MODESTO — Speakers at a Vatican-sponsored conference in Northern California — including an archbishop — denounced President Donald Trump’s orders on immigration and travel and vowed to fight them at a meeting Friday.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said President Barack Obama deported a high number of people, but the harsh tone and cruelty coming out of the new administration was prompting mass fear and panic.
“They’re playing with people’s emotions and toying with their lives and futures, and that is not right,” said Gomez, who noted his city has an estimated 1 million people who are living in the country illegally.
Talk at the four-day conference on economic inequality in Modesto, California, was bound to collide with the new president because the agenda involved housing, migration and worker dignity.
Modesto lies in California’s agricultural heartland where Latino immigrants represent a significant part of the labor force for the area’s farmers. The meeting was being held in the United States for the first time after Pope Francis nearly three years ago launched global meetings to explore the “economy of exclusion.”
The pope welcomed the group Thursday night with a letter in which he said “no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist” and urged those gathered to make neighbors of anyone in need, especially those without homes, money or work.
The conference was scheduled before the U.S. presidential election and Trump’s recent announcement of a crackdown on people illegally in the country and a travel ban limiting entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The ban is legally on hold, and Trump is drafting a new order.
The conference opened Thursday with the first names called of some two dozen activists who did not attend because they were fearful of the political climate.
Trump won 52 percent of the Catholic vote, propelled by strong support from white Catholics, according to the Pew Research Center.
Not all oppose the president’s orders. Chris Jackson of the organization Catholics4Trump said in an email that Trump’s ban limiting entry from largely Muslim countries is reasonable and designed to protect citizens.
“Catholicism has always recognized the right of nations to have and enforce borders,” he said.
The gathering of more than 600 clergy and social justice activists also included a session on racism Friday, where speakers encouraged religious people and institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church, to confront their own racism.
Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana said the church has whispered at times when “the church should have spoken boldly.”
Likewise, Andrea Cristina Mercado of the National Domestic Worker Alliance called on the church to do more.
“We need the church to speak clearly,” she said, to rousing cheers from the audience. “Be bold. Take bold action. Offer sanctuary at Catholic churches.”
Innocent Rugaragu, a 42-year-old member of the PICO National Network immigration reform group, said he never thought people could be rounded up and deported from a country as wealthy as the United States, which he said has always stood for hope to people around the world.
Rugaragu, who is from Kigali, Rwanda, does not know how to convey to the Trump administration that the worries are real and not an attack on the president.
“These are genuine people who are really concerned and don’t have evil intentions,” he said.