Bishops from dioceses in Southern California signed a joint letter to Congress March 14, urging representatives to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.

“No one denies that our response to immigrants and our immigration system itself has gotten off track,” the letter read. The signing was part of an immigration summit at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, held parallel to the annual Religious Education Congress at the Anaheim Convention Center for the second year in a row.

“We urge California’s congressional delegation and our leaders in Washington to come together to implement policies … which promise to bring temporary relief and protection to millions of immigrants,” they wrote.

The bishops also underscored the need to defend the due process for unaccompanied minors, “who under U.S. law and under common humanitarian principles should not be deported without first having a court hearing.”

Such measures, they wrote, are temporary. A comprehensive approach would “make just and lasting reforms” in this “immigrant nation.”

Minerva Gomez, 30, one of the poster children of Southern California’s immigration rights movement of the early 2000s, was delighted to hear of the letter signing.  

“Our life as immigrants is very difficult,” she said, “and knowing that faith is what got me through this process I knew that I needed to find some faith-based organizing.”

Despite having arrived in the U.S. at the age of five and having two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree under her belt, Gomez had to live in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for six months in order to gain her legal status in the U.S., even after marrying an American citizen.

Shortly after starting college, Gomez became a coordinator of the Student Movement Organization in Orange County, which later became the Dream Team of Orange County, an immigrant youth-led organization that sought legal status in the United States for children who had arrived in the country at an early age and remained undocumented, even though many of them had college degrees.

Leaders of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of Orange and San Bernardino called all parishioners from Southern California to take action. Archbishop José Gomez, Orange Bishop Kevin Vann, San Bernardino Bishop Rutilio del Riego and the auxiliary bishops of Los Angeles all signed the letter.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Life, Justice and Peace has held 90 trainings of leaders in different parishes to help undocumented people prepare to get their Driver’s License, explained Andrew Rivas, archdiocesan director of government and community relations.

The Diocese of San Bernardino has done its share by holding more than 80 such trainings in its area.

Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony informed the more than 300 summit participants that 70 Latino deacons and their wives have been actively involved in their parishes to develop the leadership work around the Driver’s License preparation, and Lucy Boute, a member of the archdiocesan council of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace, shared how different parish leaders have come up with creative ways to reach out to the immigrant community and how the immigrants are being protagonistas (heroes).

Other activities held in the different dioceses included:

— A Station of the Cross near a detention facility of immigrants in the Diocese of San Bernardino, recreating the immigrant trail to give people an experience of what it was like for the immigrants coming here by the area of Tucson in Arizona. The experiences of the immigrants will be reenacted this year on Good Friday.

— Informational forums on how to apply for a Driver’s License were held at La Habra and Fullerton with more than 1,200 people attending altogether.

— The Immigration Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels last July gathered about 6,000 people, and will be held again this summer.

— Clinic (Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.) chair Bishop Vann and Catholic Charities of Los Angeles and of Orange County executive directors, Msgr. Gregory Cox and Teresa Smith, respectively, discussed the services offered to immigrants by those organizations at parishes and at their facilities, and Rick Jones, head of Catholic Relief Services in Central America, talked about the root causes of children migrating North and how CRS and local governments are offering solutions to the “humanitarian crisis,” which he described as the pressure cooker that exploded.

Jones urged participants to write their representatives to approve the $1 billion announced by Vice President Joe Biden to support Central American countries to help the unaccompanied children and to stop violence.

— Several parishes in Orange County are connected with the Crittenton Detention Center for minors in Fullerton to offer all types of assistance, including helping young mothers with babies who fled their countries because of violence.

— Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, invited participants to check the USCCB¬¥s website on the different bills that are being proposed and other information.