PLENARY PANEL ON MIGRATION

By Archbishop Gomez
Modesto, California
February 17, 2017

(Archbishop Gomez delivered these remarks to the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movementssponsored by the Vatican)

My friends,

So somebody said yesterday that you all are very happy to be with brother bishops and priests. Thank you for saying that! I have to say that we — the bishops and priests — are very happy to be with you.

We should have one of these meetings every month! Well, six months? Once a year?

It’s wonderful to be with all of you and all of us together, just talking about these important issues and reflecting on the beauty of the dignity of the human person and God’s plan for creation.

So it’s good to be with you!

As you are, I am touched and moved by the stories we have just heard. This is the reflection of the “human face” of migration in the United States and the Americas today.

In our time together today, first I thought I would share with you a little bit about our reality in Los Angeles.

So I’ll share with you a little bit about what is happening in Los Angeles. As you know, I have the blessing of being the Archbishop of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles was founded by missionaries and from the beginning it has been an international city — a city of immigrants. Today in Los Angeles we carry out our ministries in more than 40 different languages.  

And Los Angeles right now is home to about 1 million undocumented persons. I think only New York City has a higher population of undocumented immigrants than Los Angeles. Between our two cities, we make up about 20 percent of the total undocumented population in the United States.

Those are the “numbers.” But as we know, behind every number is a human face — a child of God with his or her own story and family. And in this moment, with the transition of our government here in the United States, a big part of that “story” is fear and uncertainty. Terror, really, for many people.

Just as I was coming to Modesto yesterday, I heard about two rumors in Los Angeles. One was in El Monte, that one of our priests got the news that the government was doing raids in some of the supermarkets in that area, in the San Gabriel Valley. And then later on I heard that the same rumor — that similar raids were happening in Santa Barbara, in Ojai.

Then I learned that it was not true. It was just rumors. We have certainty that these things did not happen. But you can see how afraid people are.

Just thinking that the pastor in El Monte cancelled all the activities in the parish that evening, because he thought they were going to come to the activities and then maybe they would go and get something in the grocery store and then they’re going to be picked up. So he cancelled everything.

But you can see how difficult it is for everybody now, given the circumstances of the immigration reality in our country. This is how routine daily life is like in our immigrant communities right now.

Our brothers and sisters are hurting and afraid. We have children in our Catholic schools who are terrified, as you all know. Any day they could come home from school and find their parents gone. Deported.

And my friends, it is not right that people are being forced to live this way. No matter if they have broken our immigration laws. They are still human beings and they still have dignity and human rights.

So the Church in Los Angeles — and all over our country — is standing with them. This is our family. Somos familia. En las buenas y en las malas. We are always together.

So the bishops of the United States, we are making a commitment to them, opposing the different executive orders that we put out by President Trump.

We, the U.S. Bishops, oppose the construction of the wall, obviously, because we understand — as we have talked about here — that we are supposed to build bridges not walls.

We also have opposed the executive order on the possibility of more detentions and deportations because that executive order — specifically those deportations, as we all know, will destroy our families. So we are opposing that.

And we also oppose the executive order on the refugee admission program, because it is not right. I personally have called many times, over many months — have called on our government to stop the deportations until we address the immigration reform. It is time for our country to really address the immigration reform that we need.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we are organizing parish teams and training individuals so they know their rights as immigrants. We are helping them, in our parishes, to prepare families so they know what to do in case they are stopped by authorities. And we are trying to mobilize immigration attorneys to help those who are detained.

So we are very active. We have workshops, we have a really nice website through our webpage for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where we have all of those things that we are doing that are necessary: archla.org/immigration.
 

So I hope that in every single diocese in the United States — and also every single one of the organizations — gets really active in helping our brothers and sisters to understand their rights and what they can do in case that they are stopped and asked.

So in the midst of what is happening right now, I think it is important for us to stick together, to draw strength from one another, and to keep our eyes on Jesus.

And I think it is also important for us to keep calm and to make judgments based on facts, not politics.

Unfortunately, immigration raids and deportations are nothing new. We know that. They did not start with this new president. We need to be clear about that.

The previous president deported more than anybody in American history — close to 3 million people. And most of them were non-violent criminals and many of them were ordinary parents who were taken from their homes, forced to leave behind their children and their spouses.

So we need to keep that perspective. What we really need is immigration reform. A policy of enforcement only — without reform of the underlying system — will only lead to a human rights nightmare. And that is what we have right now.

What I see right now is a lot of political anger directed at the President. And that anger, I think, is justified.

I do not like the harsh tone, the sense of indifference and cruelty that seems to be coming out of this new Administration in Washington. They are playing with our emotions, with people’s emotions, toying with their lives, their futures. And that’s not right.

But my friends, we cannot allow our judgments to get clouded by our frustrations and fears. We cannot allow our Christian witness to be reduced to just one more partisan voice on this issue.

I am convinced that we need to be studying the farmworkers and the civil rights movements from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I think we need to reflect on the beautiful example of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, and the beautiful example of Cesar Chavez.

Because at the root of those movements are the Sermon on the Mount, non-violence, community organizing and strategic thinking.

We cannot get stuck in rhetoric and tactics that are locked in angry reaction. We have to be convinced that our cause is just and that God will help us to convert the hearts and minds of our opponents. Even the President of the United States.

And we need to keep our eyes on the prize — and the prize is immigration reform and a compassionate solution for those who are undocumented and forced to live in the shadows of our society.

Right now I give you two examples: one is the bi-partisan legislation in Congress, the “Bridge Act.” This would help hundreds of thousands of “dreamers,” young people. We need that bill to get passed!

And we need your help! We all need to work together.  

And then the other example is the California bill, SB 54. We need to get together and make sure that it passes.

And we need to really find the way to get into the political life of our country, and together to keep asking our elected officials for immigration reform in each one of these specific instances. We need to start there — piece by piece — until we have fixed every aspect of our broken immigration system.

Our struggle, my friends, is beyond politics. Our cause is the noble cause of human dignity. Our cause is the realization that all men and women are children of God, that their lives are sacred — no matter what the color of their skin or their country of origin or how they came to this country. A person is a still a person even though he is “without papers.”

So let’s keep walking together with our brothers and sisters — on the long path that leads to justice, dignity and inclusion.

We are together. And the Church is there for every single one of our undocumented brothers and sisters. We are praying together. We are working together. We are really a family. En las buenas y en las malas.

I pray that Mary, the Mother of Guadalupe, will continue to go with us and give us courage and strength.

Thank you for listening and again, thank you for all your dedication to justice and the cause of life.

Thank you very much and God Bless you all!

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