[Angelus] Editor’s note: On March 8, Archbishop Gomez addressed a gathering of Catholics and other leaders in politics and business at a symposium hosted by the Napa Institute in Washington, D.C.  The text below is adapted from his address. To read his full talk, “Where Do We Go From Here? Why We Cannot Wait for Immigration Reform,” visit his website.

It is long past time for our nation to address the issue of the 11 million undocumented persons living within our borders. I want to propose a solution today.

By our inaction and indifference over more than a decade, we have created a quiet human rights tragedy.

A vast underclass has grown up at the margins of our society. We just seem to accept it. Millions of men and women living as our perpetual servants — working for low wages in our restaurants and fields, in our factories, gardens, homes and hotels.

Right now the only thing we have resembling a national immigration “policy” — is focused on deporting these people. And we have deported nearly 3 million in the last decade.
Nobody disputes that we should be deporting violent criminals. But what is the public policy purpose that is served by taking away some little girl’s dad or some little boy’s mom?

Most of the 11 million have been living in this country for five years or more. Two-thirds have been here for at least a decade. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children.

The means a deportation-centered policy — without reforming the underlying immigration system — will only lead to punishing children and breaking up families.

One simple proposal: Why don’t we require the undocumented to pay a small fine or do community service? Why not ask them to demonstrate they are holding a job, paying taxes and learning English?

That would be fair and proportionate punishment to me. But in addition to the punishment, we need to give these people some certainty about their status living in this country.

Most of the 11 million who are parents have children who are U.S. citizens. They should be able to raise their children in peace, without the fear that one day we will change our minds and deport them. So we need to establish some way for them to “normalize” their status. Personally, I believe we should give them a chance to one day become citizens.

Full story at Angelus.