This is an excerpt of a lecture by Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez at Boston College Sept. 8, 2016 during an event sponsored by The Church in the 21st Century Center.
Immigration reform is one of the great issues of our day. It’s more than politics and economics. It is a struggle for justice, dignity and human rights. It is a challenge to the conscience of every individual. I believe immigration reform is a spiritual issue — it is a test of our faith, our humanity and our compassion.
I am not a politician, I am a pastor. For me, immigration is about people — people I work with and live with; my neighbors and parishioners; my friends and family. It is also something personal for me. I came to this country as an immigrant from Mexico and I am a naturalized citizen. I have family and friends on both sides of the border.
The human face of immigration
It’s important to remember that behind every “statistic” is a soul — a soul who has dignity as a child of God, a soul who has rights and needs that are both spiritual and material.
The immigrants I know are people who have faith in God, who love their families, and who aren’t afraid of hard work and sacrifice. Most have come to this country for the same reasons that immigrants have always come to this country — to seek refuge from violence and poverty; to make a better life for themselves and their children.
When Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress last September he reminded us that he is the son of an immigrant. Pope Francis said something beautiful that I think we should all reflect on:
“On this continent … thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”
A nation of immigrants
It is common to talk about America as “a nation of immigrants.” With the exception of our indigenous brothers and sisters, every American is the son or daughter of someone who came to this country from somewhere else.
Right now, the story we tell about America starts here on the East Coast — New York, Jamestown, Boston, Philadelphia. We remember the first Thanksgiving, the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War. That story is not wrong. It’s just not complete. And because it’s not complete, it gives the distorted impression that America was founded as a project only of Western Europeans. This misreading of history has obvious implications for our current debates.
America’s founders dreamed of a nation where people from every race, religion and ethnic background could live in equality — as brothers and sisters, children of the same God.
But it is also true that at various points in American history, our faith and commitment to this original vision has been shaken. There is a streak of nativism and racial discrimination that has always run through our history. It seems to flare up especially in times when people are fearful and uncertain about the future.
Mercy and the vision of America and the way forward
Many of our neighbors today are worried and anxious. They are worried about what the global economy means for their jobs, their wages; they are worried about the threat of terrorism. I think our neighbors’ fears are real [to them] and I think we need to take them seriously.
Since 2008, we have deported more than 2 million undocumented persons.
I’m worried that in our fear, we are closing in on ourselves, we are hardening our hearts. There is a cruelty in our policies and our public rhetoric. I am worried that we are losing our sense of mercy, our ability to show forgiveness and kindness, to empathize and feel the pain of others.
There is a broad consensus that our nation has the obligation to secure its borders and determine who enters the country and how long they stay. There is also broad agreement that we need to update our immigration system to enable us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow.
The good news is that the American people are far more compassionate and understanding than some of the loudest voices we are hearing today. People do not cease to be our brothers and sisters just because they have an irregular immigration status.
We need to resist the temptations to nativism and discrimination. We need to insist on public discourse and public policy that reflects our common humanity and promotes the dignity of the human person.
I think we have a duty to be the keepers of the American vision committed to human dignity, freedom and the flourishing of diverse peoples, races and beliefs. We are to grow in empathy and mercy, by the grace of God. We need to be working for a new America in which no one is a stranger. An America in which we encounter the “other” — as a brother, as a sister.
To read Archbishop Gomez’s full remarks please visit, http://angelusnews.com/articles/immigration-national-identity-and-catholic-conscience