Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, a Mexican-born immigrant and chairman of the committee on migration for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently spoke about illegal immigration at an event of the American Jewish Committee.
Gomez said that the role of religious people was to be "the voice of conscience and vision" in a debate that should not only be about finding technical solutions. He criticized a mindset that treats people as statistics rather than as human souls made in the image of God, holding that "nobody ever forfeits his humanity or his right to be treated with dignity. No matter where he comes from or how he got here. No matter what kind of papers he possesses or doesn’t possess. This is as fundamental to the Bill of Rights as it is and the Torah or the Sermon on the Mount."
Gomez has previously said that a path to citizenship is a "vital" part of immigration reform. He has cited Jesus choosing to experience the life of an immigrant when his family fled to Egypt. In calling for more humane enforcement of immigration laws, he noted, "We have always been a nation of justice and law. But we have also been a nation of mercy and forgiveness." He testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement in opposition to the mandatory use of the E-Verify system without significant changes to address concerns, holding that there was a need for comprehensive reform instead of "enforcement only" policies.
Although homosexuality and abortion get all the press, the U.S. bishops have tried to make immigration reform one of their priorities. The postcard found on the Justice for Immigrants website asks members of Congress to join the bishops in supporting reform that:
- Provides a path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country
- Preserves family unity as a corner-stone of our national immigration system
- Provides legal paths for low-skilled immigrant workers to come and work in the United States
- Restore due process protections to our immigration enforcement policies
- Addresses the root causes (push factors) of migration, such as persecution and economic disparty
The bishops cited the danger to the religious liberty of the Catholic Church to carry out its mission in a amicus curiae brief (joined by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.) against an Arizona law that was before the Supreme Court. Archbishop Gomez also wrote a piece appearing in The Washington Post on this case.
The U.S. bishops have issued several documents outline their position. This includes the 2003 pastoral letter "Strangers No Longer", a 2011 statement of The Catholic Church's Position on Immigration Reform.
So this has been an area of some focus for Gomez and his fellow bishops. How Gomez goes about it can perhaps be explained by the words of his long-time friend, Father Virgilio Elizondo of San Antonio: "He's concerned about social justice but feels if you're not well-grounded in the basics, then it can be seen as just activism and not … evangelization of the Gospel." (This, by the way, is how I suspect that Pope Francis will approach his reported concern for social justice and the poor.) The archbishop's job, faith, and worldview do not permit him to tailor his beliefs to fit into standard secular activism. This means that he, and the other bishops, can be strong allies on this issue as part of a coalition which has space for members to disagree occasionally.