We must create a culture of solidarity, not offer amnesties

Editorial from The Catholic Herald
28 November, 2008

Showing respect for the dignity and civil rights of immigrants to this country is not an option for Catholics: it is a non-negotiable responsibility that arises from the message of Christ and our own dignity as human beings. Immigration policy, on the other hand, is a question for civil society that falls within the remit of politicians. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between upholding the inalienable rights of immigrants (including illegal ones) and calling for controversial changes to policy in this area. Yet the Church must try to do so. Indeed, it must try harder.

This week, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor proposed that the Government should grant an amnesty to illegal immigrants who have settled in Britain. In doing so, he was reflecting the views of several of his fellow bishops, and also of the Liberal Democrats, who support such an amnesty. But his opinion is strongly challenged by MPs from the Left and Right of the political spectrum, who argue that amnesties encourage further waves of illegal immigration that undercut the wages of the lowest paid people in our society.

A few years ago, the Cardinal appeared to lend his support to Strangers into Citizens, an amnesty campaign widely criticised for its naivety. This paper said at the time that he should have been more careful. Likewise, we wish that he had been more circumspect in his remarks to Radio 4's Sunday programme, in which he said clearly that "undocumented" migrants should receive citizenship "and so get the benefits of that". But documented immigrants do not enjoy benefits from amnesties: the experience of several European countries suggest otherwise.

The Vatican also spoke out this week, calling for a "culture of solidarity" with immigrants. That strikes the right note. Such a culture rules out cruelty to illegal immigrants; it should not rule out deporting foreign workers who break the law that exists to protect legal workers struggling to survive in a fragile economy."

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