At a conference on U.S.-Mexico relations on March 21, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles explained that the Catholic Church's social teaching can provide essential guidance on the question of immigration, and other dilemmas presented by a globalized economy.
The Mexican-born archbishop, who is also a U.S. citizen, addressed participants gathered at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for a conference on the Church's role in the immigration debate.
He encouraged audience members – including Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz – to consider both the large-scale economic factors driving immigration, and the rights and needs of individuals caught up in these economic changes.
“Globalization has expanded opportunities for businesses and for workers,” Archbishop Gomez acknowledged. “But it has also created new problems in the relationships between our nations.”
“The biggest problem is that while we have developed laws and policies to govern the flow of capital and money, we have no standards for the movement of laborers.”
“Money, capital, and other resources now flow more freely between our nations,” he noted. “But human beings — the men and women who do the work — cannot.”
Archbishop Gomez also spoke frankly about the need to deal realistically and humanely with the reality of unauthorized immigration.
He emphasized that he was interested in the immigration question not primarily as a matter of politics or diplomacy, but as a spiritual and moral issue affecting millions of people.
“I am not a politician or a diplomat or an expert in the global economy,” said the archbishop. “My concern is to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to defend and promote the dignity of the human person who is made in the image of God.”
He spoke eloquently of the spiritual toll that immigration often takes on those who lack opportunities in their homeland but are exploited or even hated in their new country.
“It gets harder every day to hold onto your cultural identity, your moral compass, your religion, your dignity,” he observed. “You start to believe what people say about you — that you are no good.”
Archbishop Gomez went on to propose a series of measures to address the root causes of immigration, while respecting the human needs and rights of those who have entered the U.S. illegally.
Many aspects of the problem, the archbishop said, arose from underdevelopment within Mexico – a problem that has no instantaneous solution, but demands urgent action.
“We need to find ways to target economic development,” he said, “so that far fewer Mexicans will feel compelled to leave their homes to seek jobs and money in other countries.”
Archbishop Gomez also indicated that the prosperity of nations and transnational corporations must not be placed above the good of the individuals who make such prosperity possible. He strongly urged his fellow U.S. Catholics to consider the human dignity of immigrants, even as they seek to ensure the rule of law.
“Our current policies of enforcement — detentions, and deportations — are a humanitarian tragedy,” he stated. “We are destroying families in the name of enforcing our laws.”
He pointed out that a nation's immigration laws, however important, could not be given absolute priority over the bonds of family – which precede the state itself, according to the natural law.
“Practically speaking,” he stated, “I would like to see a moratorium on new state and local immigration legislation. And, as the U.S. bishops have called for, I would like to see an end to the severe deportation policies.”
Archbishop Gomez also noted that children and women are the “most vulnerable migrants,” who “often fall prey to unscrupulous traffickers” and others seeking to exploit or harm them. He urged policymakers to consider the safety of these populations, and also to remember the needs of all immigrants who are seeking to be reunited with family members by attaining a U.S. visa.
“All of these measures,” said the archbishop, “would make a real difference in the lives of millions of people.
“But they are only temporary,” he noted. “We need to muster the political will to fix our broken immigration system.”