It was hard for a Catholic to pick sides.

The giant immigration marches in April were almost surreal. The attitude of the protest organizers often made them seem inauthentic — but the critics didn’t seem to have their facts straight, either.

First, consider the protesters.

Groups like A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) swelled the ranks of marchers in major cities. But, like other activist organizations at the marches, A.N.S.W.E.R. isn’t an immigration group. It’s a communist group that actually opposes Cuban immigrants. But they were there in force — as they are at pro-abortion marches, anti-war marches and anti-globalism marches — selling Che Guevera T-shirts and building their mailing lists.

Signs that said “Bush Step Down” and “Bush is the real terrorist” were common at the rallies. But that doesn’t seem wise. Did the marchers not know that Bush is the one who first proposed the national “guest worker” program for illegal immigrants that they were marching for?  Did they remember how his decision to do so imperiled his re-election by angering his conservative supporters?

If the march organizers really put immigration policy as their highest priority, you would think they would court the sympathetic president as a key ally — not antagonize and alienate him. That they didn’t do so raises sharp questions about their credibility and their true agenda.

But the critics of the march were just as bad.

Talk radio chattered endlessly about the drain heavy immigration put on America’s resources, but without much understanding of what is at stake.

Conservatives were furious at a Republican-supported bill that they say “caved” by agreeing to make illegal immigration a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

But they didn’t seem to realize that illegal immigration has always been a misdemeanor — and that to make it a felony would increase the drain on America’s resources 100-fold.

If illegal immigration remains a misdemeanor, then cases can be dealt with efficiently and quickly. If security is your fear, this would be the solution. If talk radio show hosts had their way and it became a felony, then each accused illegal case would be entitled as a felon to a jury trial and a court-appointed lawyer and subject to a much longer process.

It was also instructive to listen to the attempts radio shows made to play “Gotcha” with the protesters. Reporters who interviewed actual protesters found surprising stories that didn’t quite support the “immigrant threat” storyline.

One Mexican immigrant told Sean Hannity’s program that he had been in the country illegally for 12 years, working hard, paying taxes and raising a family. Another reporter met a doctor who was waiting on tables and learning English. Another was a dishwasher with a master’s degree.

These stories of hard-working immigrants suggest that immigration is a net gain, not a drain, for America.

The assumption seems to be that immigrants will come to America, stay on the low end of the economic spectrum, then call over for the sick and weak of their families and put them on welfare. Certainly, plenty will do exactly that.

But by and large, today’s immigrants seem to be following in the footsteps of immigrants before them — they are people bold and imaginative enough to leave the comfort of their homelands to stake their futures on their ability to work hard enough to build a better life elsewhere.

This entrepreneurial immigrant spirit is precisely what we call “the American spirit.”

As for draining America’s resources: Americans should be more fearful of a future without heavy immigration than one with it.

Over the last several decades, American family sizes have decreased nearly as much as European family sizes. Without immigrants, the United States would be below replacement-level population growth. We would be losing more Americans each year than we gain. The crisis that threatens Social Security’s future would be upon us today.

Without immigrants, we wouldn’t have enough workers paying into the system to support retirees. If you draw Social Security income, you should thank an immigrant.

So, what’s the answer?

We like the Knights of Columbus’ resolution, which can be found on their website, and w,hich Supreme Knight Carl Anderson explains on the opposite page. It calls for Congress to gain control over the process of immigration in a way that will encourage, not discourage, immigration.

It is, at last, a position Catholics can applaud.