You shall not molest or oppress a foreigner, for you were once foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry. Exodus 22:20-22

The War on Immigrants

Do not exploit the foreigners who live in your land. They should be treated like everyone else,
and you must love them as you love yourself.
Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.
I, the LORD, am your God. Leviticus 19:33-34

HOME | Summer 2006 Catholic Worker

Theological background of our opposition to harsh immigration laws.
The widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor
The Bible blames the rich for the sufferings of the poor.
Jesus models love for the poor.
Injustice to immigrants is a grave sin.
The punishment of those who oppress the poor.
Harsh immigration laws and abortion.
All the way to hell is hell.

The Oscar Romero Catholic Worker Community Opposes the Wicked Immigration Law Proposals!

In recent months, laws have been introduced into the United States Congress and the Oklahoma Legislature that would treat immigrants and refugees with great harshness and cruelty. These laws would make it a crime to offer help to the poor if they are not legal residents.

The Oscar Romero Catholic Worker community condemns these laws. We call upon all people of goodwill to stand together in solidarity against these wicked and evil laws that are based in

racism and hatred of other cultures. We encourage everybody to contact their representatives in Congress and the Oklahoma Legislature to show their opposition.

We welcome the migrant and the refugee to our city and state. Our city and state will be better places to live if we offer hope and hospitality to immigrants. If these laws are passed by Congress and the Legislature, we will meet this culture of death evil

with civil disobedience. We will continue to offer hospitality and help to immigrants, even if this becomes a crime. There is no moral obligation to obey an evil and wicked law. There is nothing

in the Bible that commands us to obey the government when the government does evil. We will not damn our souls to hell to satisfy corrupt politicians. We will continue to feed the hungry at

every opportunity we find. We will never ask anyone to prove that they are a legal resident before offering them help and hope.

We warn all who support these wicked and evil laws that the condemnation of God is upon people who oppress and persecute the poor. Their sins against the poor may send them to hell if they do not repent and seek God's forgiveness for the evil they work at the highest levels of government.

We call upon all the saints of social justice, in particular Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Dorothy Day of New York, Saint Peter Maurin of New York, and Saint Oscar Romero of El Salvador, to  witness this evil and to stand with us in opposition. Give us strength to resist Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

/sig/ Bob Waldrop

The Theological Background of Our Opposition to Harsh Immigration Laws
By Robert Waldrop

The charism of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin calls us to do the works of mercy, justice, and peace. The mission statement of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House specifically calls us to speak truth to power, to protect the poor and the powerless, to make injustice visible, and to work for reconciliation with truth, evangelism, catechesis, and orthopraxis (right living). The source of our opposition to the proposed harsh immigration laws can therefore be found in the Bible and in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The God of the Bible is not a remote, disinterested, philosophical principle of Logos. This is a mighty God, a thunderous Adonai, who rewards the just and punishes the wicked (Jer. 21:11-12). This is the God who commands the people to remember the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner and act with justice towards them (Ex. 22:20-26, Jeremiah 21:1-2, Mott 376). God directs Israel to order its economy so that the poor were enabled to participate in it and survive (Deut. 15:1-2, 4-11; Lev. 23:22). The LORD delivers the slaves from oppression, destroys the wicked and the unjust, and raises up redemption for the poor (Is. 2:1-5; Ps. 140:13-14; Deut.23:16-17). The fasting that El Shaddai demands is not the mere abstinence from food or drink, but rather, the removing of yokes of slavery and oppression-- and then, the actual breaking of those yokes of bondage, oppression, and fear (Is. 58:6-12).

Adonai comes to humanity in history. The story of the LORD reaches into the dim recesses of ancestral memory. God punishes and rejects kingdoms when they oppress the poor and act with injustice towards them (Ezekial 22:23-31, Is.1:14-16). God brings the Babylonians to the unjust city, and lays the proud and haughty low into poverty (Is. 28:14-18). This is the One of Vision, El Roi, who promises redemption, who calls the people to look beyond the sufferings of the moment and envision a time when all swords will be beaten into plowshares; when the lamb and the lion will lie down together and there will be no more oppression upon God's

holy mountain (Is. 11:1-9; 2:1-5). The everlasting covenant of the LORD is written upon the hearts of the People of God (Is. 49:8-18). According to the Bible, there is a broad connection between social justice and prosperity in a society (Collins 367). A duty can be discerned from Scripture requiring the state to come to the aid of the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner (e.g. Jer. 7:3-7).

Throughout all of the Bible -- like a golden thread woven throughout the entire collection of books -- is the love and concern of God for the poor. We humans tend to love the rich and hate the poor, but that is not the way of the LORD. The breadth of the commitment of Adonai to the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner is vast and deep. The Bible teaches without any ambiguity that all who oppress the poor are going to hell. (Matthew 25). Oppressors of the poor are wicked. Those who help the poor are the righteous (Deut. 27:19; Coogan, 604). The Bible clearly teaches that is it evil to pervert the law to oppress the poor. (Brown 822).

The Widow, the Orphan, the Foreigner, and the Poor

"Widow" is the common translation of the Hebrew 'almana and the Greek word chera, but this English word does not convey the complete meaning of the Hebrew (Hiebert, 795). A more accurate translation would be "women who are abandoned, helpless and who live at the edge of society" (Holwerda 1060, Hiebert 795). The many references to widows (35 in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible) suggest that such women were frequently oppressed and were in danger of exploitation, harm, and misery (Baab 842). This was a common concern throughout Mesopotamia and the Near East, and laws calling for compassion and support of widows are found in ancient Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, the Hittite Empire, Egypt, and Ugarit (Queen- Sutherland 960).

Foreigners were a second class of people that were of special concern to God. This term (sometimes translated alien, sojourner or stranger) refers to anyone living in the community who is not part of the tribes of Israel. They were often poor (Willis "Alien" 20). Various statements in the Bible suggest a link with other oppressed groups such as widows and orphans (Coughenour 561). Israel was to remember and be kind to these people, because they themselves had once been strangers in Egypt, where they were oppressed. Foreigners, together with the widows and orphans, were allowed to glean the fields after they had been harvested. (Deut. 24:19-21, Holwerda "Widow" 1060). The penalty for disobedience to this law is oppression of the oppressors (Holwerda "Widow" 1061). We should note that at the very beginning of Christ's life, Mary and Joseph take him to Egypt, fleeing the massacre of the Holy Innocents. They live as refugees - strangers - in a foreign land until the time is right for them to return. Indeed, the Holy Family is the archetypical refugee family, fleeing persecution.

A third group of particular concern were the orphans. In modern English usage, this suggests a child without parents, but in ancient Israel, the Hebrew word for orphans included those who had no father, not only those who had no father or mother (Pridmore 737). This is why the term is given as "fatherless" in some translations. There are 42 references to orphans in the Old Testament, in 34 of them they are associated with widows. The prophets taught that a primary duty of the state was caring for orphans, but their extensive denunciations of the Israelite states suggest that this responsibility was a primary failure of the Israelite kingdoms (Willis "Orphan" 566). The Bible links the status of being "landless" with poverty and teaches that those with land must help those without (Park 27). Altogether, there are 169 references to the poor in the Old Testament (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance), throughout all the divisions of Old Testament Scripture. There is more biblical material about widows, orphans, poverty, foreigners, and the poor than there is about adultery, fornication, lust, homosexuality, and idolatry.

The Bible Blames the Rich for the Sufferings of the Poor

The Bible blames the rich for the sufferings of the poor in many different places, across all of the history recorded therein (e.g. Micah 2:2, Amos 2:6-7, Isaiah 5:8 and the Gospels, and the book of James in the New Testament). It presents pictures of ideal rulers as those who protect the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner from oppression (Psalm 72:1-4, 7; Psalm 9:7-9; Dan. 4:27, Proverb 31:9; 1 Kings 10:9). The prophecies of the Messianic king indicate an expectation that a characteristic of this righteous ruler will be an end to the oppression of the poor by the rich (Isaiah 11:4, Ezekial 34:23, Mott 370).

This context provides tools for interpreting Paul's writings in Romans 13 about the role of government and what is meant by doing "good" and doing "evil." This passage is being used by leaders of the anti-immigrant movement who want to make the status of being an illegal immigrant a felony. But this is a perversion of the biblical text. As a righteous and faithful Israelite, Paul would have known of these texts I have cited above from an early age. When Paul writes, "not to those who do good, but to those who do evil," and "If you do wrong," (Romans 13), informing these concepts are the Old Testament writings that link oppression of the poor with wickedness in government (Mott 370). For the Apostle Paul, "doing wrong" included oppressing the poor and discriminating against foreigners.

Generations of Christians, beginning with the apostolic generation, went to their deaths as martyrs because of their refusal to obey Roman laws mandating worship of the Emperor. "Just burn a little incense before this statue, what can it hurt? It is your obligation to obey the law." But in fact, then and now, there is no moral obligation to obey an unjust law.

The United States of America is far removed -- in time, place, and social organization -- from the ancient Hebrew tribes, kingdoms, and principalities. Even so, these Old Testament texts seem surprisingly contemporary. The prophetic condemnation of those who oppress the poor is clear: "I will draw near to you for judgment, and I will be swift to bear witness, against the sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers, those who defraud the workers of their wages, against those who defraud widows and orphans; those who turn aside the stranger, and those who do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 3:5).

The oracles of the Old Testament identify the Messiah as the one who would preach the good news to the poor (Is. 11). This good news is a gospel of salvation, redemption, and liberation from every cruel oppression (see Sollicitudo Rei Socialis by Pope John Paul II). In reflecting on their experience in Christ, the early Church saw in those oracles their fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the poor carpenter from Nazareth of Galilee, a poor rural hick town with a poor reputation. The genesis of Catholic social teaching - and our Catholic Worker attitude towards immigrants - is found therefore in the work and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus Models Love for the Poor

The picture of Jesus painted by the Evangelists is that of a preacher, miracle worker, and comforter who opened his heart to the oppressed and the marginalized and who brought them comfort, healing, and salvation (Luke 4:12-21; 5:27-31; Mark 1:32-34, Paprocki 12, Hilfiker 26). Jesus would never preach a crusade against the poor, as so many politicians do these days. Fr. Philip Land, in his essay "The Earth is the Lord's" in Above Every Name, cites numerous social justice themes of the Gospels including: Jesus preaches liberation and denounces pre-occupation with money and the lusts for power and honor; he announces a new way of life (a "counter-culture") with a distinctive style; Jesus openly and flagrantly associates with the poor, the outcast, those on the margins of society, and this new gospel clashes with the Establishment (213-217).

The parables of Jesus are often associated with women and widows (Matt. 13:33, Luke 15:8, Matt. 24:40, Luke 18:1-8). Jesus was not afraid to be seen in public talking with women (Luke 10:38-42, John 4:7-27). Many healings involved women -- cf. Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:29), Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:40-56) the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Jesus had many followers who were women, and this is reported by the Evangelists (Luke 8:1-3). Women are featured in the accounts of the crucifixion and were the first witnesses of the resurrection (Brown 1058-59). They were involved with financially supporting the ministry of Jesus (John 19:25-30; Luke 23:55 - 24:12; John 20:11-17; Matt. 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41). Jesus was accepted by the poor and rejected by the rich. He was a political refugee, often homeless, obviously misunderstood, and eventually rejected, tortured, murdered after an unjust trial (Park 27). The New Testament has several references to "tenant farmers" who have lost land to debt -- three such references in Matthew alone (Matt. 13:44, 18:23-25, 21:33-36; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 16:1- 16).

Numerous sayings were written in the Gospels about Jesus healing people afflicted with "demons" (Mark 1:32-34; Luke 4:31-36; Matt. 4:23-25). He went to dinner with tax collectors (Luke 5:27-31). He honored a "sinful woman" at the house of a Pharisee during dinner (Luke 7:30-50). He taught that "tax collectors and prostitutes" would enter the Reign of God ahead of the religious hypocrites of his era (Matt. 21:28-32). The New Testament, in a text that was written a few short years after Jesus was seen to be alive after he was seen to be dead (and which predates the gospels), portrays Jesus as voluntarily choosing poverty for the sake of God's reign (Phil. 2:3-6). Christ sent his apostles out to preach without money or provisions for the journey (Matt. 10). These miracles are signs of redemption and reconciliation. They proclaim the acceptance by God of those on the edge of society (Dietrich 21).

A vision is presented in the New Testament of Jesus as one who practiced justice to the poor (e.g. Matt. 19:21, Park 25). Luke is often referred to as the "Gospel of the Poor", because of its emphasis on the "poor and lowly, the outcast, the sinner, and the afflicted" (Perkins 96). Luke includes unique material about Jesus' concern for the poor, including the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of Zaccheus and the Magnificat (Perkins 421-422). Regarding the Good Samaritan parable - in Israel, Samaritans were foreigners. In Luke, the first Beatitude is the simple, "Blessed are you who are poor" (Luke 6:20).

Jesus is not on the side of those who would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant. Jesus is on the side of the illegal immigrants. Those who preach crusades against immigrants preach a crusade against Jesus Himself. "Obedience to law" can never be a justification for persecution of the poor.

Injustice to Immigrants is a Grave Sin

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, injustice to immigrants is one of seven sins that "cry to heaven". It is ranked with murder of the innocent in its gravity: "1867 The catechetism plainly states that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel, the sin of the Sodomites, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner."

Regarding the claim by supporters of harsh immigration laws that obedience to human law is absolute, the Catechism says: "1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.""(Quoting John XXIII Pacem et Terra 51.) In the terms of the present debate, "group" as used in the Catechism includes native born and naturalized citizens, and all immigrants, legal or illegal - the common good embraces everyone resident within the country, irrespective of their legal status.

This is an important point because many people expressing opposition to immigrants seem to be particularly incensed about Hispanic immigrants. We hear few complaints about Irish or Canadian illegal immigrants, although there are many of them. People complain about hearing Spanish spoken and seeing signs and advertisements in Spanish. One searches, however, in vain through the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church for any support for this kind of hateful, divisive, racist, demonizing, and de-personalizing rhetoric. In the Kingdom of God there is no Jew or Greek, American or Mexican.

There are numerous encyclicals and pastoral letters from bishops on migration issues. Many of these can be found at the Migration and Refugees section of the United States Catholic Bishop's Conference website, .

The Punishment of Those Who Oppress the Poor

The gravity of sins against the poor, which certainly includes illegal immigrants, is indicated by the numerous condemnations in Holy Scripture of those who oppress the poor. While many could be cited, let us look at the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." " Matthew 25:41-46.

In the original Greek text of the New Testament, the word for "stranger" in this passage is xenos, which means "foreign." Thus, we see that the Bible teaches that the spiritual punishment for injustice to foreigners is eternal punishment. Regarding hell, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "1035: The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, 'eternal fire.' The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs." This is why we asked the legislators of the State of Oklahoma, during their debate about immigration laws, "Will your sins against the poor send you to hell?"

Hell is a mystery, and I don't pretend to understand it or know much about it, other than people should not want to go there. Its connection with injustice to immigrants illustrates the grave spiritual danger that those who support these laws experience. The testimony of the Bible, including the words of Jesus and the unambiguous teaching of the Catholic Church in the Catechism, clearly indicate the gravity of injustice towards migrants and economic refugees.

People who are not primarily responsible for such legislation may nevertheless gain some responsibility for the sins committed by legislators. The Catechism says: "1868: Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: by participating directly and voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; by protecting evil-doers."

Harsh Immigration Laws and Abortion

One of the great evils that flows from harsh immigration laws is an increase in abortions. Many women cite "poverty" as a reason for seeking an abortion (73%!). The more economic stress we put on the poor, the more women will choose abortion, because they feel they simply cannot afford another child. If harsh immigration laws are passed, they will increase the economic stress on immigrant households, and thus they will lead to an increase in abortions. Supporters of these harsh immigration laws must ask themselves: How many unborn children am I willing to kill to satisfy my personal prejudices against Hispanic people?

All the Way to Hell is Hell

We follow the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who clearly and without ambiguity warned those who oppressed the poor in his nation that they were in danger of hell. Romero said: "A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they become entrenched in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call." He also said: "Those who do not understand transcendence cannot understand us. When we speak of injustice here below and denounce it, they think we are playing politics. It is in the name of God's just reign that we denounce the injustices of the earth. Not just purgatory but hell awaits those who could have done good and did not do it. It is the reverse of the Beatitude that the Bible has for those who are saved, for the saints, "who could have done wrong and did not." Of those who are condemned it will be said: they could have done good and did not. (July 16, 1977)

About hell, Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, said: "We are either on the road to heaven or hell. All the way to heaven is heaven, for He said, 'I am the Way,' St. Catherine of Siena tells us. And likewise all the way to hell is hell. We have some pretty good visions of hell around us these days and these last years."

There are those who say that religion has no place in politics, but that is the argument of people who want no limits on the powers of government. It is not the teaching of the Church. Our vocation, as Catholic Workers, is to speak truth in the public square, to preach the Gospel, and to make injustice visible. It may not be politically popular with some people to defend immigrants from the evil designs of corrupt politicians who want to distract people from the massive failures of the government to protect the common good, but by the grace of God and the intercession of the saints, we will always stand in solidarity with the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. To do anything less than this is to turn our back on Christ and nail him once again to a cross of bigotry.

We think there are hidden agendas in this immigration debate. There is great trouble in our nation. We are embroiled in a no-win war abroad. We are on the verge of major economic problems and an energy crisis that will make the 1970s look like good times. Nobody in Washington, D.C. is doing anything other than make the present situation worse. It is easy to distract people's attention by getting them in an uproar about Hispanic immigrants. That way the politicians can avoid doing something real about the problems we face. Moreover, if millions of undocumented workers are declared to be felons, then this will be a boon to the private prison industry, which is known to make major contributions to politicians. Overnight, millions of beds will be required to house these new felons, and their labor will be available to prison industries for pennies an hour. Big dollars will flow to the pockets of the stockholders in corrections corporations. Families will be broken up, human dignity will be degraded, abortion will increase, and all this will have little to no effect on the cross-border movement of peoples, but somebody will make money on the deal, and to the plutocrats in Congress, that is all that matters.

Since publishing our statement and this theological discussion to the internet earlier this Spring, various Republican politicians have taken it upon themselves to criticize us and distort our position. Let is be clear about our message. There are limits to what the government can do regarding illegal immigration. Declaring people who entered the US without immigration papers a felony is a denial of human dignity. We understand that many people these days believe that the government and their politics are much more important than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but this popular attitude is a delusion fostered by the culture of death. The United States of America is as much subject to the laws of God as any other nation on the planet. We do not get an exemption from the moral law just because, you know, we are the Americans and are God's special friends so he cuts us some slack on the obedience issue. All the pride, arrogance, and wealth in the United States can do nothing to justify before God our disobedience to his Gospel. Our only hope for salvation lies in humble obedience to his Word. All other roads lead to the ash heap of history.


+ Baab, O.J. (1962). Widow, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 842-843.

+ Collins, J.J. (1990). Amos. In D. Senior (General Editor) The Catholic Study Bible (pp.361-367). New York: Oxford University Press.

+ Coogan, M.D. (1993). Poor. Oxford Companion to the Bible, 604-605.

+ Coughenour, R.A. (1988). Sojourner, Alien, Stranger. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 4, 561-463.

+ Dietrich, J. (1995). A view from the L.A. Catholic Worker. America 172(14):21.

+ Hiebert, P.S. (1993). Widows. Oxford Companion to the Bible, 795-798.

+ Hilfiker, D. (1995). Shadow on the poor. The Other Side (Mar-Apr):20-28.

+ Holwerda, D.E. (1986). Orphan. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 3, 616-617.

+ Holwerda, D.E. (1986). Widow. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 3, 616-617.

+ Land, P. (1980). The Earth is the Lord's: Thoughts on the Economic Order. In T.E. Clark (Ed.) Above Every Name: the Lordship of Christ and Social Systems (211-243). New York: Paulist.

+ Mott, S.C. (1994). Foundations of the welfare responsibility of the government. Perspectives in Religious Studies (21): 361-380.

+ O'Brien, D.J. and Shannon T.A. (1992). Catholic Social Thought: the Documentary Heritage. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.

+ Paprocki, T.J. (1995). Option for the poor: preference or platitude? America 172 (14):11-14.

+ Park, E. (1995). Let us return to the land. Urban Mission 13, 21-32.

+ Perkins, Pheme (1990). Luke. In D. Senior (General Editor) The Catholic Study Bible (pp. 417-437). New York: Oxford University Press.

+ Queen-Sutherland, K.M. (1990). Widow in the Old Testament. Mercer Dictionary of the Bible,960.

+ Willis, T.M. (1993), Alien. The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 20.

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