Aug 16, 2011
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles is quickly becoming one of the most persistently prophetic voices in the Church of the United States. He is as cheerful, amiable and accessible as any bishop in the country, but at the same time he is earning a reputation as a truth-telling boat-rocker, unafraid to call to mind inconvenient truths that many outside the Church and some inside would prefer to ignore. On no issue has he been more candid and challenging than that of immigration.
In a remarkable July 28 address entitled “Immigration and the ‘Next America’: Perspectives from our History” to Catholics in Napa, California, he described his frustration over the immigration debate. “It seems like most people have made up their minds already on this issue” and that “we are just talking round the edges of the real issues.” The real issues are more than just border security, green cards, and what to do with immigrants in our country illegally. It concerns what America is, has been and will become. “Both sides of the argument,” he recognized, “are inspired by a beautiful, patriotric idea of America’s history and values,” but lately he’s been “starting to wonder: What America are we really talking about?” If there’s a great divergence about what America’s true history and values are, not even “patriotism” will unite any longer.
“America is changing,” he noted forthrightly, “and it has been changing for a long time. The forces of globalization are changing our economy and forcing us to rethink the scope and purpose of our government. Threats from outside enemies are changing our sense of national sovereignty. America is changing on the inside, too. Our culture is changing. We have a legal structure that allows, and even pays for, the killing of babies in the womb. Our courts and legislatures are redefining the natural institutions of marriage and the family. We have an elite culture — in government, the media and academia — that is openly hostile to religious faith. America is becoming a fundamentally different country. It is time for all of us to recognize this — no matter what our position is on the political issue of immigration.”
Because of this vast disparity of opinion among Americans on the dignity owed every human person, the value of marriage and family, and whether religious faith is good or evil, there is an enormous division over what to do with immigrants here illegally. Do we view illegal immigrants as dehumanized “criminaliens” or as fellow human beings, even brothers and sisters, whom no caring sibling would ever push to have deported to a situation of deprivation? Do we seek to keep families together in a time of confusion or do we do as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency did in the 2007 Bianco raid in New Bedford, flying parents to holding cells in Texas while their soon-to-be-traumatized-and-practically-orphaned kids remained in school in New Bedford? Do we value the deep Christian faith and piety of the vast majority of immigrants or do we view it with hostility? “We have to bring a Catholic faith perspective to this debate about immigration,” Archbishop Gomez declared. “We cannot just think about this issue as Democrats or Republicans or as liberals or conservatives. That means we have to listen to the teachings of our Church on this issue.”