senior pastor of Capitol Hill’s Church of the Reformation, in a guest column in the Washington Post. “Some would call them fighting words; others, a declaration of faith.”

On the other hand, Catholics and evangelicals alike are wary of some proposed legislation: “I'm concerned about how the Catholic bishops and other Church leaders have jumped onto the immigration reform” cause writes a contributor on at least one Catholic forum. “I feel like they are supporting what they want and hope is in the bill rather than what is actually there.”

“It's deja vu of the Obamacare bill,” continues the forum commenter. “So many Church leaders put their support behind that bill because it was advertized as being compassionate. They supported the idea of healthcare for all, but didn't actually look at the details (no one did). Those who opposed the bill were vilified and labeled as uncompassionate. And now the Church and businesses are fighting multiple battles like the HHS Contraception Mandate which never would have been a problem if Obamacare was shot down in the first place. And I'm sure there are many more surprises in that law which will pose challenges to religious liberty (abortion, end of life issues, etc).”

“I just see history repeating itself with the immigration reform bill. What authority and power are we handing over to the government in this bill? What's hiding in those pages of legalese? What new battles will the Church need to fight if this bill becomes law? I don't know the details of the immigration bill, but I do know this – it was written by lobbyists for the benefit of special interests that keep politicians in office. Politicians will say anything and use any group as pawns to get the bill passed regardless of what is actually in the bill.”

So, why has the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops chosen sides in the debate? “In its history, America has experienced many immigrations as waves of men and women came to its various regions in the hope of a better future,” wrote the late Pope John Paul II in his Ecclesia in America. “The phenomenon continues even today, especially with many people and families from Latin American countries who have moved to the northern parts of the continent, to the point where in some cases they constitute a substantial part of the population.”

“They often bring with them a cultural and religious heritage which is rich in Christian elements,” continues John Paul’s apostolic exhortation. “The Church is well aware of the problems created by this situation and is committed to spare no effort in developing her own pastoral strategy among these immigrant people, in order to help them settle in their new land and to foster a welcoming attitude among the local population, in the belief that a mutual openness will bring enrichment to all.”

Opponents, particularly those against amnesty for those already in the U.S. illegally, say leniency “undermines the rule of law, encourages more illegal immigration, and is inherently unfair to individuals around the world who are patiently waiting in line – often for years – to legally immigrate to the United States!” notes FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

“The United States cannot even absorb the current level of legal immigration, which adds roughly 1.1 million workers (the equivalent of the city of Dallas) to the U.S. labor market each and every year,” says FAIR. “Approximately 22 million Americans are currently unemployed or underemployed, both in high-skilled and low-skilled fields. Guest workers take job opportunities from American workers, discourage Americans from entering certain fields, and depress wages. Immigration policy should prioritize American workers first.

“Immigration reform means securing our borders and robustly enforcing our immigration laws across the country,” says FAIR. “This means preventing illegal border crossings, stopping visa overstays, and enforcing immigration laws across the country. It also means ending the Obama Administration’s blatant dismissal of federal law.”

America’s Catholic bishops say migration is a major theme in the Gospels. They note that Jesus and the Holy Family were refugees who fled the terror of Herod and sought refuge in Egypt. During his ministry, Jesus had “no place to lay His Head” and taught us to “welcome the stranger,” for “what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me” (Matthew: 25:35-41).