For Catholics, words are a very important aspect of our faith. God spoke and everything that we see came into being. The Word then became flesh. The words that the priest utters at Mass make Christ present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament. The words we recite at Mass express the deep mystery and faith of our Church. So words are a huge part of being Catholic. Words matter and that is why it is important that we choose our words carefully when we interact or refer to our brothers and sisters in Christ. With these three points I try to shed some light on why it is wrong for Catholics (or anyone for that matter) to use the term “Illegals” when referring to Undocumented Immigrants.
1. It Dehumanizes the Person
The term “Illegals” dehumanizes the person because it focuses in on the offense the person committed without recognizing their humanity. With this word we are only looking into what law was broken and what the offense should be and we push everything else to the side. In essence this term denies the human dignity that every single person (no matter what they have done) has because they were created in the image and likeness of God. This is the same tactic used by those who try to dehumanize an unborn child by calling them a “fetus.” Many Catholics are angered or offended when they hear this term being used for an unborn child. So too must the term “Illegals” anger and offend us because it is doing the exact same thing…dehumanizing the other. Instead we should use either “undocumented immigrant” or “undocumented person.” By using these terms we are recognizing their status in regards to the law but also respecting their human dignity as persons created in the image and likeness of God.
2. It Can Easily Fuel Hatred in Hearts
I understand and acknowledge that the topic of Immigration may bring about sentiments of frustration, because a person may feel wronged or taken advantage of. Using the term “Illegals” may take advantage of those feeling of frustration and invite hatred to enter into our hearts. However, as Christians we know that we must rid our hearts of any hatred or malice from our heart towards anyone no matter of race, religion, and even legal status. Using derogatory terms for anyone in any situation is unacceptable and contrary to the Gospel which we are supposed to love and follow. Christian charity beckons us to love our brothers and sisters. Labels that turn them into enemies violate our Christian ethics.
3. We are Catholics before we are Democrats or Republicans
Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia states, “We’re Catholics before we’re Democrats. We’re Catholics before we’re Republicans. We’re even Catholics before Americans, because we know that God has a demand on us prior to any government demand on us.”
This is something that every Catholic must take to heart. We cannot conform ourselves to the way our political party does things, or conform ourselves to the way our country does things. We as Catholics are not “status quo” people. We must be the voice in our party, the voice in our country, the voice in our communities that challenges positions or ways of thought that go against the Gospel. If Republican you must challenge your party to use terminology that respects the dignity of the human person by saying “Undocumented Immigrant” instead of “Illegals”. If Democrat you must challenge your party to use the term “unborn child” instead of “fetus.” It is our duty as Christians to change society according to the Gospel, but this can only be done if we apply it in our lives first.
Our Immigration system is broken and must be fixed. The country has a right and duty to protect its borders and people in a strong but compassionate manner. However, when we have debates on how to resolve this issue, it must be done in a way that reflects our Christian values and beliefs. It says a lot about us when we are able to have these debates in a civilized and respectful manner. This is done by using terminology that respects the dignity of the other person, even though we may have strong disagreements with them and their actions. Using respectful terminology guards our hearts against hatred and malice towards each other. When we start seeing things in this light and applying it to our lives we will inspire other to do the same and bring about a great change in our society.