For years, Catholic leaders in Los Angeles have made no secret of their sharp opposition to government crackdowns on illegal immigration.
But if there were any lingering doubts about the church’s stance, Archbishop José Gomez erased them when he put his name — and the church’s considerable influence — behind a fundraising drive for immigrant families who were separated while trying to enter the country.
The idea for a direct appeal to parishioners throughout the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which includes Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, came about following the zero-tolerance policy the Trump administration put in place along the Mexico border earlier this year, said Isaac Cuevas, director of immigration and public affairs for the archdiocese.
After being separated and then reunited amid public and political outcry over the policy, a few dozen families arrived in the Los Angeles region last month, Cuevas said. Some came in search of relatives, others were connecting with sponsors who had agreed to take them in. Still others had nowhere to live.
As the number of families coming to the city grew, Cuevas said, church leaders met with officials at Catholic Charities of Los Angeles — an immigration and social services nonprofit — and decided together to take responsibility for helping them.
“These families are arriving many times with just the clothes on their backs,” Cuevas said. “Along with legal aid, they need basic necessities — food, clothing, shelter — as they transition into life here in the city.”
An earlier pledge drive on a Catholic radio station raised $92,000. But with dozens of once-separated families now in Los Angeles, Cuevas said, the archbishop agreed with the idea of raising more money by urging parishioners to make online donations.
“The tragedy of so many children being separated from their parents at the border is one of the cruel consequences of our broken immigration system and the failure of leaders in Washington,” Gomez said in a statement. “I am inspired by this initiative through Catholic Charities Los Angeles. It is a beautiful sign of compassion and it will make a big difference in the lives of these little ones and their families. But at the same time, we need to keep praying and keep working for the reform of our immigration laws — which is too long overdue.”
The sharply worded criticism is in line with the position Gomez and his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, have long staked out on immigration. Although far different in style, both have rallied followers against the country’s often-punitive approach to the estimated 11 million people living here illegally and supported plans that would provide immigrants a pathway to gaining legal status.
In 2006, for example, Mahony said he would instruct his priests to defy proposed legislation that would have required churches to withhold services from people who could not prove their legal status.
Gomez has been equally outspoken, establishing an immigration affairs office within the archdiocese that, among other things, offers advice on how to avoid being caught by authorities.
As a group, American bishops oppose an "enforcement only" approach to immigration and have called for comprehensive reform to the country’s immigration laws.
“The fact of the matter is, the church sees immigration and especially the separation of families as an issue of human dignity,” Cuevas said.
Church officials have not set a specific fundraising goal, Cuevas said.