Archbishop hopes to see real work on immigration begin after election
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CNS) -- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio said he would like to see a moratorium on new state and local immigration legislation and echoed an earlier call by the body of U.S. bishops for an end to federal enforcement raids.
"We need to find a way to stop lashing out at the problem and to start making sensible policy," the archbishop told Catholic public policy officials during a rally at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.
"This is a national crisis and it calls for national leadership," added the prelate, who is the nation's only active Hispanic Catholic archbishop and one of 26 active Hispanic bishops in the U.S. church.
"I understand that the presidential candidates don't want to touch this issue before the election. Nor does Congress after the bitter failure of the 2007 immigration bill," he said.
"But this is the hard work of democracy," he continued. "As soon as this election is over and a new government sworn in, we need to insist that our leaders roll up their sleeves and get to work on comprehensive immigration reform."
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, some 200 new laws related to immigrants and immigration have been passed in 40 states so far this year. In 2007, the number was comparable, with some 240 new laws passed in 46 states.
In a keynote address to the annual assembly of the Missouri Catholic Conference, Archbishop Gomez questioned the effectiveness and the intentions behind many of these measures.
"The law should not be used to scare people, to invade their homes and work sites, to break up families," he said. "From a practical standpoint, I don't see how these measures are solving any problems. Instead, they're creating new ones."
In a wide-ranging, 35-minute address on Catholic principles and teaching on immigration, Archbishop Gomez also called for halting the deportations of illegal immigrants. Those found to be in the country illegally should be sentenced instead to "intensive, long-term community service."
"What's most troubling to me as a pastor is that these deportations are breaking up families," Archbishop Gomez said. "Leaving wives without husbands, children without parents. ... As we all know, a policy that breaks families apart can only lead to greater sufferings and social problems."
"We have to insist that those who come to our country respect our laws," the archbishop added. "If they are here illegally, they can't expect to escape punishment."
But he suggested that "intensive, long-term community service would be a far more constructive solution than deportation."
"This would build communities rather than tear them apart," the archbishop said. "And it would serve to better integrate the immigrants into the social and moral fabric of America."
He noted that "the church's interest in immigration is not a recent development."
"It doesn't grow out of any political or partisan agenda," he said. "No. It is a part of our original religious identity as Catholics, as Christians. We must defend the immigrant if we are to be worthy of the name Catholic."
He said that as someone who is "a pastor of souls," not a politician, he believes the current immigration situation "is bad for the soul of America."
"And it's bad for the souls of Americans. There is too much anger. Too much resentment. Too much fear. Too much hate. It's eating people up," he said. "And it's just no good for people to be consumed by fear and hate. It's no good for their souls. And it's no good for our country, my friends."
Archbishop Gomez, who is the head of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church and a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, called immigration "the greatest civil rights test of our generation."
© 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops