Archbishop Gomez: Hearing immigrants' stories should make us grateful

Archbishop Gomez celebrates Mass on the new feast of Mary our Mother of the Church in May 2018 Credit Victor Aleman Angelus News CNA Archbishop Jose Gomez celebrates Mass on the new feast of Mary, our Mother of the Church, in May 2018. | Victor Aleman / Angelus News.

During a visit to the United States' southern border, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called for Catholics to lobby Congress to fix the United States' "dysfunctional" immigration system.

Archbishop Gomez and several of his fellow bishops were able to visit Catholic Charities' Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, and met with migrants who are living at the center. The experience caused Archbishop Gomez to reflect on the current state of American immigration policy, and question what could be done to fix the situation.

"Family separation did not begin with this administration," Gomez wrote in Angelus News, the news site for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "But reports of thousands of children being held in detention facilities across the country has struck a chord in our national conscience."

Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced a "zero tolerance" policy under which all illegal border crossings would be criminally prosecuted rather than sent before an immigration judge. This shift to the criminal justice system led to families being separated, because children cannot be held legally in a federal jail with their parents.

Following outcry over the policy, Trump issued an executive order in late June to end the practice of separating families, and instead detain parents and children together in family housing units.

Archbishop Gomez was part of a six-bishop delegation visiting the U.S.-Mexico border on July 1-2. Led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, the delegation met with U.S. government officials, members of the Catholic community, and migrants.

In his reflection on the visit, Archbishop Gomez suggested that Americans take a look at their own lives and the situation in Central America, and what could be drawing people from that area into the United States. The country is viewed by immigrants as a "beacon of hope, a land where it is possible to find honest work" and a better place to raise children, he said.

Gomez himself was born in Mexico and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1995.

It is important to know the stories of those crossing the border illegally, Gomez said, so that we can hopefully understand their plight and the situation they are fleeing. And while this cannot change the fact that laws were broken, "knowing their stories will make us thank God every day that we are not forced to make these kinds of choices in our own lives, for our own families."

"When you are in a border town, you realize even more the truth that every nation has the duty to secure its borders and enforce its laws," the archbishop said.

Unfortunately, Gomez said, the current immigration system in the United States is dysfunctional, to the point where enforcing the current laws is leading to "new injustices and cruelties."

The only thing that will help, he said, is pressuring Congress to pass a "commonsense and compassionate solution on immigration."

But this cannot happen, Gomez said, if politicians from both parties use immigration as a "winning issue" that brings people to the polls. As long as this is the case, no one will be motivated to make any real change.

"What we are waiting for is politicians with the courage to do what is right," he said. "And we have been waiting for 25 years."

In addition to wondering how much longer the country will have to wait on immigration reform, Gomez questioned how it would be possible to justify what has been done - or what has not been done - to assist the children who have been separated from their parents after crossing the border.

These children, "care nothing about our politics," and just want to see their parents, he said.

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