On March 8, speaking to a Napa Institute conference in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez delivered one of the most compelling and sensible talks in recent memory on our current immigration dilemmas. I strongly encourage priests and people across the Greater Philadelphia region to read, share, reflect on and make their own the convictions Archbishop Gomez expresses in these thoughts. I turn over my column space this week to help further that goal.
Thank you for your warm welcome. It is great to be with you. I was honored to be invited to talk to you about this issue today.
Immigration is close to my heart and immigrants have always been at the heart of my ministry — for nearly 40 years as a priest and now as a bishop.
Immigration is also deeply personal for me. I was born in Monterrey, Mexico and I came to this country as an immigrant. I have relatives who have been living in what is now Texas since 1805, when it was still under Spanish rule. So my immigrant roots run deep. I have been a naturalized American citizen for more than 20 years now.
I love this country and I believe in America’s providential place in history. I am inspired by this nation’s historic commitment to sharing the fruits of our liberty and prosperity and opening our arms to welcome the stranger and the refugee.
And I know that I am not alone in feeling — I feel like our great country has lost its way on this issue of immigration. In my opinion, immigration is the human rights test of our generation.
It goes without saying that you invited a pastor here today — not a politician. I have great respect for the vocation of politics. It is a noble calling, a vocation to serve justice and the common good.
A pastor takes a different kind of approach to political “realities.”
For me, immigration is about people not politics. For me, behind every number is a human soul with his or her own story. A soul who is created by God and loved by God. A soul who has a dignity and a purpose in God’s creation. Every immigrant is a child of God — a somebody, not a something.
In the Church, we say, ¡Somos familia! Immigrants are our family. We say, “En las buenas y en las malas.” In the good times and in the bad. We always stay together.
We can never abandon our family. That is why the Church has always been at the center of our debates about immigration. And we always will be. We cannot leave our family alone, without a voice.
Practically speaking there is no single institution in American life that has more day-to-day experience with immigrants than the Catholic Church — through our charities, ministries, schools and parishes.
And there is simple reason for that. Immigrants are the Church.
The Catholic Church in this country has always been an immigrant Church. Just as America has always been a nation of immigrants — a nation that thrives on the energy, creativity and faith of peoples from every corner of the world.
In Los Angeles, where I come from today, we have about 5 million Catholics — they are drawn from every part of the world, every race and nationality and ethnic background. We carry out our ministries every day in more than 40 different languages. It is amazing.
I should also add that among my people in Los Angeles — we have about 1 million who are living in this country without authorization or documentation.
So these issues of immigration take on a certain daily urgency for me. A few years ago, I wrote a little book in which I tried to think about some of these questions. The book is called, “Immigration and the Next America.”
And I want to do that today. I want to share my perspective on where we are at right now. Because I am hopeful that we are at a new moment when we can begin to make true progress in addressing these issues of immigration and our national identity.
So I want to start by talking about the reality of immigration right now in our country, the “human face” of immigration.
I want to follow that by talking specifically about what I believe is the most important moral issue — how we should respond to the 11 million undocumented persons living within our borders. I want to propose a solution today.
And I finally I want to talk about immigration and the “next America.”
So that is my outline. Let’s begin.
The Human Face of Immigration
Our country has been divided over immigration many times before in our history.
We are a nation of immigrants, it is true. But immigration to this country has never been easy. New nationalities and ethnic groups have seldom been welcomed with open arms.
The truth is that with each new wave of immigration have come suspicion, resentment and backlash. Think about the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese. It is no different with today’s immigrants. We need to keep that perspective.
But it is also true that our politics today is more divided today than I can ever remember. We seem to have lost the ability to show mercy, to see the “other” as a child of God. And so we are willing to accept injustices and abuses that we should never accept.
That is what has happened on immigration.
By our inaction and indifference we have created a quiet human rights tragedy that is playing out in communities all across this great country.
There is now a vast underclass that has grown up at the margins of our society. And we just seem to accept it as a society. We have millions of men and women living as perpetual servants — working for low wages in our restaurants and fields; in our factories, gardens, homes and hotels.
These men and women have no security against sickness, disability or old age. In many cases they can’t even open up a checking account or get a driver’s license. They serve as our nannies and baby-sitters. But their own children can’t get jobs or go to college — because they were brought to this country illegally by their parents.
Right now the only thing we have that resembles a national immigration “policy” is all focused on deporting these people who are within our borders without proper papers.
Despite what we hear in the mainstream media, deportations did not begin with this new administration. We have needed a moratorium on deportations of non-violent immigrants for almost a decade.
The previous president deported more than anybody in American history — more than 2.5 million people in eight years.
The sad truth is that the vast majority of those we are deporting are not violent criminals. In fact, up to one-quarter are mothers and fathers that our government is seizing and removing from ordinary households.
We need to remember that. When we talk about deportation as a policy — remember that we are talking about souls not statistics.
Nobody disputes that we should be deporting violent criminals. Nobody. People have a right to live in safe neighborhoods. But what is the public policy purpose that is served by taking away some little girl’s dad or some little boy’s mom?
This is what we are doing every day. We are breaking up families and punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents.
Most of the 11 million undocumented people have been living in this country for five years or more. Two-thirds have been here for at least a decade. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children.
So what that means is that when you have a policy that is only about deportations — without reforming the underlying immigration system — you are going to cause a human rights nightmare.
And that is what is going on in communities across the country.
I could tell you stories all day long from my ministry in Los Angeles. We have children in our Catholic schools who don’t want to leave their homes in the morning because they are afraid they will come back and find their parents gone, deported.
And as a pastor, I do not think it is an acceptable moral response for us to say, “too bad, it’s their own fault,” or “this is what they get for breaking our laws.”
They are still people, still children of God, no matter what they did wrong.
And when you look into the eyes of a child who’s parent has been deported — and I have had to do that more than I want to — you realize how inadequate all our excuses are.
My friends, there is an important role here for you and for me — for all of us who believe in God. Because we are the ones who know that God does not judge us according to our political positions.
As we know, Jesus tells us that we are judged by our love, by our mercy. The mercy we expect from God, we need to show to others. Jesus said, “I was a stranger,” an immigrant. He did not distinguish between legal and illegal.
We need to help our neighbors to see that people do not cease to be human, they do not cease to be our brothers and sisters — just because they have an irregular immigration status.
No matter how they got here, no matter how frustrated we are with our government, we cannot lose sight of their humanity — without losing our own.
This brings me to my second point — what can we do about the 11 million who are here without authorization?
The 11 Million
My friends, it is long past time for us to address this issue. Here again — as men and women of faith, we have an important role to play. We need to help our leaders find a solution that is realistic, but that is also just and compassionate.
With that in mind, I want to share how I think about this issue as a pastor.
These 11 million undocumented people did not just arrive overnight. It happened over the last 20 years. And it happened because our government — at every level — failed to enforce our immigration laws.
This is a difficult truth that we have to accept. We are a nation of laws. But for many reasons and for many years, our nation chose not to enforce our immigration laws.
Of course, that doesn’t justify people breaking these laws. But it does explain how things got this way.
Government and law enforcement officials looked the other way because American businesses demand “cheap” labor — and lots of it.
Now, I believe strongly in personal responsibility and accountability. But I have to question why the only ones we are punishing are the undocumented workers themselves — ordinary parents who came here seeking a better life for their children.
Why aren’t we punishing the businesses who hired them, or the government officials who didn’t enforce our laws? It just does not seem right to me.
And what about us? It seems to me that we share some responsbility. All of us “benefit” every day from an economy built on undocumented labor. These are the people who clean our offices and build our homes and harvest the food we eat.
There is plenty of blame to go around. And that means there is a lot of opportunity to show mercy. Mercy is not the denial of justice. Mercy is the quality by which we carry out our justice. Mercy is the way we can move forward.
I am not proposing that we “forgive and forget.” Those who are here without authorization have broken our laws. And the rule of law must be respected. So there needs to be consequences when our laws are broken.
Right now, we’ve made deportation a kind of “mandatory sentence” for anyone caught without proper papers. We’re not interested in mitigating circumstances or taking into account “hard cases.” Illegal immigration may be the only crime for which we don’t tolerate plea bargains or lesser sentences.
But I don’t think that is fair, either.
Why don’t we require the undocumented to a pay a fine, to do community service? We should ask them to prove that they are holding a job and paying taxes and are learning English.
This seems like a fair punishment to me.
But in addition to the punishment, we need to give them some clarity about their lives, some certainty about their status living in this country.
Most of the undocumented who are parents have children here who are citizens. They should be able to raise their children in peace, without the fear that one day we will change our minds and deport them. So we need to establish some way for them to “normalize” their status. Personally, I believe we should give them a chance to become citizens.
There’s a lot of fear and frustration in this country today. And I understand why some of it is directed at unknown people who have come in through a broken system. But I also want to suggest this to you: We may just need this new generation of immigrants — to be our neighbors, to be our friends, to help us to renew the “soul” of our nation.
There’s a balance of law and love we can strike here.
The immigrants that 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 their children. These are the kind of people we should want to be new Americans. These are the people we should want to join us in the work of rebuilding this great country.
And that brings me to my conclusion. I want to offer some reflections on our American “story.”
Immigration and the Next America
I have been trying to speak practically and realistically about the moral challenges we face with immigration.
Because, my friends, I really do believe that we can reform of our immigration system and find a compassionate solution for those who are undocumented and forced to live in the shadows of our society. It is within our reach.
But I also think we need to recognize that immigration is about more than a set of specific policies.
I have come to believe that immigration is ultimately a question about America. What is America? What does it mean to be an American? Who are we as a people and what is this country’s mission in the world?
Immigration goes to the heart of America’s identity and our future as a nation.
I believe we need to commit ourselves to immigration reform that is part of a more comprehensive renewal of the American spirit. A new sense of our national purpose and identity.
And I think that new awareness should begin right here — in Washington, D.C.
Just down the street from where we are today, just down Pennsylvania Avenue, inside our nation’s Capitol building — you will find the statues of three Catholic priests, St. Damien of Molokai, St. Junípero Serra, Father Eusebio Kino. There is also a statue of a religious sister, Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence.
It is interesting. They were all immigrants, all of them missionaries.
Now, St. Junípero Serra was a Hispanic, an immigrant from Spain by way of Mexico. He was one of the founders of Los Angeles.
At a time when many denied the “humanity” of the Native peoples, Father Junípero drew up a “bill of rights” for them. He wrote that “bill of rights” — three years before America’s Declaration of Independence.
Most Americans today do not know that. But Pope Francis knew that. That’s why he canonized St. Junípero right here in Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago.
Pope Francis said St. Junípero was one of this country’s “founding fathers.” And yet, most of us do not think of him as part of America’s story. We should. If we took this seriously, it would change how we understand our country’s history, identity and mission.
And that is the point I want to leave you with today.
Every people has a story they tell about their beginnings. A story about where they came from and how they got here. This “story of origins” helps them make sense of who they are as a people.
Right now, the story we tell about America starts here on the East Coast — Washington, 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.
It makes us assume that only immigrants from those countries really “belong” and can claim to be called “Americans.”
This misreading of history has obvious implications for our current debates.
We hear warnings all the time from politicians and the media that immigration from Mexico and Latin America is somehow changing our American “identity” and “character.”
I hear these arguments and I think, what American identity are we talking about?
There has been a Hispanic presence and influence in this country from the beginning, since about 40 years after Christopher Columbus.
The truth is that long before Plymouth Rock, long before George Washington and the 13 colonies; long before this country even had a name — there were missionaries and explorers here from Spain and Mexico and they were settling the territories of what are now Florida, Texas, California, and New Mexico.
The first Asians, from the Philippines, started arriving in California about 50 years before the Pilgrims got to Plymouth Rock.
Something we should think about: the first non-indigenous language spoken in this country was not English. It was Spanish.
None of this denies that America’s laws, institutions and cultural traditions were defined and shaped by Anglo-Saxon and Protestant European ancestors.
But we can no longer afford to tell a story of America that excludes the rich inheritance of Latinos and Asians. That kind of story cannot unite us and inspire us in an America that is changing.
So my friends, I believe we need to embrace a new national narrative, a new patriotic memory.
We need a story of our spiritual roots — a story that honors both our Hispanic Catholic missionary and immigrant beginnings in the South and in the West and a story that honors the European Protestant founders who settled in the North and the East.
We need to tell the story of St. Junípero Serra and Thomas Jefferson.
We need to tell a new story to inspire a new generation — to carry on the providential mission of America.
America has always been a nation of immigrants with a missionary soul. Our founders dreamed of a nation where men and women from every race, religion and national background could live in equality as brothers and sisters, children of the same God.
Their universal vision helped make this a great nation — blessed with freedom and goodness and generosity and committed to sharing our blessings with the whole human race.
That is what’s at stake in our immigration debate — the future of this beautiful American story. Our national debate is really a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul. How we respond will measure our national character and conscience in this generation.
Thank you for allowing me to share my reflections with you today. May God bless you and your families and may God bless this great country.
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I am hearing no discussion of the potential pro-life US Supreme Court as a result of this election. The concern has switched exclusively to the immigration issue. President Trump put his hand on (2) Bibles and took an oath to protect and defend this country (the president can do this as he and his best advisers see fit as long as they do not break laws in the process.) The US President runs this area (immigration and refugees) and his job is very different from The Church Leaders in this way. I realize that as a personal matter, we are all called to “…welcome the stranger…” He is charged with protection of the country against foreign and domestic threats – FIRST, before anything else. How he does this (within his purview) – God will judge this – the job is too big and unique to approach what the policies should be as a personal behavior.
Well said, but some untended consequence. Perhaps instead of what the Archbishop says, ,many were allowed into USA not because cheap but because compassionate. The Irish, the Jew, the Italian, etc. we’re all routinely paid cheaply but paid. No,education, no skills, labor alone, and honesty. Most times take advantage of their own kind. I would ask that intentions not be assigned but compassionate solutions,applied. I for one am disappointed that folks leave home, and family behind,to,escape injustice. Their loved ones are left in injustice for ? $. It is one thing to not have food, quite another To find cruelty and injustice. that is eveywhere but Justice as Scripture says is what Peace kisses.
Global corporations, rootless laborers, disrupted communities, workers in ruthless competition for low paying jobs– since when has the Church been in favor of unfettered capitalism?
Archbishop Gomez has given a masterful address on the personal and moral aspects of this latest deportation of undocumented immigrants from our country. His presentation of the “human face” of immigration as well as the fair and balanced way that he discusses all sides of the issue lends credibility to his appeal for mercy. In my opinion, the latest order by the DHS is cruel, and in many cases indiscriminate and disregarding of human rights. The way that it is being implemented is bound to get out of control.
Ret. Gen. John F. Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, was seen to make the sign of the cross after having been sworn in. In addition, he is a parent whose son was killed in Afghanistan. I find it hard to believe that he can be considering such things as separating mothers from their children in detention centers as a deterrent.
It seems to me that he is overseeing the Department of Homeland Security as if he were still a general in the battlefield. (He has only been retired from the military since Jan 2016.) He is allowing local police to be trained as ICE agents and is hiring 10.000 more ICE agents. What kind of “extreme vetting” will these people get to weed out those who are prejudiced and prone to abusive behavior?
I am grateful to Archbishop Gomez for his pastoral approach to this issue made more poignant considering the fact that he shares a heritage with many of the people who are facing deportation. He has given me hope that I too can deal with this issue with sensitivity, compassion and the right kind of action.
It should not be forgotten that the influx of undocumented laborers has been caused by US companies — from large agricultural corporations to small farms and businesses — that have a need for low, below legal, wages. The need for such laborers has been abetted by the conscious lack of enforcement of immigration laws by the Immigration Services. And “now” we have a problem, for if they become citizens, their employers would have to abide by all the legal protections afforded by US laws. Which they could not do and stay solvent.
I agree with you wholeheartedly. Just today, when I was talking about the Cuban immigrants stuck in Central America and how they are not being received in the USA even though Trump promised to work with Cubans to whom he owed the votes here in Florida a woman yelled saying that illegal immigrants should not be allowed. Yet these people come with their papers and they sold what they had in Cuba to come over here with their families, just to be sent back by those governments and our government looking the other way. I hate to see families broken up by lack of mercy and acceptance. I hate to see young people with no future and adults living in fear and being exploited by those who feel they are superior. I have a poster in my dining room of a boat filled to the brim with immigrants. I pray every day for them since I too am a Cuban immigrant who came to this country with only five dollars that I was allowed to bring in 1960.
Can someone please explain to me why we are rewarding people who are breaking the law? My grandparents and father came to this country legally. They had to learn the language. They were not given English is a Second Language for free. They want to simulate into their new country, not just wanting all of the benefits. Please note that Archbishop Gemez said my people. The people of the U.S. are now your people, not people who are here as illegals.
Thaank you for sharing Bishop Gomez’s speech. I had read about it, but reading the full speech was powerful.
Thank you Rev Gomez,
But the Catholic Church leaders need to do much more to stop the two party corruption monopoly that passes for a government heading the American empire. Why can’t they help establish and promote an alternative party with morally decent core values giving people a way to choose a prolife, anti war , immigration friendly , government , that will be compassionate towards its poor , committed to reversing climate pollution, and fully committed to religious freedom. God Bless
Archbishop Gomez, as Archbishop Chaput stated, gave a “most compelling and sensible” talk about immigration problems that are being faced in our country. It was a straightforward account of what took place in this country before any white settler ever stepped foot on its soil. An account that clearly describes the role of the people who lived, worked and died to make this country great. Immigrants. They came in all colors from most every corner of the world to help shape this country become the land of opportunity, giving hope to those who had very little. Religious persecution, famines, political unrest, deceit, avarice and much more were some of the reasons that people immigrated to what became a unified country. Unified by people of all races, beliefs, poor, rich, educated and non-educated, alike. The leaders of this country will destroy it from within if they continue to lead from a standpoint of gain through politics. Why is it that mostly the rich tend to enter politics? For monetary gain? They already have much more than they need. No, it must be for power, power to keep people of the lower classes in place. Oh yes, in this land of opportunity people can make a lot of money (think entrepreneurs, athletes, drug dealers, etc.), but the super rich have a way of keeping all people “in their place”. Their lust for the dollar provides them with a power that has become evil in nature. Change is constant and the change we are currently experiencing is not for the good of our country and its people. We are “one nation under God” and only God will make America great again.
That’s a great talk from Bishop Gomez, whose wages and quality of life were not affected by the influx of “Immigrantes sin papeles” these last 3 decades.
Yes, they are humans with souls, but I would like to make known the mercenary quality of these souls. In my experience, too many
illegal immigrants from Asia to Latin America to Africa are here for only one thing: cash money.
They readily find employment with unscrupulous Americans in our service sector. As landscapers, domestic help, restaurants, construction, meat and fish processing, farm labor, etc. What they bring are low skills, language and health problems AND the attitude that they may continue to circumvent our laws, and will continue to do so indefinitely. They have learned to reflect the attitude of various employers that they are disposable, and thus have disrupted our entry level job market for legal residents of this country.
Gomez suggests that Latinos are wonderfully Catholic, and will bolster the Church somehow. Here in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the very small percentage of recent Latino immigrants who express their faith have asked for and gotten their own, separate parishes subsidized by the rest of us. Why, if not that they would rather avoid our regular parishes?
Working illegally, evading taxes, driving without a license, accepting public assistance without legal residence… these are crimes
that Bishop Gomez would soften for the immigrants. Any one of which would cost me fines and/or jail time as a legal resident of this country. Justice is hardly the name for this kind of thinking, as it ignores the workers already in the vineyard at sunup.
Please don’t quote me Matthew 20. The original workers were not made to pay health and child care costs, legal fees or other subsidies for the workers who came late to that vineyard. The one day in that parable has stretched over a generation and suppressed wages for anyone entering that job market now.
Sorry, I do not advocate mass deportation or wall-building. This is a complex issue that needs resolving yesterday. But nobody, including Syrians in Allentown who voted for Trump, would want another amnesty program in 2017. The US is not a “New Spain.”
I have also seen the eyes of immigrants, and some of them are furtive. You must not imagine every single “story” is valid.
Many undocumented immigrants do pay taxes.
Pretty typical to conflate illegal immigration with legal immigration. Illegal immigrants enter this country, knowing they are committing a crime. Thanks They have made a choice to break the law, and when you choose to break the law, you suffer the consequences. How is that the human rights test of this generation? Where is the concern for the millions of babies who are murdered in their mother’s womb. Abortion is the very definition of a heinous crime committed on society’s most innocent and vulnerable. This is the human rights test of our time! Where is the Archbishop defending these poor babies? Is he, like the majority of priests who only shout about what is politically correct! Where is your courage! This is why Catholics are leaving the faith. The hypocricty is staggering!
Stay out of politics
When the pope visited, I didn’t see him being concerned with giving compassion to US Citizens who are poor, uneducated, who have lost their jobs to Illegal Aliens. This effect was warned about in 1965:
“In light of our 5 percent unemployment rate, our worries over the so called population explosion, and our menacingly mounting welfare costs, are we prepared to embrace so great a horde of the world’s unfortunates? At the very least, the hidden mathematics of the bill should be made clear to the public so that they may tell their Congressmen how they feel about providing jobs, schools, homes, security against want, citizen education, and a brotherly welcome… for an indeterminately enormous number of aliens from underprivileged lands.” “We should remember that people accustomed to such marginal existence in their own land will tend to live fully here, to hoard our bounteous minimum wages and our humanitarian welfare handouts…lower our wage and living standards, disrupt our cultural patterns.” Myra C. Hacker, Vice President of the New Jersey Coalition of Patriotic Societies, on the 1965 Hart Celler Act
“Whatever may be our benevolent intent toward many people, the bill fails to give due consideration to the economic needs, the cultural traditions, and the public sentiment of the citizens of the United States.” Myra C. Hacker, on the 1965 Hart Celler Act
Also, isn’t it interesting that the catholic church is one of the largest recipient of financial “donations” in the world? If the pope is so concerned for these migrants, then why doesn’t he exhort those countries (including his native Argentina) to take care of their citizens in need?
Catholic Church collects $1.6 billion in U.S. contracts, grants since 2012
“Not to be lost in the pomp and circumstance of Pope Francis’ first visit to Washington is the reality that the Catholic Church he oversees has become one of the largest recipients of federal largesse in America.”
I just want to thank you for put it on a powerful and true story told by a person with enough experience and wisdom which is our Bishop Jose H Gómez, I encourage you to share this very inspirational talk that give us a tremendous hope to all parishes in USA.
As he say right, every immigrant have his own story to tell and all and everyone are human being with Soul and dignity not matter what race, nationality or beliefs. We are one body in Christ and all have one and only one Creator, God.
Hope you spread this message to create conscious all over the country and make a great and blessed nation!