Economic Instability and the Migrant Family

Systemic poverty, economic instability, and a lack of viable employment are fundamental, root causes of unregulated migration. According to the International Labor Organization, close to 550 million workers around the world live on less than one U.S. dollar a day, while almost half of the world’s 2.8 billion workers earn less than two dollars daily.Endemic poverty affects many in our own hemisphere. In the past fifteen years Mexico has lost more than two million agricultural jobs, and in the last twenty years the Mexican minimum wage has decreased by 70 percent in real terms.The CIA reports that 84 percent of Haitians live under the poverty line, with 54 percent in abject poverty.4Such conditions stifle human flourishing by dramatically limiting opportunity and creating an environment in which the God-given gifts that we are all called to actualize can only atrophy. It should come as little surprise that in such circumstances people often seek a better life elsewhere, through both legal and illegal means.

Given the economic inequalities that separate the developed from the developing worlds and the important role that these differences play in migration patterns, the Catholic bishops have repeatedly stressed that an open-door immigration policy is not a solution to the problem of illegal immigration. International economic development is a crucial component in the management of migration patterns, illegal or otherwise. The bishops of the United States, in their pastoral letter Strangers No Longer, called on the United States to work in solidarity with the international community to help raise the standard of living, uphold human rights, and implement complementary political institutions in the underdeveloped world so that people can have the chance to prosper in their homelands, rather than having to migrate to find opportunities elsewhere.

While the U.S. government works with international entities to address the root causes of migration, other steps can be taken domestically to help regulate illegal immigration. For example, Congress can develop policies that provide legal avenues of entry for low-skilled workers that better match fluctuations in the marketplace. When the economy is strong, the availability of jobs acts as a magnet to immigrants who want to come and work but are unable to do so legally, given the lack of visas available. Only 5,000 green cards per year are available for unskilled and low-skilled workers—such as hotel employees, landscapers, and construction workers—to come to the United States. Increasing the number of visas will create job-related opportunities and legal channels through which migration can occur.

“The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today,
that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive
and morally unacceptable manner.”1
—Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate),no. 32