Bishops say U.S. must address needs of immigrants, show compassion

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) — While one Catholic archbishop was urging a
fix to the country’s immigration laws before a Catholic
crowd, another was pleading with the government not to separate mothers from
their children while in immigration detention, and yet another, a cardinal, was
accompanying a grandfather to an appointment that could have resulted in his

Catholic Church leaders in the U.S. spent the week of March 6-10
trying to allay fears, urging compassion, not just from the government from
those who are not seeing “God’s creation” when they malign unauthorized

“In the church, we say, ‘¡Somos familia!’ Immigrants are our
family. We say, ‘En las buenas y en las malas.’ In the good times and in the
bad. We always stay together,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, in
a March 8 address to those who attended the Napa Institute’s
Washington conference. “That is why the church has always been at the
center of our debates about immigration. And we always will be. We cannot leave
our family alone, without a voice.”

Archbishop Gomez, vice president of the U.S Conference of
Catholic Bishops, said immigration is the “human rights test of our time” and
said that having a policy that solely focuses on deportations without addressing
reform of the immigration system risks causing “a human rights nightmare.”

He said it’s not morally acceptable to say: “It’s their own
fault,” or “This is what they get for breaking our laws.”

“They are still people, children of God, no matter what they
did wrong,” Archbishop Gomez said.

He said he was concerned because people seem to be incapable
of showing mercy, or to see in another person, for example, an unauthorized
immigrant, a child of God.

“And so we are willing to accept injustices and abuses that
we should never accept,” he said.

In Texas, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio was pleading with the government to stop plans that
would separate children from mothers in immigration detention centers, a
proposal confirmed by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly March 6.

Calling it an “unjust and inhumane method of border
enforcement,” Archbishop Garcia-Siller said the proposal had been put out into
the public sphere with the suggestion “that once this is known, it will serve
an example to discourage future such attempts at entering our country

“With my brother bishops and millions of people of goodwill,
I must say that the willful separation of families is a terrible injustice on
its face!” he said in a March 8 statement, adding that it is “an assault on
the human dignity we proclaim and uphold.”

Archbishop Gomez in his address said politics today are more
divided “than I can ever remember” and “by our inaction and indifference we
have created a quiet human rights tragedy that is playing out in communities
all across this great country.”

While all can agree that a person who commits a violent
crime and is not authorized to be in the country should be deported, “what is
the public policy purpose that is served by taking away some little girl’s dad
or some little boy’s mom?” Archbishop Gomez asked.

“Right now the only thing we have that resembles a national
immigration ‘policy’ is all focused on deporting these people who are within
our borders without proper papers,” he said.

And while some people see them as less than human, these “millions
of men and women” are living as “perpetual servants — working for low wages in
our restaurants and fields; in our factories, gardens, homes and hotels.”

“Why aren’t we punishing the businesses who hired them, or
the government officials who didn’t enforce our laws? It just does not seem
right to me,” Archbishop Gomez said.

While saying that the deportation situation is not new and
that President Barack Obama had deported more people than any other president, “the
sad truth is that the vast majority of those we are deporting are not violent
criminals,” he said.

The week ended with Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of
Newark, New Jersey, accompanying a 59-year-old grandfather in New Jersey, Catalino Guerrero,
who was facing deportation after living in the U.S. for 25 years. Cardinal
Tobin prayed with Guerrero, who was subsequently granted a short-term stay but
needs to see immigration officials again in May and still faces deportation.

According to a report by NJ Advance Media, Cardinal Tobin
later said: “I can’t accompany the 11 million undocumented people in this
country, what I hope to do is say look they’ve got faces, they’ve got histories
and there’s a lot of advantage to leaving them alone.”

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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