The newly elected president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, said this week that Christians are called to welcome the stranger, but nations must secure their borders.
“The bishops recognize that it’s the imperative of every nation to secure their borders and to regulate who enters their country and how long they stay,” Archbishop Gomez told Crisis Magazine. “We also understand that every sector of our economy — from construction and agriculture, to hospitality and service industries, to high-tech and medical professions — has a vital need for immigrant workers.”
While political leaders must insure that people enter the country legally, Christians must always remember that every person — regardless of his political status — possesses dignity and is a child of God, he proposed.
“For me, immigration is not about politics,” the archbishop said. “It’s about the dignity of the human person. And it’s also about our national identity and purpose, what America means and what does it mean to be an American.”
“And we understand that there is genuine anxiety in our country because our demographics are changing and our economy is changing,” Gomez said. “Also, migration is one of the signs of our times. That’s just a reality. Movements of people are happening in every part of the world, millions of people are leaving their homelands, seeking a better life for their families; often, they are leaving because of violence and poverty.”
Yet independently from the political question, Christians are obliged to see the image of God in every man, woman, and child, he suggested.
“As Catholics, we need to remember that we are not talking about ‘statistics,’” he said, “We are talking about human beings — the image of God, our brothers and sisters.”
“There are complicated issues involved, questions of law, economics, and politics. But the most basic consideration here is that migrants are human beings,” Gomez said. “They are loved by God and they are redeemed by Jesus Christ, and he calls us to love others as we love ourselves — especially the poor, the migrant, and the prisoner.”
It is also important to distinguish sound political prudence from the formation of a Christian heart, he suggested, which sees in every person a child of God.
“Jesus did not say we only love those who are fellow citizens or who have the proper ‘papers,’” he said. “Men and women do not become less of a child of God because they are ‘undocumented.’ This is not a political position, it is matter of our faith.”
The archbishop also commented on his vision of American exceptionalism and some of the reasons that the United States as “a light to the nations” continues to attract people from all over the globe.
“America has always been exceptional because it has always been a refuge for peoples who have no place left to turn, and it’s always been a place where peoples from all parts of the world can come to share their talents and creativity, bringing with them their values of family and hard work, and their dreams of a better life for their children,” he said.
“In my own writing and teaching, I want to help us to rediscover the fact that we are all brothers and sisters in our common humanity and that we have this beautiful promise of America — to be a light to the nations,” he said. “And this is just my opinion, but I don’t believe we should be saying that that the time for American generosity is over. We are too young of a nation to be afraid for our future.”
Fundamentally, the archbishop proposed, we must remember that “bishops are pastors, we’re not politicians. When we are talking about political, economic or social questions, we are always trying to engage in terms of Gospel values and principles.”