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Archbishop José Gomez: We All Share Some Blame for America’s Broken Immigration System

Thursday, March 30, 2017 22:41
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  Archbishop José Gomez in the Los Angeles Cathedral. (Prayitno / Wikimedia Commons)

Immigration is a human rights test of our generation. It’s also a defining historical moment for America. The meaning of this hour is that we need to renew our country in the image of her founding promises of universal rights rooted in God. Immigration is about more than immigration. It’s about renewing the soul of America.

Those are the words of Archbishop José Gomez, the fifth and current archbishop of Los Angeles, from the introduction of his 2013 book, “Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation.” The words could not be more relevant as the United States struggles to find a solution for its broken immigration system.

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On March 23, according to the Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Gomez discussed immigration reform in a passionate talk to students at the Catholic University of America.

For me, and for the Catholic Church in this country, immigration is about people. It is about families. We are talking about souls, not statistics. …

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles we are, in many ways, a culture of immigrants, a culture of encounter.

We are the largest Catholic community in the United States and the most diverse — in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, economic status and even geography.

There are about 5 million Catholics in Los Angeles. About 70 percent are Latinos. But we celebrate Mass and carry out our ministries in more than 40 different languages. We have people from every country in Latin America, from Asia, from Africa and the Middle East.

It is a beautiful place, L.A., where you really see the faith of the immigrant peoples. The Church is alive here — and active. And we are really a Church of immigrants.

We also have more than 1 million undocumented persons living within the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

So the issues of immigration reform and deportations take on a daily urgency for me. …

Nobody disputes that we should be deporting violent criminals.

But I do not believe there is any public policy purpose that is served by taking away some little girl’s dad or some little boy’s mom. We are breaking up families and punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents. And that’s not right. …

Everybody right now knows that our immigration system is totally broken and needs to be fixed. For many years our country did not enforce its immigration laws. Why not? Because American businesses were demanding ‘cheap’ labor. So government officials looked the other way.

Something to think about. We have 11 million undocumented people living in this country. They didn’t just get here overnight.

Most of these 11 million have been living in this country for 5 years or more. About 66 percent have been here for at least a decade. And almost half of all undocumented people in this country are living in homes with a spouse and children, and most of those children are American citizens because they were born here.

So, like I said, this problem did not just happen overnight.

Everybody knows what we need to do to fix the system. To fix the system we need to secure our borders. Then we need a coherent approach for granting visas and work permits so we can welcome immigrants who have the character and skills our country needs to grow. People agree on that.

Where we disagree is what we should do about the people who are living here in violation of our laws.

For several years now I have been saying that we need to recognize that we all share some of the blame for this broken immigration system.

Business is to blame. Government is to blame.

And you and I — we have responsibility, too. We “benefit” and depend every day on an economy that is built on the backs of undocumented workers. It is just a fact. Immigrants grow our food, they serve us in our restaurants; they clean our rooms and our offices, they build our homes.

There is a lot of blame to go around. But we aren’t putting business owners in jail or punishing government workers who didn’t do their job.

The only people we are punishing is the undocumented workers. They are the only ones.

We have them living in a vast underclass in our society — without true rights or freedoms, and always they are living with the threat of deportation.

That is not fair. It is cruel, actually. These are just ordinary moms and dads — just like your parents — who want to give their kids a better life.

My proposal for many years is that we should require the undocumented to pay a fine or do community service for breaking our laws. We should require them to be learning English and holding a job that pays taxes.

But after we impose these punishments for breaking our laws, we should give them some clarity about their lives. Personally, I believe we should give them a chance to become citizens. Other people disagree.

But no matter what — we need to give these people some way for them to “normalize” their status. They should be able to raise their children in peace, without the fear that one day we will change our minds and deport them.

The 65-year-old archbishop was once an immigrant himself. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, he became an American citizen over 20 years ago and would like to see current immigration policies in the United States balance love and law with justice and mercy—regardless of legal status. While 25 percent of deportations break up families, Gomez explained, most of these deportations do not involve violent criminals. “Every immigrant is a human person, a child of God. … Immigration should keep families together,” he stated.

WATCH: What’s Next for California in the Immigration Fight

Archbishop Gomez concluded his talk by reminding the audience that America was born from immigrants—before the arrival of English settlers, founding fathers and the Revolutionary War—when Spanish and Mexican missionaries and Philippine immigrants settled in North America (what is now the United States) in the 16th century. Spanish missionary priests celebrated the nation’s first Thanksgiving “in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. In 1565. That’s about a half century before the Pilgrims.”

“The first non-indigenous language spoken in this country was not English. It was Spanish. We need to really think about what that means,” he said. “[We] can no longer afford to tell a story of America that excludes the rich inheritance of Latinos and Asians.”

The face of America and the conception of American identity has evolved over centuries. Instead of excluding people and giving in to fears of the moment, Archbishop Gomez thinks the key to making America great is embracing the diversity of the United States and bringing conscience into the conversation.

“That is what’s at stake in our immigration debate – the future of this beautiful American story,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Our national debate is really a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul.”

You can read all of Archbishop Gomez’s talk here.

Almost 10 percent of the undocumented immigrants in America live in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Catholic churches in Southern California are prepared to protect them.

According to the Orange County Register, Bishop Kevin Vann sent a letter to all Diocese of Orange parishes in March, warning them to be ready for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) searches for immigrants and refugees “at or near a church, school, hospital or clinic.”

The letter was sent after reports surfaced that an ICE van was photographed on the Christ Cathedral campus Feb. 17. The van, it turned out, belonged to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and an officer was at the church to participate in a veteran’s funeral service. Rep. Lou Correa’s office had shared the report, which sparked alarm with Orange County Catholics.

An ICE spokeswoman, Virginia Kice, said that “ICE has policies telling officers to avoid sensitive locations including schools, houses of worship and hospitals.” Weddings, funerals, marches, rallies or parades also off limits, the Orange County Register reported. To carry out enforcement at such locations, an ICE supervisor needs to give special approval.

“When people put out misinformation, it creates panic and puts our officers and the general public at risk,” Kice said. “We ask the public to reach out to us and verify before you vilify.”

Correa’s office is taking steps to correct the information they sent in a news release March 17.

But the Catholic diocese throughout Southern California is not taking any chances. Vann’s letter included what parishes should do if an ICE official shows up at a parish. Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and dioceses of Orange and San Bernardino worked together to produce a 50-page informational package on immigration rights and interacting with ICE.

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