Archbishop Gomez's Address to Jewish Leaders on Immigration Reform
This issue of immigration is crucial to us. It's also important to me personally. I was born in Monterrey, Mexico and lived there until after I graduated college. So I am an immigrant and also a naturalized American citizen. I still have family on both sides of the border.
I am also the chairman of the U.S. bishops' committee on migration, so I am active on this issue at a national level. Basically, the bishops have for years now supported a comprehensive reform of our immigration policies that secures our borders and gives undocumented immigrants the chance to earn permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
And I feel like we are seeing movement on this issue. Finally. For the first time in years.
I was just in Washington two weeks ago for a meeting at the White House with President Obama — along with other religious leaders. The Jewish faith was represented by Mark Hetfield, president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. I think we all walked away from the meeting feeling like the President agreed with our concerns. So now is the time to get this done.
The question for us is what's our role in immigration reform, as religious people? I think it's this. I think our role is to be the voice of conscience and vision. That's what's been missing in the debate so far. If immigration was only about finding technical solutions, about fixing a broken system, then I think the system would probably have been fixed already.
The real problem is that immigration is a question about America — about our national identity and destiny, about the national "soul." What is America? What does it mean to be an American? Who are we as a people and where are we heading as a country? What will the "next America" look like? What should the next America look like?
We can't try to answer all those questions tonight. But we can start to think about them.
It was a British writer, G. K. Chesterton, who said, "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed."
He was right. Every other nation in history has been established on some "material" foundation. On the basis of a common set of borders or territory. Or on the basis of race or ethnicity — the same kind of people all live there.
But America was founded on something else. America was founded on a vision.
And that vision is Jewish and Christian in origin. It is a vision that we find on the first page of the Bible and it continues through the Law of Moses and the writings of the prophets and it continues in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the writings of the first Christians.
America's "creed" is based on the biblical teaching that human life is sacred and has great dignity — because God made men and women in his own image. It gets expressed this way in the Declaration of Independence — that all men and women are created equal by God and endowed with God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This Judeo-Christian creed has helped make America home to a flourishing diversity of cultures, religions and ways of life. As a result, we have always been a nation of nationalities. E pluribus unum. One people made from peoples of many nations, races, and creeds.
One of the problems we have today is that we've lost our ability to talk about issues in religious and moral terms. We are becoming a more and more secular society. And that makes it hard to talk about the values and commitments we find in America's founding documents.
Think about the great movements for change and social justice in America — the anti-slavery movement, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the culture of life movement today. These would be unthinkable without our nation's sacred Judeo-Christian heritage.
There's a reason for that. Because in our system of democracy, human rights don't come from government, they come from God. The best expression of that is John F. Kennedy's inaugural address: "The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."
So if we are not allowed to talk about God anymore in our politics or civic life then it becomes very hard to talk about human rights and human dignity.
And I think that's one of the problems we are having in this immigration debate. We have lost sense of the "humanity" of the men and women and children who are living in this country illegally.
That worries me as a pastor. I'm worried we are losing something of our national soul.
America is a great nation. At home and abroad. In times of war and in times of peace. Americans can be found wherever people are poor and suffering — lending a hand, saving lives, building communities, bringing people hope.