Immigration and Our Daily Task as Christians

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, second from left, links arms with other participants on stage after a panel discussion on migration issues Feb. 17 during the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.(CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

I had the privilege of attending the United States Regional Meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Feb. 16–19, in Modesto, California.

I was accompanied to Modesto by one of our Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishops David O’Connell, and it was good to see friends from our local parishes and workers’ unions here in Los Angeles.

There were more than 700 people there from across the country and around the world,  and the conversations that we had were challenging and enlightening — we discussed the persistence of racial discrimination, the threats to our natural environment, and the struggle for affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage.

For me, the meeting was a reminder again of the power of the Church’s social doctrine. As I have said before, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a beautiful vision of human dignity and the sanctity of life. And he calls us to build a society where the good things of God’s creation are shared with all.

This is our daily task as Christians — to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless and clothe the naked, to open our hearts to the oppressed and the afflicted. But our challenge is more than material and it is more than to offer charity to those in need. We are called to build a society of compassion and justice and truth and love.

My own contribution during these days was to concentrate on the issue of immigration. I had the privilege to participate in a panel discussion on migration with Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who is a papal under-secretary for migrants and refugees in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, listens during a small group discussion on migration issues Feb. 18 at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

In my remarks, I shared our experience here in Los Angeles, and especially the challenges we are facing with the new administration in Washington. This is a question that is on everyone’s mind — what are we doing to help our immigrant communities and our brothers and sisters who are undocumented.

And we are trying to help every day in every way possible. Because immigrants are not numbers, they are not statistics. They are our family.

Here in Los Angeles, we have been organizing parish teams and training individuals so they know their rights as immigrants. We have helping to prepare families so they know what to do in case they are stopped by authorities. And we are trying to mobilize immigration attorneys to help those who are detained.

I think it is important in this time for us to stick together, to draw strength from one another, and to keep our eyes on Jesus. And I think it is also important for us to keep calm and to make judgments based on facts, not politics.

Unfortunately, immigration raids and deportations are nothing new. We know that. They did not start with this new president. We need to be clear-eyed about this.

The previous president deported more people than anybody in American history — more than 2.5 million people were deported. Most of these were non-violent criminals and many of them were ordinary parents who were seized from their homes, forced to leave behind their children and their spouses.

So we need to keep that perspective. What we really need is immigration reform.

Right now there is bi-partisan legislation in Congress, the “Bridge Act.” This would help hundreds of thousands of “dreamers,” young people. We need to get that bill passed. We need to start there and then we need to keep working, piece by piece, until we have fixed every aspect of our broken immigration system.

We need to keep our eyes on the prize — and the prize is immigration reform and a compassionate solution for those who are undocumented and forced to live in the shadows of our society.

So let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us to continue to stand together and work to build a society where we respect the dignity of every person as a child of God.

José H. Gómez is archbishop of Los Angeles and vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  


Going Deeper

Around the country, Catholic faith communities are responding to the call to welcome the stranger.  In Los Angeles, the Church is acting to stand with immigrants. In the South Texas Rio Grande Valley colonias of Hidalgo County, religious sisters are helping immigrant women connect, educate and empower women to champion concerns such as safety, lighting, voting rights, citizenship pathways, infrastructure and drainage, and education for themselves and their children.

Immigration, Mercy, and the Vision of America

gomezThis 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