(Archbishop Gomez delivered these remarks to conclude a two-day meeting co-hosted by the UCLA Graduate School of Education and the Pontifical Academies of Science and the Social Sciences)
I want to welcome all of you to Los Angeles — an immigrant city.
People don’t think about Los Angeles that way. You look around and you see this is such a modern city, such a cosmopolitan city. And it is true. This really is a “city of the world.”
What people forget is that we have been a “city of the world” — multi-national and multi-cultural — from the very beginning.
Los Angeles was founded by migrants and missionaries — Spanish Franciscans who came up from Mexico. Including the great St. Junípero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis when he visited this country in 2015.
From the beginning this city was made up of Europeans, Africans, Asians and indigenous peoples.
This history is important for us, because it reminds us that the United States — like so many countries — has always been influenced by the patterns of global migration.
I am a good example. I am an immigrant — I come from Monterrey, Mexico — and I have been a naturalized citizen of this country for more than 25 years.
And the Catholic Church here in L.A. is an immigrant Church. The reality is amazing here. Every day, we worship and carry out our ministries in more than 40 languages.
You all bring a global perspective to this issue. And I am sorry that I could not join you for your discussions over the past few days. I hope to read some of your papers.
But I thought this evening I could just share a few of my reflections, based on what I see here in L.A.
I am not a social scientist or economist and I am not a politician, either. I am a pastor. I have been a priest and a bishop for the past 38 years — in Texas, Colorado and now in California. And most of that time, I have been in conversation and working with immigrants and advocating for their rights and dignity.
I have also been involved at the national and international level, working on this issue through the Vatican and the U.S. bishops’ conference. I even wrote a little book about it a few years ago, called “Immigration and the Next America.”
So that’s where I am coming from.
And actually it is timely for us be talking about this issue tonight. As we all know, we are just a few hours away from the inauguration of our new President in Washington, D.C.
And tonight — in this city and in immigrant neighborhoods all across this country — there is a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of anger. Because our new President campaigned with harsh rhetoric about foreigners and sweeping promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
So we are deeply concerned about what happens next here in Los Angeles. Because, as you can imagine — we have about 1 million undocumented persons living here: men, women and children.
For us, this issue is not about politics. It’s about people.
And we know that both political parties are exploiting the immigration issue for their own purposes. That is sad to say, but it is true. And it has been going on for years.
We are deeply concerned about the new President. But we also know that the outgoing administration has deported more than 2.5 million people in the last eight years — more than any other administration in history.
Something that’s important to know. The vast majority of those that we are deporting are not violent criminals. In fact, up to one-quarter are mothers and fathers that our government is seizing and removing from ordinary households.
Nobody talks about this, but we see it every day here in L.A. When the government comes to deport people — they are taking away some little girl’s dad, some little boy’s mom.
We are breaking up families and punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents. And again, remember, we are not talking about violent criminals. We are talking about ordinary working people.
We here a lot of talk about the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. But we forget that they did not just get here overnight. It happened over the last 20 years. And it happened because our government — at every level — has failed to enforce our immigration laws.
What that means practically is that most of those who are undocumented have been living in this country for 5 years or more already. Two-thirds have been here for at least 10 years or more. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children.
This is the human reality of being undocumented in America. Our system has been broken for so long, our politicians have failed to act for so long — that we now have milions of people living on the edge of our economy and society. Living in constant fear that one day without warning they will be deported and never see their families again.
And when you look into the eyes of a child who’s parent has been deported — and I have done that more than I want to — you realize how inadequate our politics are.
And as you know — immigration is part of a bigger challenge with globalization and de-industrialization and what that is doing to our economy, to our family structures and neighborhoods.
But what is really missing in our national debates here in the States is the human perspective.
The immigrants I know are people who have faith in God, who love their families, and who aren’t afraid of hard work and sacrifice.
Most have come to this country for the same reasons that immigrants have always come to this country — to seek refuge from violence and poverty; to make a better life for their children.
And when you really talk to these people and when you really listen to their stories — it can make your heart ache. They have left behind everything to make a journey that is hard — many have suffered poverty, exploitation and sorrows we can never know.
But sometimes I wonder how many of our politicians and media figures — how many have actually had a conversation with an undocumented person?
Mostly people talk “about” migrants and refugees. We talk about them as numbers. We talk about how many of them are here. We talk about how they are a threat to our jobs or our wages or way of life. How they are a burden on our social services.
Those are important considerations. But it is important to remember that behind every “statistic” is a soul — a soul who has dignity as a child of God, a soul who has rights and needs that are both spiritual and material.
So that is my perspective.
I personally believe we can come to political solutions. There is actually a broad public consensus for solutions that are compassionate and reasonable. We just need to find politicians who have the courage to tell the truth and to lead on the issue.
But I think what’s most important is this “humanitarian” perspective. We have to help people to see the humanity of the refugee and the immigrant.
So that is why your discussions during this workshop are so important.
People do not cease to be human, they do not cease to be our brothers and sisters — just because they have an irregular immigration status. They are children of God and they are brothers and sisters. Our family.
And no matter how they got here, no matter how frustrated we are with our government, we cannot lose sight of their humanity — without losing our own.
So thank you for everything you are doing to build understanding about this issue. Thank you, on behalf of all the migrants and refugees who have no voice.
God bless you and your families. And may God bless our country and our city in this moment in our history.