Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez delivered a heartfelt message about the need for immigration reform to students of The Catholic University of America, calling the issue a “deeply personal” one for him and his family.
“For me and the Catholic Church, immigration is about people,” he said, during a March 23 CUA on Tap event sponsored by the Office of Campus Ministry. “We’re talking about souls, not statistics.”
Archbishop Gomez, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, has been a U.S. citizen for more than 20 years. Immigration is close to his heart because he has relatives on either side of the border. As the archbishop of Los Angeles, he lives and works in one of the most diverse areas of the United States, which is home to Catholics from all over the world as well as an estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants.
“It’s a beautiful place for you to see the universal church, people coming from all over the world to worship God,” Archbishop Gomez said.
Archbishop Gomez has long played an essential role in the Catholic Church’s efforts to develop immigration reform and in 2013, he wrote the book Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation. During his talk to students, he spoke of three principles for Catholics to remember about immigration. First, he said, “a person is a child of God even if he doesn’t have the proper papers.” Secondly, immigration policies should focus on keeping families together. And third, every nation has the right to secure its borders and regulate how many people can enter and live there.
When it comes to the United States, Archbishop Gomez said immigration is “totally broken and has been broken for a long time.” Because of the demands for cheap labor, many politicians and lawmakers have looked the other way when it comes to enforcing immigration policies, leading to a system that is unsustainable. And American consumers have benefited from this, at the expense of poorly paid immigrant workers who are now at risk for deportation, he noted.
“We need to recognize that we all share part of the blame for this system,” he said. “You and I have benefited from this system.”
While Archbishop Gomez sees a need for a system that provides justice and a path to a better life for those living in our country illegally, he also sees a need for Americans to change the way they think about the United States and its history.
“Immigration is about more than immigrants, it’s a question about America, what is America, and who are we as a people?” he said. “We need to realize that we are a nation of immigrants.”
Senior Natalia Rincon, a psychology major from Freeport, N.Y., helped organize Archbishop Gomez’s visit to campus. Prior to the talk, she was part of a small group of students who joined the archbishop for a meal and conversation.
“I loved being able to have that one-on-one time with him, and being able to see someone who immigrated here and works with the Catholic Church,” she said.
Rincon said she is passionate about immigration because her parents are immigrants. Last year, she participated in a University-sponsored border immersion trip to Texas and New Mexico to learn more about the issue. She said she enjoyed the archbishop’s emphasis on immigration as a human issue instead of a political one.
“I think that we are all called to love and be loved,” she said. “Despite any political views on campus, this visit was a way for us to come together as a Christian community and try and understand why people immigrate here, what their struggles are, and to put a human face to that story.”