NEW YORK — Following the start of a U.S. Senate debate over immigration on Monday, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles charged that Dreamers are being used as “bargaining chips” by politicians and called for family unity to be at the heart of immigration policy.

In remarks published in his archdiocesan newspaper Angelus News, Gomez said he had hoped for a narrow solution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors from deportation, and is set to end on March 5, leaving an estimated 800,000 individuals with an uncertain legal fate, and that the larger issues surrounding immigration could be debated separately.

The archdiocese of Los Angeles is the most diverse Catholic community in the United States, made-up of 5 million Catholics. Gomez has previously said that ending DACA would result in a humanitarian crisis within his diocese, affecting an estimated 125,000 individuals who are DACA recipients.

“In the last 30 years we have seen both parties try to exploit this issue for their political advantage. This has only resulted in further dividing our nation and polarizing our politics. And still people are suffering and our communities are hurting. And still our immigration system remains broken,” wrote Gomez.

During the annual State of the Union address last month, President Donald Trump outlined a four-pronged plan to fix immigration, which includes a path to citizenship for the 1.8 Dreamers without legal status, the building of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the end of a visa lottery, and terminating family migration.

Gomez said that the issue of border security should be left up to the experts to decide and expressed his strongest disapproval over the administration’s proposed visa policies. He championed policies that view immigrant families as essential to the fabric of the United States.

“We do need a realistic visa system that allows workers to come and go and that provides us with the kinds of workers — skilled and unskilled — that our economy needs,” he said. “It is one thing to do away with the diversity visa lottery. It is a small program that does not seem to have much impact. But we have never had an immigration policy that only looks at people for the skills they have to offer or the economic contributions they can make.”

“Throughout American history, immigration policy has always been about more than economics. And it has been about families, not just individuals,” he continued.

Gomez, who is vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is an adult immigrant from Mexico and has been one of the leading defenders of immigrants in the U.S. Church and a long-time proponent of comprehensive immigration reform.

“Family-based immigration has served our country beautifully. Immigrant families have built vibrant neighborhoods, churches and civic institutions in every part of America,” he wrote. “It only makes sense that we keep family unity at the heart of our immigration policy. And family means more than just mother and father and sister and brother. It also means grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.”

“Welcoming families has allowed our country to integrate successive immigrant generations into the fabric of American life, allowing them to contribute their faith, values and talents to make this country great,” said Gomez.

“To me, it would be unconscionable to allow this moment to pass and risk the humanitarian nightmare of more than a million young people being deported and their families broken up. There is no political goal that could justify such an outcome,” he said.