Immigration: Principles, Rights, and Practices

A three-part interview with Fr. Gregoire Celier, SSPX. This interview was first published in English in the August, 2007 issue of The Angelus.

Principles Governing Immigration

Immigration is currently so massive a reality that it is a hot topic of conversation, the object of many newspaper articles and political declarations of every stripe. It seemed useful to us to examine this reality and the ongoing debate about it from a Catholic perspective, firstly by setting forth a number of principles without which the discussion either goes astray or deteriorates into ideology.

The Angelus: Father, by tackling the theme of immigration, you are plunging into one of the most hotly contested political conflicts. Is this the proper role of a clergyman?

Fr. Celier: Let’s be quite clear. I don’t intend to enter the domain of practical, concrete, partisan politics. That is the purview of laymen active in politics and, in a democracy, the voters. The object of my refl ection is situated above, on the level of principles, the principles of political philosophy and the principles deriving from Revelation, in order to shed some light on an often biased debate. Immigration exists; it is necessary to deal with it, but from an authentically Christian outlook.

The Angelus: Do the popes and theologians speak of this matter?

Fr. Celier: Since the Council, this has been a theme that comes up rather frequently, notably during the “Annual Migrants’ Day.” Contrariwise, I was surprised to discover that the popes before Vatican II seldom spoke of it. There are a few texts by Pius XII, which we shall cite, but there is almost nothing before him, while the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries saw massive emigration. Aid societies were founded, but few speeches are to be found. As for theologians, the majority of them have ignored the migrations of modern times.

The Angelus: So we have few doctrinal sources on the topic?

Fr. Celier: Yes, we do have; but it is necessary to look under different topics, concerning, among other things, property, the common good,  the rights of persons, duties towards one’s country, and so on. To study doctrine concerning immigration, it is necessary to do a bit of researching.

The Angelus: Where do we start?

Fr. Celier: We start by defining the word immigrant. According to the dictionary, to immigrate consists in entering a foreign country for the purpose of settling there. There is both the notion of changing countries and the notion of settlement: a tourist or visitor is not an immigrant. That being established, it is appropriate to make a few distinctions. It is often because this preliminary work is lacking that the conversation bogs down or hardens along ideological lines.

The Angelus: What distinctions?

Fr. Celier: Let’s start by specifying what immigration we are talking about. It is possible for someone to arrive in a country as a result of being violently expelled from the country of which one was a citizen. This is the case of “displaced persons,” a rather massive reality since WWII. This sad phenomenon is the result of specific measures. Or someone can enter a country having been sent there in a professional capacity by his employer. These are what we call “expatriates.” We shall not discuss them either, for very few of them stay in the host country for a long time. They are closer to tourists than to immigrants. We are focusing our discussion on persons who, of their own choice, enter a country to find a better life and, in particular, work.

The Angelus: Should all these real immigrants be put on the same level? 

Fr. Celier: I think it is necessary to make a further, threefold distinction. There are immigrants whom the host country invited to do certain work. There are other immigrants (the greater mass, today) that spontaneously enter the country. From another perspective, there are persons who immigrate for a limited time (even though this may be for the duration of their entire working life) with the intention of going home, and persons who immigrate without the intention of going back, fully intending to settle permanently. Finally, the third distinction, there are persons who immigrate while respecting the laws of the host country and others who enter without regard for the host country’s laws: they are usually called “illegal aliens” or “undocumented workers.”

The Angelus: Someone who was invited to come and who entered legally obviously must enjoy  superior rights to someone who enters illegally, then.

Fr. Celier: You see right away the importance of these distinctions. Having established these, we can seek the principles that regulate the question of immigration. It seems to me that they are to be found in the Church’s doctrine on property rights.

The Angelus: I do not quite see the relation between property and immigration.

Fr. Celier: You will understand quickly enough. The theologians unanimously teach that the earth and what it encompasses was given by the Creator to mankind in general for him to dwell in and to use for his subsistence. This universal and primitive destination of the earth remains despite all subsequent appropriations. Nevertheless, solid reasons (hard work, upkeep, order, peace, etc.) have pushed mankind to adopt private property, and not exclusively collective property (which still exists in a certain number of domains: the air we breathe, science or literature, sunshine, etc.). The appropriated good becomes “private”: it belongs to such a one, and not to others. This appropriation can be the act of an individual, a family, a society (e.g., a business), but also of a city or nation that attributes to itself a definite portion of the earth (a country).

The Angelus: That is how you get back to the question of immigration: that nation can accept or refuse the entrance on its territory of foreigners.

Fr. Celier: Exactly. As the proprietor of the land it occupies, a nation can agree to share it or not with others. This is the principle of private property: I allow into my home whomever I wish. Of course, every immigration is preceded by an emigration: an immigrant is someone who has left his own country, his own nation, his family, his culture, and often his own language. For a small number of them, it involves men with a taste for adventure. But for the majority, it involves people who are constrained to leave their own country because of poverty. It is in this context that on July 23, 1957, Pope Pius XII spoke of “the abnormal situation” of emigrants. Their misery is principally caused by  a lack of natural resources, climactic catastrophes or the like, war and corrupt governments. Because of this, the immigrant’s case involves what the theologians call a “state of necessity.” 

The Angelus: What do they mean by this “state of necessity”?

Fr. Celier: The state of necessity arises from the lack of something. For example, I need to get from Paris to Chartres for an urgent appointment. The train schedule doesn’t match, and I don’t own an automobile. I am in a certain state of necessity. My neighbor owns a car; he is not using it that day but he refuses to lend it or rent it to me. May I take his car against his will, considering that I am in need, and that before the existence of private property, the goods of the earth were given for the use of all men?

The Angelus: If such reasoning were commonly followed, it would be anarchy!

Fr. Celier: You see the problem: cases of a state of necessity are numerous, and if everyone suspended the laws of private property, the latter would disappear, together with all its benefits for the common good. The theologians have clarified this notion. They tell us that only a case of extreme necessity, that is, danger of imminent death, justifies the taking of one’s neighbor’s property insofar as it is necessary to save one’s own or another’s life (for example, a mother for her child). In this precise instance, earthly goods exceptionally reacquire their original status of being at the disposition of any man.

The Angelus: So, a man dying of hunger can help himself  in a store without committing theft, strictly speaking. But who defines the state of extreme necessity?

Fr. Celier: The theologians explain that it is not question of a common necessity, nor even of a simply grave necessity, but of an extreme necessity, that is, of peril of imminent death or of equally serious harm (loss of a limb, etc.). The same theologians underscore that in a case of extreme necessity, one may take what is necessary for survival, but no more: the cessation of private property is uniquely relative to this state of extreme necessity. In the other cases, private property must imperatively be respected for grave reasons  of the common good; otherwise, public security and confidence would be jeopardized, which would constitute significant social harm. Of course, the same theologians reiterate the duties of charity in the usage of private property: the possessors are seriously liable before God. Still, charity is not owed in justice. It would undoubtedly be an act of charity were my neighbor to lend me his car, but I cannot require him to.

The Angelus: But what happens if the one from whom  one wishes to take something is also in a state of extreme necessity?

Fr. Celier: You are right to bring up such a question insofar as extreme necessity is often a social condition: for example, during a famine, everyone is hungry. In that case, the right of the actual possessor takes precedence. If only one bit of bread remains, and with it only one person can be fed and saved, the owner of the bread can keep it, even if another dies by his side. For no one is obliged to let himself die to save another. And if the other person wants to take the bread from him, the owner possesses the right of legitimate defense to preserve his life and his possession.

The Angelus: You apply these principles of  property to the question of immigration?

Fr. Celier: I add another principle, which is not to be found in ordinary treatises of moral theology, but which has been put in practice by all governments, even by the popes in their temporal domain. We have said that private property is one of the means chosen by mankind to assure the common good. But it can happen in certain cases that the principle of private property can work against the common good: for example, an immense property legitimately possessed that is not being put to use by the proprietor, to the grave detriment of the surrounding populations. In this case, the public authority, which is responsible for the common good, can restrict the rights of private property in order, for example, to oblige the proprietor to concede the right to farm the land to sharecroppers in exchange for a just remittance. Such laws existed in the Roman Empire (both pagan and Christian), and even in the Papal States. Similarly, in the case of a natural catastrophe, everyone can understand that it is legitimate for the public authority to proceed with requisitions, and hence provisionally to limit the right of property.

The Angelus: Let’s try to summarize your remarks. In the beginning, the earth was given to all mankind for its use. In practice, for reasons of the common good, the earth was in part subject to the regime of private property. However, the proprietors must use it in accordance with charity (which in any particular case cannot be exacted) and, at least fundamentally, in the framework of the common good. In a case of extreme necessity, everyone is entitled to set limits to private property by taking what is needed for one’s survival. However, if the owner is also in a state of extreme necessity, he can legitimately defend himself to assure his own survival against what would be in this case an unjust aggression.

Fr. Celier: That’s right. To better grasp the last case (two people in danger of death fighting over a means of survival), it is enough to imagine a lifeboat designed to hold ten people after a shipwreck. If there are only five of us in the boat, we would have a serious duty to pick up other victims to save them. If we refused to do it, they would be entitled to force their way on board (a case of extreme necessity). But when the lifeboat is packed, anyone else coming aboard would sink the boat, causing the other shipwreck victims to perish as well as the occupants of the boat. In this case, the occupants have the right to defend themselves by force against the other shipwreck survivors, even though the latter are also in danger of death.  

The Angelus: Can you apply the principles we have just summarized to the question of immigration?

Fr. Celier: Let’s say that they can serve as a framework for reflection. But I would like to clarify two points, the first by remarking that immigration is not purely and simply “free.” Today the earth is not without a master; the nations legitimately possess their territory and can, within the limits of justice and charity, allow in whomever they want to. In our country today there is a veritable “immigrationist” ideology, curiously shared by extreme capitalists (in order to profit from docile, cheap labor) and by post-Marxian utopianists who act as if the earth were a vast, unowned  region which must be freely shared by the most cosmopolitan, uprooted mankind possible. In both cases, it is tantamount to denying to human beings the need and the right to legitimate roots; it is to favor a shameful exploitation of unfortunates overwhelmed by misery.

The Angelus: This union of vile exploiters and  a cosmopolitan revolution [or, deracinated globalists] is rather strange.

Fr. Celier: The second clarification concerns the welcome every nation must afford immigrants. Certainly, every nation is the proprietor of its territory, but it must not too readily close its borders to those who reasonably ask to enter. Pope Pius XII, and the Apostolic See in general, has insisted on this point. The reason for this insistence is that ordinarily the nations do not have superiors. Thus only a moral authority can call upon them to take into consideration not only their own immediate common good but also a share of the common good of the human race, as we said about requisitions in the case of a natural disaster. It was in these terms that, on August 1, 1952,  Pius XII called for international legislation concerning immigration.

The Angelus: What were Pius XII’s arguments?

Fr. Celier: The Pope first points out that the natural resources of a certain number of countries enable them to receive immigrants. On October 22, 1949, he addressed the Americans: 

Is the policy concerning immigration as liberal as the natural resources of a country so abundantly blessed by the Creator would allow and as the needs of other countries seem to require?

To the Argentinians he said on December 2, 1956:

How all this speaks of a providential abundance, of incalculable possibilities accorded by the Creator! How all that would express what might be called the maternal vocation of a people enlarging its heart to make room for all!

In the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana of August 1, 1952 (a text devoted to emigration and immigration), the Pope reiterates what he calls “the general principles of the natural law.” He speaks of  “the right of people to migrate, which right is founded in the very nature of land,” and quotes his radio address of June 1, 1951, for the 60th anniversary of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum:

Our not, at the same time, without habitable regions and living spaces now abandoned to wild natural vegetation and well suited to be cultivated by man to satisfy his needs....
Then,—according to the teaching of Rerum Novarum,—the right of the family to a living space is recognized. When this happens, migration attains its natural scope as experience often shows. We mean, the more favorable distribution of men on the earth’s surface suitable to colonies of agricultural workers; that surface which God created and prepared for the use of all.   

The Pope then quotes his letter to the American Bishops of December 24, 1948, on the general principles of natural law:

The natural law itself, no less than devotion to humanity, urges that ways of migration be opened to these people. For the Creator of the universe made all good things primarily for the good of all. Since land everywhere offers the possibility of supporting a large number of people, the sovereignty of the State, although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided of course, that the public wealth, considered very carefully, does not forbid this.

The Rights and Duties of Immigration

 -- Immigrants awaiting medical screening, Ellis Island, NY: ca. 1911 - Library of Congress

Based upon the enunciated principles and in the context of legal, authorized immigration, what should be the immigrant’s attitude towards the country that takes him in? Assimilation, equal rights, family reunifi cation, ghettos, safeguarding national identity, etc., are the questions that inevitably come to mind, especially when massive immigration is occurring rapidly.

The Angelus: Father, you have proposed certain definitions. Within this doctrinal framework, what can you tell us concretely about immigration?

Fr. Celier: We are going to look first at the normal case, which should be the only case, that of an immigrant who enters the country legally. He is obviously bound to fulfi ll a certain number of duties, as is, moreover, every citizen. 

The Angelus: What kind of duties?

Fr. Celier: Well, for example, he is bound to respect the law, the moral law fi rstly, and then the civil law. Every man is so obliged, but for the immigrant this general obligation is reinforced by a particular obligation that arises from the fact that he is the recipient of the hospitality of the country receiving him. He must also be grateful towards the host country and show this gratitude by his attitude: this is his way of practicing the piety towards the fatherland which is a citizen’s duty. As Pius XII put it on July 23, 1957, the immigrant “must be conscious of what he owes the people that welcomes him and tries to facilitate his progressive adaptation to his new way of life.”

The immigrant must also do his job conscientiously, an obligation incumbent on everyone, native or immigrant; but in his case, this obligation is reinforced by the work contract that was the key to his entering the country. In short, he must be a decent and serious man, like every one, with the added nuance that, being the recipient of a generous hospitality, he is bound to be more watchful over himself.

The Angelus: Does the immigrant have a duty to become integrated into the host country, to learn  the language, and to accept local customs?

Fr. Celier: The notion of hospitality will enlighten us here. When I am someone’s guest, I bend myself somewhat to his way of doing things. But this depends upon how long I’ll be staying with my host. If it is just for dinner, this accommodation will be rather superficial. If I am spending a long holiday or vacation at his home, I’ll make greater efforts. But a young lady hired to be a nanny in a foreign country, for example, obviously must model herself much more on the customs of the family receiving her.

The Angelus: So a temporary immigrant is less obliged than a permanent immigrant?

Fr. Celier: Obviously. Someone who is coming for a few months’ internship is not necessarily obliged to learn the language: in general, that would be a disproportionate investment. But it is normal that someone who wants to settle permanently in another country learn the language and know how to adopt the local customs. This is simply a matter of showing respect towards those who are sharing their riches with him. Undoubtedly, there can be exceptions because, as we all know, it is difficult to learn a foreign language after a certain age. But, as a general rule, it is evident that a long-term immigrant must study the language and customs of the host country. A certain number of countries have wisely made it a law that, to acquire citizenship (the ultimate goal of immigration), immigrants must pass tests on their knowledge of the language and customs.

The Angelus: You have succinctly described the principal duties of the immigrant towards the host country. Does the host country have duties towards him?

Fr. Celier: Of course! I remind you that we are speaking of legal immigration: the country has agreed to accept the immigrant, and in some cases has invited him to come. This constitutes a form of implicit contract. The country must, for the sake of ordinary decency (we would say, as Christians, of justice and charity) as well as the implicit contract, treat him with respect, guarantee his rights, watch over him, etc.

The Angelus: Must this immigrant enjoy the same rights as citizens?

Fr. Celier: Not necessarily, quite simply because he is not a citizen. The nanny does not have the same rights as the children. For example, if the parents die, she will not receive an inheritance. But the nanny must be treated with courtesy, be given time off, receive the agreed remuneration, etc. The same holds for the immigrant. He must not be insulted, hazed, cheated, or exploited, according to the universal rule: Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you. It is the duty of every citizen as well as the public authority to observe this respect for the other, as is natural. Now, the immigrant cannot demand the absolute enjoyment of the same rights as the citizens because he is being received as a guest. In France, for example, he cannot vote; he cannot apply for certain jobs relating to national security. The United States goes further: the president must be born in that country. Even if he is perfectly assimilated, even if he has become a citizen, a first-generation immigrant does not possess all the rights of the native-born.

The Angelus: Must the country foster assimilation?

Fr. Celier: Everything depends on the host country’s immigration policy. If it is restrictive, it is in its interest  to opt for short-term stays strictly controlled by a system of renewable visas. In this case, a superficial assimilation suffices to ensure peaceful coexistence and to keep the immigrant from becoming too attached to the host country. If, on the contrary, the country is welcoming immigrants to settle permanently, it must, to avoid the progressive dislocation of national unity, promote an adequate assimilation. However, while striving to guarantee a certain homogeneity of the population, the State must not transform itself into a totalitarian monster nor violate the most elevated rights of its citizens, especially the supernatural rights of baptism. As Pope Pius XII said on July 23, 1957, assimilation must not be effected “at the expense of natural rights and to the detriment of religious and moral values.” A Muslim State cannot force a Catholic to apostatize under the pretext that it is inhabited by Muslims.

The Angelus: Must family reunification be authorized?

Fr. Celier: Normally, a man has the right to marry and to live with his family. The exceptions to this rule must be justifiable and limited. For example, a soldier of the Foreign Legion cannot marry during his first enlistment. The purpose of this rule is to foster the soldier’s incorporation into the Legion. Likewise, for a limited-term work contract (for a particular job or rotation on a petroleum platform), the host country can stipulate that the immigrant must come alone. Conversely, long-term immigration is not compatible with the refusal to allow the worker to be joined by his family. The ten-year, automatically renewable work visa instituted in France in the 1970’s naturally goes together with family reunification.

The Angelus: So temporary immigration becomes permanent immigration?

Fr. Celier: Certainly. But that follows almost automatically from long-term immigration. To allow someone to spend 10, 20, 30, or 40 years in a country to work is necessarily to open the vista of his becoming a citizen. The contrary, it must be said, is unreasonable and inhumane. Thus, if a country accepts long-term immigration, then at the same time (and this is the natural law, as the popes have reminded us) it accepts the arrival of the immigrant’s family. And if the State allows children to be born there, learn the language and be educated, then implicitly it accepts the fact that this family can finally become, in one way or another, citizens. If this is not the desired outcome, then only short-term, not automatically renewable visas should be given. And if the State desires to allow it for some and not for others, then it is necessary to establish a quota system, as in the US.

The Angelus: What you are proposing constitutes blatant “discrimination”–a word that  today does not receive a favorable press.

Fr. Celier: The word has taken the connotation of persecution or segregation, hence it is no longer adequate. It would be better simply to speak of distinction. There are legal distinctions between children and adults, and between men and women (for example, in the army, assignment or not to combat arms); there are also very legitimate distinctions between citizens and immigrants.

The Angelus: What types of distinctions can a country put in place for immigrants?

Fr. Celier: Let’s recall one of the principles guiding our reflection. The nation is the legitimate proprietor of the territory it occupies, with its resources both natural and human; it can share them with whomever it wishes, within certain limits to which we shall turn later. The public authority is firstly and principally in charge of the common good of this nation, and not that of the other countries of the world. The public authority must therefore be sure that the welcoming of immigrants favors the common good and does not harm it. As Pope Pius XII said on March 13, 1946, “a certain restriction on immigration” is admissible, for “in this matter, it is not only the interests of the immigrants, but also the prosperity of the nation that must be consulted.”

The Angelus: In what way?

Fr. Celier: I think that the public authority must first determine the country’s capacity to accept immigrants, especially regarding employment, which is in general the immigrant’s main goal. It is entirely abnormal to allow in immigrants for work when thousands, and even millions, of citizens are unemployed and willing to take the work. That is obviously wrong and absurd. As Georges Marchais, head of the Communist party, said with common sense, “the arrival of new workers must be determined, every year, in relation to the common good and the needs of the economy.” 

A nation’s natural resources must equally be taken into account: a country that is just self-sufficient in food production must not allow in a large number of immigrants because it will not be able to feed them and its own population. The same can be said for lodging: it is absurd to accept hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their families when a significant part of the population does not manage to find decent lodging. 

The Angelus: So the public authority must watch over the balance of the fundamental goods of the nation?

Fr. Celier: That is self-evident. Mankind had to await the recent era to see politicians boast of pursuing Utopian projects flying in the face of reality. The art of the statesman, on the contrary, is the art of the possible in the service of the common good. But I think that besides the fundamental goods of a nation, there are other collective goods which the State cannot dispose of according to its own lights. I am thinking in particular of social security. This is the inalienable property of those who have contributed to it.  It seems to me abnormal to give millions of immigrants unlimited rights to Social Security payments without consulting its legitimate proprietors, namely all the workers contributing to it. Of course, an immigrant who works and contributes has a right to an equitable participation. But is it just that newcomers be automatically taken care of  in a very protective manner by the system to which they never belonged? This is not done for other insurances: the immigrant does not have a right to free automobile insurance or life insurance. Why should this be different for medical insurance? Undoubtedly, it is necessary to be just, humane, reasonable. It is normal to treat well those whom one decides to take in. But it would be abnormal for the immigrant to enjoy greater advantages than the citizen simply because of his immigrant status, especial when it involves the citizen’s own property.

The Angelus: If a country’s natural resources are sufficient, and if immigration helps development, can the public authority just open the borders?

Fr. Celier: I don’t think so. Once again, the public authority is at the service of the common good of the nation as a whole. It cannot therefore stop at purely economic considerations, which is unfortunately the great flaw in the policy of many governments today. The rapid influx of a massive number of immigrants creates problems of coexistence between the groups. In the words of Mitterand, there are “thresholds of tolerance,” about which he said on December 10, 1989: “The threshold of tolerance [of immigration] was crossed during the 1970’s.”

All the more so that  immigrants from the same nation quite naturally tend to settle in the same place, spontaneously creating sorts of “ghettos,” potential sources of conflict with the natives. A government worthy of the name has a duty to regulate immigration to avoid these difficulties and tensions. It must control the rate of entry (to allow the first immigrants time to assimilate) and the total number admitted. Once again, a policy of quotas as it is practiced in the US, a country inhabited almost exclusively by immigrants, is a wise and balanced policy.

The Angelus: According to you, in its search for the common good in the face of immigration, the public authority must take into consideration the nation’s capacity to assimilate immigrants, respect for the collective property of the citizens, and the equilibrium between the populations to avoid balkanization.

Fr. Celier: Yes, but I think that it is necessary to go even further, onto ground upon which most politicians dare not venture too often, yet which has its importance. A nation is not an aggregate of anonymous individuals, standardized and interchangeable with other men of any other nation. A nation possesses an ethnic and cultural identity which is its good, its property, and which it has the right (and even the duty) to protect and maintain. France, for example, is a white nation–or rather, let’s say, to be politically correct, “Caucasian.” In France there are citizens of African and Asiatic origin, and they are quite legitimate. But France is not a black nation, nor yellow, no more than Senegal is a white country, or Japan a black country: even though in Senegal as in Japan, there are white, yellow, and black citizens. It is normal for France to want to preserve its ethnic identity. To do that, it possesses an incontestable right to privilege Caucasian immigration, principally European, and to restrict black or yellow immigration.

The Angelus: Your remark is a bit daring in our day of witch hunts, but one mustn’t let oneself be silenced by group think.

Fr. Celier: Let’s move to the consideration of culture. France possesses a language derived from Latin: it can, for this reason, privilege immigrants coming from Latin countries, for example the Spanish or Italians (who constituted a large part of the “pied noir” community in Algeria). France possesses a history, a culture, a sensibility which it is lawful to protect by regulating immigration so as to admit only those new entrants apt to be assimilated easily. Even beyond the cultural heritage, there is at the basis of the French identity something much more important, and which the nation must protect at all costs.

The Angelus: Namely?

Fr. Celier: Its Catholic roots. The French nation began to take shape around the baptismal font of Rheims, and it developed over the centuries through a constant union between the Church, the monarchy, and the people. Certainly, the Revolution and its consequences, notably the Separation of Church and State of 1905, broke the juridical bond between the Catholic faith and French nationality. Certainly, the progressive dechristianization, largely fomented by Freemasonry, sapped the vital forces of its Catholicism. Nevertheless, the French people, in its instinctive reactions, its way of thinking, speaking, acting, envisioning the world, remains profoundly marked by Catholicism. It is legitimate to want to preserve these roots and to privilege the immigration of persons coming from Catholic countries like Ireland, Poland, Portugal, or Quebec, rather than persons coming from Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim countries, and so on.

Young Peoples, Old Peoples

 -- U.S. immigration officer watches as car enters El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juárez, Nov. 1964

Legal immigration is just the visible face of a much more massive phenomenon, that of illegal immigration, which could even be called an “invasion.” Is it permissible to refuse or repulse the unfortunates driven from their own countries by misery?

The Angelus: Father, you have defined the duties as well as the rights of the legal immigrant. You have also enounced the rights and duties of the host country. But today it is illegal immigration much more than legal immigration that is the problem.

Fr. Celier: To approach this difficult question, let’s try to understand better the reasons for emigration and immigration. The principal cause of emigration, as we have said, is poverty, misery. Now what are the causes of immigration, that is, the choice to enter one country rather than another?  There are two obvious reasons, and two less obvious. First, immigration is desired by the host country to obtain workers to fill the jobs that the citizens don’t do (hard work, paltry pay, difficulties, etc.). Secondly, immigration is chosen by the immigrant. The obvious reason that comes to his mind is the peace and prosperity of the host country. 

Then there are two less obvious reasons. The first is our demographic depression. As I said, politics is the art of the real. It is a “biological” reality, I would say: a country whose population is stagnating, diminishing, or aging, creates a vacuum for younger, more active, poorer peoples. However you look at it, the fact cannot be escaped: a rich country like France, if it refuses to have children, will necessarily have immigrants. 

The second reason comes as a corollary of the first: a country that no longer has children is a country that has lost confidence in itself, its culture, its history, its values. It is thus willingly a cosmopolitan country, cosmopolitanism being, not a generous and reasonable welcome of others, but rather the nonchalance that is a prelude to death. The immigrants sense that, in this depressed country, they can keep their own customs while benefiting from the local wealth, for the natives no longer have a zest for life and camouflage this death wish beneath a false notion of welcome and sharing.

The Angelus: Your vision is hardly optimistic, but it seems unfortunately realistic.

Fr. Celier: For me, when a prosperous country suffers from a real and persistent problem of immigration, the causes are more internal than external. The globe is big, you know: why would immigrants choose a particular country if they were not sure of being taken in and of making a niche. A strong country, proud of its values, young mentally and demographically, whose citizens are ready to make themselves respected, will know how to regulate immigration. A country aging mentally and demographically because of its refusal to give life and to believe in itself, is an easy prey for the uncontrolled migratory masses.

The Angelus: Let’s get to illegal immigration, which is at the center of all the debates. 

Fr. Celier: The political action must be effected at the source. Sending back the illegal immigrants does not constitute a policy; working to change things in the countries of origin so that they do not want to leave home could constitute a solution. As long as the life of the citizen in his own country is worse than the life of an illegal immigrant exploited by the slave drivers of the sweatshops, then the tide will continue to rise: no one is going to choose to die of hunger in his own country when he knows that he can live, however badly, in another country. As a politician openly fighting against immigration in France (and who is persecuted for it) said, “You cannot build walls to the sky.” The target country of immigration must act at the source to remove the desire to leave. This used to be called cooperation; now it is called codevelopment. It is better to invest in helping a country attain prosperity and retain its people than to spend billions trying to keep unfortunate people from trying to enter our country, which they will always succeed in doing because misery engenders energy, patience, and cunning.

The Angelus: There is a lot of talk about cooperation or codevelopment, but nothing seems to be happening.

Fr. Celier: First of all, there is a problem here. Political and journalistic habits have gradually imposed a very short-term horizon on political discussion, gestures preferred to long-term actions, the only kind that can be effective. Some publicize “charters” to show that they are fighting against illegals; others subscribe to “regularization” to show  that they are treating the problem humanely. Some call for “abolishing the debt” of poor countries, etc. These measures do not constitute a policy any more than painkillers can cure sickness. Expulsions are necessary; regularizations are necessary; forgiveness of debt is necessary; but only as nuances in a long-term policy, the only kind that can be effective.

The Angelus: The countries of emigration are not necessarily very “cooperative” in accelerating their development.

Fr. Celier: That is a problem. The decolonization in the post-war period did not go very well. It took place at a time when the European peoples were demoralized. As a result, we left without provision, with a parting “Now get along without us!” That said, some people with the same level of resources and education as others at the start, took charge of their future and succeeded in rising from misery or in avoiding it, while others gradually sank into “underdevelopment.” When I was young, we had to make sacrifices during Lent for “the poor little Indians.” Now this country has undergone its green revolution, and now we are told that it will be one of the economic giants of the 21st century. The same was never said of black, sub-Saharan Africa, a continent that contains, nonetheless, immense resources. Yet today, it is a locus of misery and the source of a continuous stream of immigration.

The Angelus: But these countries’ misery is caused first of all by their own widespread corruption, the negligence of leaders, inter-tribal strife, and, lastly, by power struggles.

Fr. Celier: That’s true. In that regard, codevelopment is not easy. And the time lost in vain talk over the last 40 years has not helped anything. But France still possesses a certain moral authority, an administration, an economy, an army. By really applying ourselves with a political vision, in the long run it would really be possible to help the populations stay home, because they would be happier there than in a foreign land. After that, it would be necessary to address wisely  and humanely the residual immigration, which would not represent the grave problems posed by massive immigration today.

The Angelus: However, even with codevelopment, it could  happen that the population of one country in a state of misery might invade another country en masse.  

Fr. Celier: That’s what former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing called “invasion immigration,” when he declared on September 21, 1991: “The kind of problem we are facing has shifted from immigration to invasion.” The author Jean Raspail imagined such a scenario in his 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints. In the novel, the target country is also in a state of extreme necessity. It obviously cannot suddenly take in millions of foreigners. It has no lodging, food, or employment for them. 

In such an event, the target country has a real right to legitimate defense, even against people who are objectively in misery and suffering. The images of an army preventing by force hordes of unfortunates from entering a country in danger of their ruining it would be very unpleasant, but weakness in this case would endanger the inhabitants without saving the would-be immigrants. We are considering a rather unusual case, undoubtedly, but which in part is the reality, even today. 

The Angelus: You are preaching a right to self-defense?

Fr. Celier: A people has an incontestable right to protect itself against an immigrant influx that turns into an invasion. We have said along with the popes: the welcome in principle must be generous, because the earth was created in the beginning for all of humanity, and a majority of the immigrants knock at the door in order to escape their wretched condition. On the other hand, the territory belongs to the nation that inhabits it as its property, and it can receive whom it likes. It is incumbent on the political authority to defend the common good of the nation itself before the good of other men or of the world. This public authority must put in place a humane, just, and generous immigration policy, but it must also be prudent, reasonable, and wise. Now, it would be neither reasonable nor wise nor just to let entire peoples flood into the nation out of sheer laxity to the grave detriment of the country of origin, of the host country and nation of which the leaders are only the representatives. 

The Angelus: Has an illegal immigrant any rights?

Fr. Celier: That’s the way the subject is framed nowadays, but this question is skewed from the start. For the term used (illegal) in itself excludes any right; but the illegal is not only an illegal, he is, for example, a human being. So if I answer that he has no rights, then I am inhumane; if I answer that he possesses certain rights, they are applied to his illegal status. I think that it is necessary to invert the question, and to ask what are a country’s duties towards the illegal alien. We have the duty to make him return to his own country, but in a just and humane way.

The Angelus: If the illegal alien has been there for 10 or 20 years, is it still just to deport him? 

Fr. Celier: You are bringing up a question of juridical status. Everyone knows the maxim: “Supreme justice becomes supreme injustice.” For example, it is good to punish a malefactor. But if he is not caught, after a certain lapse of time, to punish him (which would be just per se) risks causing even greater injustices. That is why the law posits a limitation: for example, in France, there a statute of limitation of 30 years for murder. It may be wise to establish a statue of limitation for immigration violations. The law could stipulate that an immigrant having remained undetected in the country for 20 years, for example, could be regularized. But let’s be clear: this has nothing to do with the illegal alien’s right; it involves, rather, a rule set for the sake of the common good. That is why statutes of limitation vary from country to country. 

The Angelus: Why are the current European governments so ineffectual against the phenomenon of immigration?

Fr. Celier: Each one is the guardian of its laws. Despite the moralizing proclamations, a people that has lost the will to live will necessarily be submerged by young, courageous, prolific peoples. The rest is nothing but fiction and warm feelings. A people that no longer wants to do hard work will be invaded by the immigrants who come to do them. A people that no longer wants to have any children will be invaded by more prolific immigrants. A people that no longer wants to defend itself will have an army of immigrants. Such is the hard law of life: there is no place at the banquet of humanity for old peoples. 

The Angelus: Is there a solution?

Fr. Celier: There are palliatives, of course. The slower the rate of immigration, the better the chance of assimilating the immigrants without altering the personality of the host country. Slowing down immigration is a way of gaining time. But the solution is the renaissance of our peoples: by demographic growth, by the taste for work, by the love of one’s own values, by fidelity towards our history. And also by an effective political policy of codevelopment to enable the poor populations to stay at home in peace.  But for such a renaissance, it would be necessary to reverse the direction of the infernal machine put in place some 130 years ago.

The Angelus: An infernal machine?

Fr. Celier: The one the “[French] Republicans” of 1875 devised. They wanted France to cut her ties to the Church while at the same time keeping her Christian morals. They wanted the French to stop being Catholics but remain decent, hard-working, patriotic, polite, and obedient. Only, when you cut the tree at its roots, you mustn’t be surprised to see it die. Undoubtedly, a little time will pass before it weakens and breaks. But one stormy day, this tree will fall on its owner’s house. The French who were taught that there is no God finally drew the conclusions: “No God, no master.” Why be honest if there is no Divine sanction? Why work if one can live without working? 

Only a restoration of Christianity could give our people back a taste for eternal life, and before that for life on earth. The question of immigration is certainly a political question. But it is pre-eminently a more serious, pre-political question.  Does our people still have a zest for life and to be itself, and to make proportional efforts to that end? If it surrenders to the gentle sleep of  decline, it will ineluctably end by disappearing, submerged by young peoples demanding their piece of the cake of life. 

Translated exclusively for Angelus Press' August 2007 issue: "Immigration," from the Society of Saint Pius X’s French District’s monthly magazine Fideliter (Jan.-Feb. 2007, pp.5-10), with slight abridgments by Mr. James Vogel.