MODESTO — Fear, uncertainty and terror are part of the immigrant experience in Los Angeles, Archbishop José H. Gomez said Feb. 17 during a panel on immigration at a Vatican-sponsored conference.

The fear has continued to spread since the election of President Donald Trump, he said, reporting that many children at archdiocesan Catholic schools are afraid they’ll go home one afternoon and find their parents have been deported.

“I do not like the sense of indifference and cruelty that seems to be coming out of this new administration in Washington,” the archbishop said. “They are playing with people’s emotions and toying with people’s lives and futures, and that’s not right.”

The archbishop shared how he’d received a call from a pastor last week, reporting that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had been picking up undocumented immigrants at a local supermarket. The pastor canceled some church festivities so that his parishioners would not pick up groceries. While the report turned out to be false, the archbishop said, it illustrates the prevalence of anxiety in the community.  

“We need to stick together, to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said. “We need to keep calm and make our judgments based on facts, not politics.”  

The U.S. bishops have voiced opposition to extending the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the executive order on refugees, and the archbishop himself has often called for deportations to cease until immigration reform is implemented.

“The raids did not start with this president. The previous president deported more than anyone in American history, close to 3 million people,” the archbishop said. “And most of them were not violent criminals. And many of them were parents forced to leave their homes and their children. So we need to keep that perspective. What we really need is immigration reform.”

He called an “enforcement-only” approach to reform a “humanitarian nightmare.”

“We cannot let our judgment to get clouded by our frustrations and fears,” the archbishop said. “We cannot allow our Christian voice to be reduced to just one more partisan voice on this issue.”

The activism of Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez are worthy of study by those attending the World Meeting of Popular Movements, the archbishop said. Both of these Civil Rights leaders were people of faith.

“We cannot get stuck in rhetorical actions that are angry reactions,” he said. “We have to be convinced that our cause is just and that God will help us in converting the hearts of our opponents — even the president of the United States.”

The archbishop also highlighted two concrete measures that could help immigrants in the near future — the Bridge Act and SB 54. The Bridge Act would grant allow those currently benefitting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to remain in the United States. These immigrants — or “Dreamers” — were illegally brought to the United States when they were children. President Trump has expressed the possibility of compromising his otherwise strict immigration policy in such cases, recently saying he would treat these immigrants “with a lot of heart.”

California State Senator Kevin de Leon introduced the second measure, SB 54, to prevent local law enforcement from functioning as federal government agents. De Leon stressed that the bill would prevent local law enforcement from deporting undocumented immigrants.

“We need these bills to get passed. We need your help. We all need to work together,” the archbishop said. “We need to start there, piece by piece, until we fix every aspect of our immigration system. Our cause is the noble cause is of human dignity, that men and women are children of God, that life is sacred, no matter the color of your skin or your country of origin. A person is still a person, even if the person is without papers.”

The Feb. 16-19 conference is part of the Meeting of Popular Movements, which Pope Francis began in 2014 to bring Church and grassroots leaders together.