Discussing the topic of immigration reform, Archbishop of San Antonio José H. Gomez is warning that those who break U.S. laws should not expect to escape punishment. However, instead of deportation, he is proposing community service as a “far more constructive solution” that would build communities rather than “tear them apart.”
In his latest column for the archdiocesean newspaper, which will be published on Friday, Archbishop Gomez will recount his personal history as both an American citizen and an immigrant. He was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and some of his ancestors have been in present-day Texas since the early 19th century.
“I’ve always had family and friends on both sides of the border. So I have many conflicting emotions about the way this debate has played out in recent years,” he says.
But it’s not his personal life that drives his efforts to push for immigration reform, rather Archbishop Gomez writes that it’s the need for Catholics to be true witnesses to the “generous love of Christ” in observing the “spiritual, emotional, social and economic deterioration” that the law is causing both for immigrants and their families and the entire United States.
Archbishop Gomez reiterates Cardinal Francis George’s comments that the U.S. immigration system clearly requires repair, and also his exhortation to respect and observe all just laws.
“From a humanitarian perspective,” the cardinal said at the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting, “our fellow human beings, who migrate to support their families, continue to suffer at the hands of immigration policies that separate them from family members and drive them into remote parts of the American desert, sometimes to their deaths. This suffering should not continue.”
Commenting further, Archbishop Gomez says bishops are not politicians but “pastors of souls” who believe the current immigration situation is “profoundly harmful to the soul of our country.”
“[W]e need a reform that will confront the issue in all its complexity that will reconcile the parties and overcome extreme positions,” the Archbishop of San Antonio urges, repeating Cardinal George’s call for a resolution to the legal status of immigrants lacking proper documentation.
“The Church has an important role to play in promoting forgiveness and reconciliation on this issue,” the archbishop adds. “We must work so that justice and mercy, not anger and resentment, are the motives behind our response to illegal immigration.”
He also notes that the millions of immigrants have violated U.S. immigration and that this makes law-abiding Americans angry.
“And it should,” he writes.
While punishment is necessary, Archbishop Gomez explains, deportation is “too severe a penalty.”
“Deportations are breaking up families, leaving wives without husbands, children without parents. That is not a situation that Catholics should want. The family is central not only to our faith, but to our society.”
Instead, Gomez re-introduces his proposal that he gave at a Missouri Catholic Conference meeting last October. There he said that illegal immigrants “can’t expect to escape punishment” but added that this punishment should be “some kind of community service.”
“This would build communities rather than tear them apart. And it would serve to better integrate the immigrants into the social and moral fabric of America,” Archbishop Gomez writes.
While this may or may not be the solution, it is possible for politicians to find “a just and honorable solution” that equally expresses compassion for the defenseless and respect for the law, he says.
“The lives of millions of undocumented workers and their families hang in the balance,” his column concludes. “With all my heart, I ask Catholics and people of good will to encourage our elected officials, with our prayers and our actions, to propose comprehensive immigration reform before the end of this year.”
Archbishop Gomez’s full column will be available in Today’s Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.