Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles has said Americans have to see “the human faces of immigration”: the children and families suffering under America's “broken” immigration policy.
“In the name of enforcing our laws, we’re breaking up families. Punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents,” he said, referring to the nearly two million people deported over the last four years. “That’s the sad truth – one out of every four people we deport is being taken away from an intact family.”
The archbishop’s remarks came Jan. 10 in a speech to the Rotary Club of Los Angeles.
“My friends, we’re talking about souls not statistics. We’re talking about fathers who without warning, won’t be coming home for dinner tonight. Parents who may not see their families again for a decade. We’re talking about kids suddenly left without a mom or a dad.”
Americans, he said, have accepted “a permanent underclass of men and women who are living at the margins of our society.”
While this underclass provides care for the children of natural-born Americans, builds their homes, cleans their offices, and harvests their food, they have “no rights, no security and right now – they have no reason to hope that things are ever going to get better.”
Archbishop Gomez noted that Pope Francis is himself the son of an Italian emigrant. The Pope’s first trip outside of Rome was to the island of Lampedusa, a major way point for Africans migrating to Europe. Thousands die every year seeking to cross the Mediterranean, and more become victims of human traffickers.
During his visit, the Pope lamented a “globalized indifference” in which people have become “insensitive to the cries of other people” and have lost “a sense of responsibility for others.”
Archbishop Gomez echoed these concerns.
“We don’t think about the people who are dying in the deserts trying to reach our borders. Or the women and children who become victims of smugglers and human traffickers.”
“That’s why immigration reform for me isn’t about the politics. Immigration reform for me is about these people. It’s about all the children and families caught up in our broken system. Immigration reform is about what is happening to America.”
The archbishop, an immigrant from Mexico who is now a U.S. citizen, said Americans “have to find a better way,” and we have to do this “now.”
“As a nation, we can’t remain indifferent when so many of our brothers and sisters are suffering. And there is no political calculation that can justify the tears of a child whose mom or dad has been deported.”
Archbishop Gomez praised the United States as “a great nation with a generous heart,” but he lamented the reductionism of the immigration debate to dealing with undocumented immigrants through “name-calling and discrimination,” race-based “profiling,” arbitrary detentions and deportations, and “commando-style raids of workplaces and homes.”
The archbishop called the national immigration debate “a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul.”
“How we respond to the challenge of illegal immigration will measure our national character and conscience in this generation.”
He told the Los Angeles Rotary Club that he and the other Catholic bishops support comprehensive immigration reform that “keeps families together,” protects workers’ rights, and gives “a generous path to citizenship.”
Archbishop Gomez noted his own archdiocese’s work in education, anti-poverty work and social services support, with ministries in more than 40 languages. He suggested that the Catholic Church does more for immigrants “than any other single institution in Los Angeles.”
“I hope you will consider me – and the Catholic Church – to be your friend and partners in building a better Los Angeles and a better world.”