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Bishops push back on Trump's hardline illegal immigration stance

Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops attend the USCCB's annual fall meeting in Baltimore on Monday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President-elect Donald Trump has ascended to the White House thanks, in large part, to Christian voters, but not everyone is on board with the brash billionaire's hardline policy proposals -- specifically when it comes to immigration reform.

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to deport every individual living in the United States illegally. He has since revised that position to include only those with a criminal record, but Archbishop José H. Gomez, according to the New York Times, is no fan of the president-elect's position:

Two nights after Donald J. Trump won the presidential election, Archbishop José H. Gomez convened an interfaith prayer service at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles and gave an emotional homily vowing not to abandon children and parents who are living in fear that Mr. Trump will follow through on his promise to deport millions of immigrants.

"This should not be happening in America," said Archbishop Gomez, who is himself an immigrant from Mexico and a naturalized United States citizen. "We are not this kind of people. We are better than this."

Five days after delivering the address, Gomez was elected by his fellow bishops in Baltimore to be vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a vote that is seen as a clear indication that Catholic leaders are preparing to go to battle with Trump in defense of immigrants and refugees of all stripes.

The meeting began with the bishops endorsing a strongly worded letter to the president-elect, which extended congratulations to the New York developer but also made him aware that the Catholic Church remains committed to resettling refugees and keeping families together.

While Trump received 29 percent of the Hispanic vote on Election Day, according to the Pew Research Center, many Latino voters have voiced great concerns about the Republican's positions when it comes to immigration reform. However, there is a growing schism on the issue among Hispanic Christians.

Rev. Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told TheBlaze that he agrees with Gomez when it comes to deporting illegal immigrants who are otherwise law abiding residents, citing that he does not feel it's right to tear families and marriages apart in the name of legality.

"We respect the humanity of the issue — that these are human beings made in the image of Christ and that, if we're truly pro-life, then we will care for the Imago Dei [image of God] from the womb to the tomb," he said. "We've never believed that it's realistic to deport 11-14 million people."

But Suarez parted ways with Gomez when it came to dealing with those illegal immigrants who have a criminal record, taking a more hardline position:

So we've always asked that this subject be looked at through the eyes of compassion. Yet, at the same time, it has to be looked at through the eyes of justice. If someone is a felon, a drug dealer, a gangbanger, terrorist, means harm to America — they should be deported. And any plan for immigration reform that's come close [to passage] since 2007 has always included an element of that population that would be deported.

According to the Times, Gomez and his fellow bishops are trying to find other areas on which they can find common ground with Trump, such as abortion, religious freedom and eliminating the controversial contraception mandate found in the Affordable Care Act. But they remain immovable on the issue of immigration, as they see the protection of immigrants as a pastoral obligation.

Suarez, though, along with the NHCLC as a whole, is trying to find commonality with Trump — even on immigration. In fact, the NHCLC and it's president, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, have been in active communication on the issue for several months with the Trump campaign.

"We need to secure the borders, but if you're going to build the wall, then you have to build bridges into the Latino community," Suarez told TheBlaze. "[T]he immigration issue boils down to a door problem. The entry and exit system is broken."

"If you fix the door, where people can come in and out," he continued, "they wouldn't have to look for ways to jump fences or dig tunnels because the door would be fixed, and that's really what we need to do."

Trump will take office Jan. 20, 2017, with Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In Suarez's mind, there is "no excuse" for the imminent Trump administration not to take action on sweeping immigration reform.

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