Aristotle, the Church, and Illegal Immigration

Rebecca Esparza-1

From Europeans crossing the treacherous ocean to gain religious freedom and taking the land from the natives, to current day immigrants crossing rivers and deserts hoping to find an opportunity that will lead them to starting a better life- everyone has a reason for being so desperate to move that they are willing to risk their freedom and life to illegally enter another country.  However, the issue concerning immigration today is how these people are socially seen and treated, particularly young children. The hope for financial security, peace, and happiness- which is what every human being desires.

Everyone is affected by immigration in some way or another. They know an illegal family, they have hired illegal aliens, their neighbors have requested and applied for green cards or maybe their own family has history of illegal immigration.  An illegal immigrant is a foreigner who has entered or resides in a country unlawfully or without the country’s authorization.  The main reasons for immigration are those seeking refuge, people who are proactively seeking at gaining a better future while others simply desire to freely practice their religion. As of 2013, 41.3 million people, of the total U.S. population of 316.1 million, are immigrants. 80 million is the count when first and second generations are counted.  What do all of these people have in common? Though they moved here for a variety of reasons, they can all be settled down to one- they want to be happy. Plain and simple. Happy.

The Catholic Catechism teaches us that the government has two duties; both must followed and neither can be ignored. The first duty is to welcome the immigrant out of charity and respect for human life. A nation, especially a prosperous one, must aid immigrants because everyone has the right to immigrate. “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.” (CCC, 2241).  The second obligation is to keep one’s border safe and enforce laws to keep them safe for the common good. “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.” (CCC, 2241). In 2003 the U.S. Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter focused on migration which stressed that, “[w]hen 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.” The Bishops made clear that the “[m]ore powerful and economic nations are, the stronger the obligation to accommodate migration flows is.”

The 5,000 green cards available annually for low‐skilled workers to lawfully enter the United States in order to reside and work is a limited number that ultimately forces poorer minorities to seek other methods to enter the country.  The approach that the US citizens and law enforcement take is not always in line with the beliefs of the Church.  Many people dislike the undocumented immigrants, claiming that they are taking away jobs- jobs, that one might notice, no one else will take.  The approach we take towards this issue is aggressive and attacking.  It seems that more effort is being made to secure the borders (which is one government duty) than the effort to grant amnesty or make the nationalization process less complicated.  Adding the language barriers makes the whole situation even more difficult and dangerous.

How does this relate to economics? Easy- illegal immigrants, though treated like dirt, are living the Aristotelian view of happiness.  They have entered a country that will give them the opportunity to reach their full potential, to suffice for themselves and their community.  The end- the ultimate goal- is to be self-sufficing. How can one be self-sufficing and attain happiness if they are not given the opportunity and adequate resources?  They can’t and won’t.  With limited means to enter the United States, many immigrants end up committing an “evil” in order to achieve “good.”  This ties in a small part of Utilitarianism; anything which produces happiness is good and anything that produces pain is bad.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t completely apply to this situation because there are laws that must be followed and enforced therefore any action that is illegal, no matter how much joy it produces, is essentially bad.  But we do have the perfect example of man overcoming obstacles to find his purpose and exercise his right to life.

What about those who enter the country legally? Good for them for having the necessary resources (money, status and persistence) to go about the right way to pursue their goals.  That is the only difference between the two groups- the manner in which each entered the country.  One is considered a visitor, the other a criminal, even though both have the same end goals.  Aristotle would justify this by saying that in all he does, man seeks good as the end and therefore should not be punished for attempting to seeks these means. This is similar to the Church’s view of everyone having the right to immigrate and everyone else having the duty to help and aid the foreigner. In today’s world, Aristotle is being ignored by many.  Man is meant to live in community and contribute to society.  In not giving these immigrants an opportunity of education and real career so that they may flourish, we are all passing up the chance to reap in the benefits they could give, all because of a law that delays the process of dreamers achieving their dream. And we are not only concerned about immigrants; we are also preoccupied with refugees.  Seen as victims but treated like minorities, refugees also leave their country in hopes of achieving the American dream. And just like the undocumented, most do not immediately succeed at bettering their lives; some are actually in same or worse living conditions as before.  It will take several generations for these families to meet the end goal when in reality they could achieve in in two or three.

With every family that is turned away, Aristotle and the Church’s teachings on community and dreams become less impressive and more of a fantasy.  Clearly, this negative thinking must be put to an end.  If humans are being denied the possibility and means to reach their full potential and function in their own country and in another, what is the point of existing? There would be no use for travelling, gaining higher education, building communities, or competition in society to see who the best is.  Without following common good and simple ancient advice as to how to be prosperous, the exact opposite will occur.  Each individual’s happiness, in the Aristotelian sense, is dependent on the country’s citizens and how much guidance and help they receive to get started on their journey to meet their end goal.

In conclusion, illegal immigrants and refugees of the United States are not receiving the help they seek and need.  The actions of a few that sing for their rights are finally making headlines, but it will be a while before the nation accepts everyone’s basic human rights, rights that the Church and Aristotle clearly state are necessary to be happy and to fulfil our duty as humans.

“American Dream.” FI Journey. September 13, 2013. Accessed May 5, 2015.

Aristotle. Nicomachen Ethics. Book 1.

“Catholic Church’s Position on Immigration Reform.” USCCB. August 1, 2013. Accessed May 5, 2015.

Zong, Jie, and Jeanna Batalova. “Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States.” Migration Policy. February 25, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.


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