Resist nativism and racial discrimination, says L.A. archbishop

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles speaks Aug. 19 during the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders annual conference in Chicago (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World).

So you think America began with the Pilgrims? Think again.

In a speech last week, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said that centuries before English Protestants arrived on the East Coast in the 17th century, Catholic missionaries from Spain and Latin America landed in North America. They brought with them Spanish language and culture—a fact, he said, that should have bearing on the U.S. debate about immigration reform.


“There has been a Hispanic presence and influence in this country from the beginning,” Archbishop Gomez said during a Sept. 9 gathering at Boston College. “We need to recover this ‘forgotten’ history.”

The nation’s highest-ranking Hispanic prelate, Archbishop Gomez has long championed immigration reform that keeps families intact and normalizes the status of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

He reiterated those calls in Boston, calling immigration reform “a struggle for justice, dignity and human rights” and  “a test of our faith, our humanity and our compassion.”

Archbishop Gomez, who emigrated from Mexico to the United States, said he is “disturbed” by the tenor of the debate over immigration and said blame is found “across party lines.”

“There is a streak of nativism and racial discrimination that has always run through our history,” he said. “It seems to flare up especially in times when people are fearful and uncertain about the future.”

“I think we are in one of those periods in our history again today,” he continued.

Americans have expressed unease about the economy in recent years. A Marketplace-Edison Research poll from July, for example, found that three in 10 Americans reported losing sleep over their finances and seven in 10 say the economy is rigged in favor of certain groups.

Archbishop Gomez said that as a pastor, he takes those concerns seriously, but he urged Americans not to blame the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants for their anxiety.

“But also as a pastor, I have to say that I’m worried about something else that I see,” he said. “I’m worried that in our fear we are closing in on ourselves, we are hardening our hearts. There is a cruelty in our policies and our public rhetoric.”

The leader of the nation’s largest Catholic archdiocese also rejected so-called touchback immigration proposals, which would grant legal residency to undocumented immigrants only if they pay fines, return to their countries of origins and apply to enter the United States legally.

Republican White House hopeful Donald Trump has suggested he would back something akin to this plan, as has his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

“That sounds reasonable and fair,” Archbishop Gomez said. “The reality is that it can take more than 10 years to get into this country legally because our immigration system is so broken and backward.”

“So in effect, we’re asking people to make an almost inhuman choice,” he continued. “We’re asking them to separate themselves from their children, their loved ones—for maybe a decade or more.”

“Is that the kind of justice we want?” he asked. “We need to put ourselves in the position of these people. What would we do if we were faced with that kind of a choice? Would we follow a law, if it means maybe never seeing our families again?”

The Hillary Clinton campaign, meanwhile, has said it plans to introduce legislation within the first 100 days of a Clinton presidency that would carve a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, without the need for immigrants to leave the United States.

Archbishop Gomez said that despite the challenges, he remains hopeful.

“The good news is that the American people are far more compassionate and understanding than some of the loudest voices we are hearing today,” he said.

Further, he said, “we have a consensus in public opinion for immigration reforms that would be meaningful, just and merciful.”

Polls seem to bear him out. A Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings Institution survey from earlier this summer found that most Americans favor immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship and rejects the idea of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, another Trump proposal.

“What we are waiting for,” Archbishop Gomez concluded, “is politicians and media figures who have the will and the courage to lead.”

Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Vincent Gaglione
2 years 4 months ago
The Archbishop speaks in general terms, all of which is polite, politic, and non-threatening. Did he say that this issue of 11 million undocumented people is, in the immediate presidential campaign context, a moral issue for Catholics? Is it or isn’t it? And if it is a serious moral issue, then what does the Catholic Church say to those who would propose to rip families apart for the sake of the purity of upholding immigration laws and borders? Why hedge about speaking truth to power and to many Catholics who argue that it is a political issue, not one with any moral dimension? Our pulpits…and our religious leaders…are seemingly barren of speaking morality on any pro-life issues except abortion. Well, at least the ones of which I have knowledge. Is there anyone out there who hears this immigration issue spoken about in moral terms in their pulpits, in their dioceses?
Don Honda
2 years 4 months ago
When the pope visited, I didn't see him being concerned with giving compassion to US Citizens who are poor, uneducated, who have lost their jobs to Illegal Aliens. This effect was warned about in 1965: “In light of our 5 percent unemployment rate, our worries over the so called population explosion, and our menacingly mounting welfare costs, are we prepared to embrace so great a horde of the world’s unfortunates? At the very least, the hidden mathematics of the bill should be made clear to the public so that they may tell their Congressmen how they feel about providing jobs, schools, homes, security against want, citizen education, and a brotherly welcome… for an indeterminately enormous number of aliens from underprivileged lands.” “We should remember that people accustomed to such marginal existence in their own land will tend to live fully here, to hoard our bounteous minimum wages and our humanitarian welfare handouts…lower our wage and living standards, disrupt our cultural patterns.” Myra C. Hacker, Vice President of the New Jersey Coalition of Patriotic Societies, on the 1965 Hart Celler Act “Whatever may be our benevolent intent toward many people, the bill fails to give due consideration to the economic needs, the cultural traditions, and the public sentiment of the citizens of the United States.” Myra C. Hacker, on the 1965 Hart Celler Act Also, isn't it interesting that the catholic church is one of the largest recipient of financial "donations" in the world? If the pope is so concerned for these migrants, then why doesn't he exhort those countries (including his native Argentina) to take care of their citizens in need? Catholic Church collects $1.6 billion in U.S. contracts, grants since 2012 "Not to be lost in the pomp and circumstance of Pope Francis’ first visit to Washington is the reality that the Catholic Church he oversees has become one of the largest recipients of federal largesse in America." Also: "We also note that the majority of the undocumented are Roman Catholics who would formally join their parishes and help support them with their just wages."
Sam Sawyer, S.J.
2 years 4 months ago

Mr. Honda, our comments policy, especially points 2 (be brief), 5 (use your own words), and 6 (choose your spots) mean that the 5 additional comments you posted beyond this first one were excessive; we've removed them. Thanks for your attention to the comments policy in the future.


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