Religion News Service sees the election of Archbishop Gomez as vice president of the USCCB as a clear message from the bishops to the Trump election, especially on immigration. Gomez recently preached a powerful homily on immigration, with specific messages of hope especially for undocumented immigrants.
Gomez’s election should also remind Catholics not to be conned into thinking that “five non-negotiables” is representative of Catholic teaching on the evils of our present day, or that any one political party’s platform suffices for Catholic witness and action.
Gomez is pro-life, and according to Religion News Service, represents RNS calls a more “conservative doctrinal” position. Yet conservative and liberal are not terms that are adequate to the task of naming how Catholics are called to respond to people who are migrating. Even if Catholics voted for Trump because they perceived him to have the better anti-abortion platform – they are still enjoined to protest against policies that do not adequately address the needs of migrant families. In other words, Catholics should not simply justify an immigration policy because they might support Trump’s policies on other matters. (For the record: I remain unconvinced that Trump will enable the kind of pro-life platform that many have hoped for.)
Catholics shouldn’t even support a platform that purports to deport only “the criminals” – since that is too vague and divisive to help people discern the real needs and obligations of migrant families. What counts as a “criminal”? Immigrating illegally is technically a criminal act – yet Catholics are called to minister to, and protect, the families who come here, even with illegal status.
In the case of undocumented immigrants, the bishops have this to say:
Under the harshest view, undocumented people may be regarded as undeserving of rights or services. This is not the view of Catholic social teaching. (Emphasis mine.) The Catholic Church teaches that every person has basic human rights and is entitled to have basic human needs met—food, shelter, clothing, education, and health care. Undocumented persons are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by employers, and they are not able to complain because of the fear of discovery and deportation. Current immigration policy that criminalizes the mere attempt to immigrate and imprisons immigrants who have committed no crime or who have already served a just sentence for a crime is immoral.
Catholic teaching emphasizes that people have the right to migrate in order to improve their lives, and the lives of their families; that nations have a right to regulate their borders in service of the common good. Lest the second point be taken as obliterating the first, catholic social teaching also states that regulation of borders must be done with mercy and justice.
We worship a God who was with migrants in Moses’ day, whose Son was a migrant to Egypt with his mother and father, and who commands in Leviticus:
You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.
Gomez is not alone in emphasizing a need to walk with migrants. Bishop Flores, of Brownsville, TX, posted a message last week in which he observes that while people are concerned about “criminal elements that promote drugs, gangs, human trafficking, kidnappings and extortions” Catholics also need to be deeply aware of the fact that many families are fleeing to the US precisely because of drugs, gangs, human trafficking, and extortions.
We must not live in isolation from others. When it comes the immigration, Catholics need to focus far more on the material needs of people who are in need – be they from Mexico, Syria, Bosnia, the Congo, or many other places around the world. People leave their countries because of real needs and problems – and we are asked to respond to those needs.
Gomez proclaims in his homily:
Tonight we promise our brothers and sisters who are undocumented — we will never leave you alone.
Let us be the people who walk with each other, and pledge not to leave each other alone.