Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez continued to push for an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy on Friday, calling for a more humane approach that views immigrants as "humans first."
"My friends, we're talking about souls, human souls, not statistics," he told a downtown gathering of the Rotary Club of Los Angeles. "We're talking about fathers who, without warning, won't come home for dinner tonight. About parents who may not see their families again for a decade."
Gomez, who was born in Mexico and became a U.S. citizen in his mid-40s, has become a leading voice in the immigration reform effort. He released a book that touches on his journey and has voiced his support for an immigration overhaul bill passed last year by the Senate that would create a 13-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country without legal status. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has also affirmed its support for a comprehensive bill.
His advocacy aligns with efforts by Pope Francis to raise awareness about the challenges immigrants face. Last summer, the pontiff traveled to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to commemorate thousands of migrants who have died crossing the sea from North Africa.
"I don't think many people here understand that we have our own 'Lampedusas,'" Gomez said. "We don't think about the people who are dying in the deserts trying to reach our borders or the women and children who become victims of smugglers and human traffickers."
Gomez, who repeatedly described himself as a "simple pastor," not a politician, lashed out at government immigrations raids and identity checks and at the nation's large immigration detention system.
He said the public is complicit.
"We've come to accept a permanent underclass of men and women are living at the margins of our society," he said. "They care for our children. They build our homes and clean our offices. They harvest the food we eat. But they have no rights, no security."
After speaking for about 20 minutes, Gomez took questions from the audience. One of them asked what he plans to do to push Congress to pass an immigration overhaul this year. His first response: "Pray."