Acton Policy Forum: A faith-based case for immigration rights


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Feb. 6, 2004) - Do foreign citizens have a “right” to migrate to the United States? Economist Andrew Yuengert argues for a new approach to reforming immigration policy by focusing the debate on immigrant rights, rather than on localized job losses or border control issues.

Yuengert combines economic analysis and the rights language employed in Catholic social teaching to formulate a more welcoming approach in the new Acton Institute Policy Forum paper: “The Stranger Who Sojourns With You: Toward a Moral Immigration Policy.”

“A recognition of the right to migrate, when it is applicable, will open up horizons of cooperation and growth that are overlooked when immigrants are viewed simply as burdens,” he says.

Noting that Catholic social teaching consistently asserts “a very broad right” to migrate, Yuengert bases his argument on the pursuit of the universal common good and the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. From an economic perspective, he offers a counterintuitive argument: The greater the disruption in an economy induced by trade or immigration (measured by changes in prices, wages and profits), the greater the net gains to natives. The real problem caused by immigrants, Yuengert asserts, is not immigration itself but the concentration of large numbers of immigrants in a few localities where the fiscal burdens are heavy.

Closing the borders won’t help those who lose jobs. “To effectively shield unskilled workers from competition with foreign workers, the United States would have to restrict not only the immigration of unskilled labor, but also imports of goods made with foreign unskilled labor,” Yuengert says. Instead, the government should be focusing on reforming an educational system that churns out graduates who are unable to compete in an economy that demands ever higher skills.

On immigration and national security, Yuengert concludes that permanent immigrants do not necessarily present a threat. The nation could achieve much better national security by eliminating regulatory disarray and the inefficient system of information sharing among governmental agencies.

Yuengert is the John and Francis Duggan Professor of Economics at Seaver College, Pepperdine University. His research interests are labor economics, finance, the empirical study of religion, economic philosophy and Catholic social teaching. He is currently the president of the Association of Christian Economists.

To arrange an interview with Yuengert, contact John Couretas at jcouretas@acton.org or (616) 454-3080.

About the Acton Institute
With its commitment to pursue a society that is free and virtuous, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is a leading voice in the national environmental and social policy debate. The Acton Institute is uniquely positioned to comment on the sound economic and moral foundations necessary to sustain humane environmental and social policies.

The Acton Institute is a nonprofit, ecumenical think tank located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Institute works internationally to "promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles." For more on the Acton Institute, please visit www.acton.org.

Interviews with Institute staff may be arranged by contacting John Couretas at (616) 454-3080 or at jcouretas@acton.org.