As a Sept. 5 deadline looms for President Donald Trump to either cancel a program providing relief from deportation for children of undocumented immigrants or face a lawsuit by 10 state attorneys general, Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles on Tuesday said eliminating the protection would be “tragic” and that “deportation alone is not an immigration policy.”

In an essay for Angelus, the publication of the Los Angeles archdiocese, Gomez strongly defended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), adopted in 2012 under the Obama administration, which protects roughly 800,000 people brought into the United States as children by undocumented immigrants.

“It would be a tragedy to cancel DACA and declare these 800,000 young people ‘illegal’ and begin deporting them,” Gómez wrote.

“They did not make the decision to enter this country in violation of our laws, and in fairness, we cannot hold them accountable. America is the only country they know, and the vast majority are working hard to make their own contribution to the American dream,” he said.

Gómez called on elected officials “to grant these young people permanent relief from the fear of deportation and the chance to earn permanent residency status and eventually to seek citizenship.

“We can do this, and we must,” he wrote. “It is the right thing to do.”

Since taking over in Los Angeles in 2011, Gómez, himself a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Monterrey, Mexico, and currently one of just two Hispanic archbishops in the U.S. hierarchy, has emerged as a leading voice in the American church in support of immigrant rights.

In 2013, Gómez published a book titled Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation (Our Sunday Visitor), and recently he launched a website called to support “immediate and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Gómez also serves as the Vice President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In his Angelus essay, Gómez argues that the DACA program is simply one step toward a broader overhaul of what he calls America’s “broken” immigration system.

“There is no avoiding the hard truth that our immigration system is broken and it is broken comprehensively, in every area,” he wrote.

He offered three core principles for immigration reform:

  • Security: “We need to secure our borders and establish an orderly and fair system for verifying who can enter our country and how long they can stay. We also need a noninvasive way to keep track of people once they enter this country.”
  • Visa reform“The best border ‘wall’ is a well-functioning visa system. We need a system that enables us to welcome workers with the skills we need to meet the realities of the global economy. That means ensuring we are granting enough visas for agricultural and construction workers, for service workers and unskilled labor; for hi-tech, medicine and other education-intensive industries. We also need a system for bringing in non-ministerial religious workers who provide critical services in many areas.”
  • The undocumented: “What to do about the 11 million undocumented persons living among us is the most complicated and controversial aspect of reform. It does not need to be. There is broad public support for granting them a generous path to regularizing their status and even citizenship — provided they meet certain requirements, such as learning English, paying some fines and holding a job that pays taxes.

“What we need to do to reform our system is clear,” Gómez said, while expressing skepticism that America’s deeply polarized political system is up to the task.

“Across the board, there has been reluctance to seek common ground,” he said. “All sides seem willing to leave the issue unresolved, even if that means people continue to suffer — all for the sake of not ‘giving the other side a win.’

“No one should be naïve about this reality,” Gómez wrote. “But we should not accept this reality, either.

“It is a sign of something deeply unhealthy in our democracy when all sides believe it is to their advantage not to solve problems or work together for the common good,” he said.

In that environment, Gómez said, the best strategy may be to try to accomplish reform step-by-step.

“We need to go piece by piece. We may need to move slowly,” he wrote. “But it is long past time to begin doing something constructive.”