Washington — The California Catholic Conference in a Lent message issued on Ash Wednesday said "it is long past time for our leaders to stop allowing this issue to be used for political advantage and set themselves to the task of fixing our broken immigration system."
The conference, which is the public policy arm of the state's bishops, asked the Trump administration and Congress to "ease the climate of fear that is now gripping our communities" and asked Catholics and "people of goodwill" to stand in solidarity with the "vulnerable and excluded in our society" referencing migrants and refugees who are "being unjustly targeted and vilified."
The bishops asked for reforms in visa and guest worker programs, reforms that keep families together, due process for those who are detained and an "immediate path to regularize" the status of "those who are here and contribute to our economy and society but without documentation … with an eye to one day becoming citizens."
The March 1 statement makes a plea that during Lent, "a time when Christian people devote ourselves more intentionally to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in an earnest effort to reform our lives in the image of Jesus Christ," urgent attention be given to "neighbors who are migrants and refugees especially those immigrants who are undocumented."
The bishops said they are concerned about widespread deportations that will break up families and communities.
"Fear is now growing in our neighborhoods and schools," their statement said. "The work of businesses and farms is being disrupted. We seem to be turning away from our nation's long history of renewal and innovation inspired by successive generations of immigrants and refugees. We are a nation of immigrants. We have a long history of welcoming those fleeing violence in other countries. We should not turn our back on this proud legacy, especially in this current moment in our history."
As pastors, the California bishops said, they are witnessing "firsthand every day the fear in our communities."
Proposals for reform should address immigration in a "compassionate, thoughtful manner and we encourage our political leaders to find bipartisan solutions," they said in the statement.
While the bishops of California, as well of the U.S., are concerned and support the federal government in protecting borders and upholding immigration laws, legal principles should be "at the service of human dignity and common good of society," the statement said.
"Just as the church works to protect the life of the unborn and to support the unemployed, the homeless and the hungry, so we pledge our continued support to migration and refugee programs," the bishops said. "Our parishes and social services, such as Catholic Charities, must remain in solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters."