Church statements on immigration and avoiding being judgemental

There are two statements today from the Church.

10 June 2011 — Salt Lake City

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today issued the following official statement on immigration:

Around the world, debate on the immigration question has become intense. That is especially so in the United States. Most Americans agree that the federal government of the United States should secure its borders and sharply reduce or eliminate the flow of undocumented immigrants. Unchecked and unregulated, such a flow may destabilize society and ultimately become unsustainable.

As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation, and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas.

What to do with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States is the biggest challenge in the immigration debate. The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God.

The history of mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families is cause for concern especially where race, culture, or religion are involved. This should give pause to any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage.

As those on all sides of the immigration debate in the United States have noted, this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned that any state legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God.

The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.

In furtherance of needed immigration reform in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.

There was also this:

Responsibility of Church Members: Avoiding Being Judgmental

10 June 2011 — Salt Lake City

The First Presidency has for many years taught that undocumented status should not by itself prevent an otherwise worthy Church member from entering the temple or being ordained to the priesthood.

Bishops are in the best position to make appropriate judgments as to Church privileges. Meanwhile, Church members should avoid making judgments about fellow members in their congregations.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

33 thoughts on “Church statements on immigration and avoiding being judgemental

  1. Jeff T, whether it is a sin or not is between you and the Lord. However, I disagree slightly with your claim that immigration is entirely a state issue. Ellis Island was clearly a federal project, and promotion of immigration (which I completely support) involved federal policy. Attempts to limit immigration during the 1920s and 1930s were also federal policies, not to mention the 1986 law signed by Reagan. So we can’t ignore that the federal government has asserted authority on this issue until the Supremes find federal involvement unconstitutional which, let’s face it, ain’t gonna happen.

    Having said that, I am an open borders type on immigration and support Gary Johnson’s policy, which is described here:

    http://www.garyjohnson2012.com/issues/immigration

    I also like this: “The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.”

  2. By the way, I love these statements. They’re balanced, appropriate, and needed. My beef is simply with the one sentence: “As those on all sides of the immigration debate in the United States have noted, this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government.”

    I don’t believe that immigration was ever intended to be regulated by the federal government.

  3. Geoff,

    The Federal government didn’t usurp the regulation of immigration until 1882. Prior to that, it was a state issue solely. What’s interesting is that when you read the Supreme Court rulings that justify the shift, they use extra-constitutional rationale for their decision (and even freely admit that the Constitution doesn’t support their position).

    So yes, Ellis Island was a federal project, as were all immigration restrictions of the early 1900’s. But this doesn’t mean it was intended to be that way. And the Supreme Courts have explicitly acknowledged that they don’t have constitutional basis for supporting their decision to support it.

  4. I’m thankful for the statement. Of course, I would be glad to see my concern addressed that unchecked immigration may be unsustainable. I wasn’t against loving people, so don’t feel a need to change anything there. Most significant as addressed to me, is the support for giving work authorization to everyone. That is not something I had favored, but I will support it now.

  5. Agreed on the Church’s approach. I love it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellis_Island

    “The Federal Government assumed control of immigration on April 18, 1890 and Congress appropriated $75,000 to construct America’s first Federal immigration station on Ellis Island.”

    The Supreme Court decision affirming Congressional supremacy over immigration (under the commerce clause) came down in 1875. Congress passed the Immigration Act in 1882, which led to Ellis Island.

    The Court at this time was a big States’ Rights court. The issue is that the commerce clause really was created for cases like this (NOT FOR OBAMACARE AND TO PREVENT PEOPLE GROWING WHEAT FOR THEIR OWN CONSUMPTION!!!). The commerce clause was intended to prevent individual states from having individual policies that prevent commerce (and movement) between the states. So imagine if Arizona has one policy and Utah has another. This prevents an immigrant moving from state to state. It is completely reasonable for the feds to step in and assume control of a countrywide policy, and I’m glad they did.

    Now that they have asserted this control, their policy should be to liberalize immigration controls so we can have more immigrants.

  6. I’ve always believed that it would be impossible to be counted on the right hand of God and want to throw someone out of the country who had broken no laws depriving some of life, liberty or property. I was a stranger and ye took me in… hungry and ye fed me… willing to work and you deported me. Oops
    By all means let’s address the real issues which include integration (language), crime (then we deport them), entitlements (taxand entitlement reform), etc but I don’t see how one can esteem their brother as themself and not desire them to have the same opportunities to work for their own success in the land of the free. Come to zion come to zion once stood for something and it still does in my book.

  7. On this issue I care not at all what the constitution says. Immigration is clearly a federal issue, any other situation would be folly. Yet the federal government has fallen down on the job. I welcome and endorse the entirety of this statement from the Church.

  8. I thought those two letters, politically, were beautiful non answers. What can the Church really say? It can’t quote Lehi in 2 Ne. 1 (as we missionaries were taught in the MTC to interpret it) that all who come to this land come by the hand of the Lord. Nor can they say, follow the law strictly and kick the freeloaders out.

    Like the Church during the Civil War, take no sides until the modern slaveholders and the abolitionists beat each other up.

  9. I think these statements point many church members in a new direction on the issue. As most American Mormons are conservatives in the west, their popular opinion is predictable. As someone from the south who has visited the west, I’ve never heard more intolerance than from westerners towards mexicans. While I was surprised that the church took a public stand on another political issue, I do think it appropriate.
    I think the most significant impact maybe on the presidential race. Many are concerned about the perception of a church (read cult) directed president (Romney/Huntsman). I think it will be interesting to see how these candidates respond to questions on the issue now that the church has taken a clear stand. I guarantee there are those in the press waiting to attempt to trap them on this.

  10. Any policy position that supports residency without citizenship is exploitative and pernicious. The leadership should be ashamed.

  11. PaulM,

    May I suggest you go back and read the statement again? Particularly this portion:

    “The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.”

    Sounds to me like the Church is not taking a stance on the citizenship issue (note the word “necessarily”). In any case, even if residency does not lead to citizenship, their USA-born children will be citizens. And instead of being undocumented, they will be given a legal status.

    Note also the “continue to work” part–some members apparently think the Church is saying it’s okay for us to tell them to go “home” and get in line. The Church specifically states that they should be able to “continue to work.” So the church is decidedly against the “send them home and make them wait in line” argument.

  12. Yes, I’m LDS. What is your US citizenship worth to you? If the government is going to confiscate a portion of your earnings don’t you think it appropriate that you obtain the right to self-determination as well? I currently work with two resident aliens. One is on a path to citizenship while the other is not. The one on the path to citizenship can come and go as he pleases. The one who is here with his wife on a special work visa cannot. He is limited in the number of times he may visit his home and he and his wife cannot leave the country together (the need some form of anchor in case one is prevented from reentering the US). If such a condition is not exploitative I don’t know what is.

  13. When I do science, I make a hypothesis. Once I have a hypothesis, I check it with experiment and (hopefully) either verify it, or refute it. With theology, we can try to understand the textbook (Scriptures) or we can experiment (learn from experience) – OR – we can get the word of the Lord directly. It appears to me, that when it comes to political extremities, the Lord is an equal-opportunity offender and is perfectly willing to tell those who were too harsh in respect to immigration, that they were too harsh. Will we humble ourselves or will we fight it?

  14. As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation, and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas.

    And yet we tacitly encourage such behavior be rewarding it with a nice spot at the front of the line.

    The history of mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families is cause for concern especially where race, culture, or religion are involved. This should give pause to any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage.

    Wow, the true and living church of God is now using strawman arguments? Nobody serious is advocating mass expulsion. What an amazingly deceitful statement.

    As those on all sides of the immigration debate in the United States have noted, this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government.

    Which is exactly why the Church supports Utah’s unconstitutional bill that effectively bypasses federal authority. Nah, no contradiction there.

    The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.

    So…maybe I can sneak into the celestial kingdom and just “square myself” once I get there? Wouldn’t want to risk being separated from my family, after all.

    The citizenship thing is another red herring. By and large, illegal immigrants do not care to become citizens. I forget the exact numbers, but a recent survey conducted by the Church-owned, pro illegal immigration Deseret News concluded that the vast majority of illegals just want to work. The argument that HB116 does not amount to amnesty is based on the false premise that illegals want citizenship. No, they just want to live here. HB116 gives them exactly that. It is amnesty. I realize most of you here at M* have absolutely no problem with that. Heck, John F. recently advocated here for a wholesale supplantment of cultures. I just clarify this here in order to point out the political curve ball the Church is pitching in this statement. I expect this type of deceptive dialog from politicians and bloggers- not God’s church.

  15. My comment on the first excerpt from the statement should have read thus:

    And yet we tacitly encourage such behavior by emphatically supporing efforts to reward it with a nice spot at the front of the line (residence, not citizenship (because they don’t want it)).

  16. ldsphilosopher, The Supreme Court did hold that immigration was subject to state regulation in New York v. Miln (1837). However, it reversed itself in Smith v. Turner (1849). As far as I know, it has never issued a decision contrary to Smith Turner ever since.

    It has however issued numerous opinions over the years that uphold federal authority to regulate immigration, and as far as I know has never held otherwise. The Court stated in Smith Turner:

    Power is given to Congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations, to collect imposts and duties, to declare war and to make peace, to raise and support an army or navy. Power is given to the national government to make treaties, &c., with foreign nations; in short, to manage all matters which may arise between this nation and any other. This is the spirit of the whole Constitution; it was one of the causes, if not the principal cause, of its formation and adoption.

    Now, what shall be the intercourse between the United States and a foreign nation, and between our citizens and their citizens or subjects, and upon what terms that intercourse shall be carried on, are clearly national questions, and as such must be decided upon by the national government. The States can have no possible constitutional power in any manner to interfere with it.

    Constitutional questions aside, if this were not the case, it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to grant visas. Instead, people wishing to travel to the United States would require a visa from any state they wished to visit.

    In addition, individual states could arbitrarily restrict the admission of citizens of other states, just as if they were independent countries. That is not particularly practical, and it certainly is against the spirit if not the letter of the constitutional authority to regulate commerce between the several states and with foreign countries.

  17. Tossman, there were a few parts of the statement, such as the concern over mass expulsion, that indicated broader, worldwide concerns beyond the current U.S. experience with immigration. Mexican immigrants in the U.S. or Africans in Germany is one experience. Market-dominant Chinese in the Philippines or Indians in Africa or Jews anywhere is another.

  18. Tossman, there were a few parts of the statement, such as the concern over mass expulsion, that indicated broader, worldwide concerns beyond the current U.S. experience with immigration.

    True, John. But it’s tough for me to believe, given the prominence of that particular strawman in the debate over U.S. illegal immigration, that it’s insertion here wasn’t calculated and deliberate.

    Further, the second part of that excerpt comes pretty close to playing the race card. This is another play on words. Tough immigration laws aren’t targeting a particular group- just like tough seat belt or speeding crackdowns don’t target a particular group. It just so happens that most illegal immigrants happen to be, in the Church’s words, “mostly of one heritage.” This is another classic ploy: equating the position against illegal immigration to cultural discrimination and even racism. This statement is insulting on a number of levels.

  19. Tossman and PaulD, I never thought that the immigration issue is the issue that would test people’s willingness to listen to and heed God’s spokesmen.

  20. If you are one of those individuals that feels that a policy of attrition should be pursued until every last person currently here illegally has been forced out of the country, then the church statement is most definitely targeted at you. The Church clearly does not want that to happen, and has reasonable humanitarian grounds for that position.

    However, if you advocate an eventual amnesty of some sort, but believe it must be coupled with enforcement provisions that are actually enforced, then the timing of legislative activity intended to help bring that about is something only that the church can justly express “concern” about (as it does in this statement), unless the church feels that no immigration law should ever be enforced now, or in the future.

    That is not the position of the Church. In my opinion, what the church should do is find three or four congressional representatives willing to sponsor comprehensive immigration reform of the sort that could actually pass, then state that it doesn’t lobby for particular legislation, but won’t everyone take a look at legislation like this and get something done to resolve this problem.

    The underground lobbying for HB116 type bills isn’t helping, primarily because HB116 is wildly unconstitutional. That is reason number one why there is substantial opposition, not some sort of knee jerk opposition to guest workers or worker permits.

    Any employer who actually honored a HB116 type worker permit would be in violation of federal law and subject to fines and or imprisonment. In fact HB116 itself requires the state government to a violate federal law, and the governor of the state come 2013 could be arrested for implementing it.

  21. Tossman,

    It is hardly a straw man argument. It was inserted for a reason other than the one you are engaging with. The point is for members to recalled when the early members of the Church were forced to make a mass exodus from the United States to Mexico. It isn’t clear to me that this was a legal immigration.

    The point then is to soften the hearts of the members of the Church so that they realize their forefathers have been treated poorly in the past.

    Also, there are some that advocate various methods of mass expulsion either through compulsion or setting up harsh penalties to force people to leave. What do you propose as a middle ground between rounding people up and so-called “amnesty”?

  22. Mexico had no substantial immigration laws at the time. Neither did the United States. Mexico’s main objective during much of the nineteenth century was how to persuade people to come and settle more of the country. That is in part how so many northern European / American immigrants ended up in the area which is now Texas.

  23. I think many, if not most, people agree that our federal immigration laws are broken or bad. That said, if they are bad, should we insist on punishing those who cut in line, simply because there was no other good manner for them to enter the country? I know a few illegals from Europe that are here. They are married to Americans, but did not want to wait the 5+ years for approval to be with their spouse here in America. So they came over on tourist visas and stayed. Should they be punished for jumping in the front of the line, simply because we have immigration laws from hell? I dare say, if your family was starving because of hurricanes in Guatemala, you may as well have risked life and limb to travel to the USA for a chance.

    Due to terrorism and drug trade, I do not believe in open borders. I think we need a big fence around our country. That said, I think we need to open up immigration and allow all those who meet basic qualifications to come here.

  24. Jeff T,

    Tossman and PaulD, I never thought that the immigration issue is the issue that would test people’s willingness to listen to and heed God’s spokesmen.

    It’s interesting how members are interpreting the audience for this statement. It seems that you and Mark D. see it as a direct message to members, specifically those of us who aren’t cool with amnesty. I see it as partially that, and partially a message to the Church’s illegal constituency, which has been quite uneasy ever since the AZ law. It’s the Brethren’s way of saying “hey, we’ve got your back.”

    A random John,

    It is hardly a straw man argument. It was inserted for a reason other than the one you are engaging with. The point is for members to recalled when the early members of the Church were forced to make a mass exodus from the United States to Mexico. It isn’t clear to me that this was a legal immigration.

    Don’t think so, ARJ. If so, the statement is even more insulting than I thought. I don’t buy the comparison between the Church’s exodus to Mexico and Mexico’s exodus here. Life sucks down there, I get it. But there is no extermination order or cultural strife between those who stay and those who go. They’re fleeing from economic conditions, not physical threat or religious persecution. Simply put, the grass is greener over here (for now).

    And the Church’s settlement of Mexico was, as far as I can tell, welcomed wholeheartedly. Mark D. is correct that Mexico desperately needed and wanted American settlers. This is apples and oranges, and I can’t imagine the Church would cheapen its own past by comparing it with today’s immigration conditions.

    The point then is to soften the hearts of the members of the Church so that they realize their forefathers have been treated poorly in the past.

    Again, who is the target audience. Because if it’s me, I’d rather they come out during Conference and say it directly to me instead of hinting around it in statements seemingly directed at the press.

  25. rameumptom,

    Should they be punished for jumping in the front of the line, simply because we have immigration laws from hell?

    Punished? No. Not rewarded? Yes.

    I dare say, if your family was starving because of hurricanes in Guatemala, you may as well have risked life and limb to travel to the USA for a chance.

    Yes, but I’d probably keep my head down, learn English, teach my kids respect for our host country, and oppose the haughty tendency for my illegal immigrant brothers to outright demand amnesty and entitlements. I’d also not be surprised if Americans at some point eventually decided to enforce immigration law.

    Herein lies one of the keys to this whole mess. We who are at the heart of this issue have a very clear view of its various facets. We see the sincerity and humanity of those who come here illegally. As church members we worship with them, we home teach them, we bring them dinner. They offer us love and a wonderful example of family cohesion. Our kids are friends with theirs. It’s a relationship both sides appreciate.

    And then there’s the theft and other crimes that don’t make their way to the Deseret News’s stat books. There’s the entitlement attitude as well as something you never read in holier-than-thou comments in the bloggernacle- the widespread belief that Mexico is simply taking back their territory. That it belongs to them, and its only a matter of time before demographic Reconquista is realized. You don’t hear much about this in Utah or national media. Tony Yapias isn’t yelling it into the bullhorn at the protests. But you do hear it on the streets, much of it from more recent arrivals and their American kids.

    So forgive me if I’m not so eager to “humble myself” on this topic.

  26. Tossman, dude, you gotta make some comments on issues other than immigration. I’d love to hear your take on some of the other issues we discuss.

    Your larger point, which is the opposition to the “we are holier-than-thou, anybody who opposes illegal immigration is a racist” argument is a very valid one. Many people get animated by illegal immigration for a lot of valid reasons, although I don’t always agree with those reasons. I really don’t like the posturing that takes place (although I have probably been guilty of it myself at times) that everybody who disagrees with the left/liberal/libertarian viewpoint is a racist.

    It seems to me the Church is really trying to strike a balance here. On the one hand, the Church supports people obeying laws. I remember one conference where President Hinckley admonished members “to obey traffic laws” when they left Conference. Clearly, obeying the law is important.

    On the other hand, we are a global church with a charge to bring the Gospel to everybody. A lot of people come to the U.S. and take the Gospel back home after coming. Some cross illegally and want to come to Church or are baptized by missionaries who don’t ask them about their status. I really think the Lord doesn’t much care about a person’s nationality — He wants them to join His church. The greater law of the Atonement certainly knows no nationality.

    In addition, the Church is right to admonish members to have Christ-like love for everybody and not concentrate on somebody’s immigration status.

    So, I really think the Church is trying to walk a tightrope on this issue between obeying the law, reminding people to have charity and also guarding the principle that the Atonement applies to all and the Church is a worldwide Church.

  27. “and oppose the haughty tendency for my illegal immigrant brothers to outright demand amnesty and entitlements.”

    Tossman,
    Ironically I think most of them are doing that. And more so, most of the people protesting now weren’t protesting 10 years ago. Why? Perhaps because those on the right and left are using the immigration situation to either score points or just fundamentally misunderstand the concept of charity. This has nothing to do with granting someone citizenship by decree or guaranteeing various entitlements to all who would like to have them (which we can’t afford).

    I can’t help but think of a similar story playing out with the interests of the free market and socialism as well. If the rich and those who were blessed with prosperity had sought to elevate the poor of their own free will and choice we wouldn’t see so many people (unrighteously) demanding the confiscation of property. This does not mean there are no righteous people calling for immigration enforcement or there are no righteous rich people who generously give to the poor. But if we let “every man prospers (or suffers) only according to his own labor” be our economic law and we let those who demand only the application of “the law” without regard to charity be our immigration spokesmen we can surely expect just as many misguided protests on the other side of the aisle.

  28. Sorry, Geoff. Few things rile me up like the immigration debate. I don’t feel particularly equipped or motivated to weigh in on other issues. Thanks for your comment. The fact that you can understand my position (without necessarily agreeing with it) is much appreciated. A couple comments:

    Some cross illegally and want to come to Church or are baptized by missionaries who don’t ask them about their status. I really think the Lord doesn’t much care about a person’s nationality — He wants them to join His church. The greater law of the Atonement certainly knows no nationality.

    Right. It’s not the responsibility (or even business) of missionaries or local leadership to ask about citizenship status. I think they shouldn’t. The whole honesty thing is between the individual and God (though I think the moral implications of illegal immigrations are too often dismissed by both parties).

    Citizenship status, however, should be considered when it comes to missions and ward leadership positions. There have been several recent incidents that have not reflected well on the Church (deliberately sending illegal missionaries in-country in order to avoid them getting caught, a SLC bishop being taken into custody by ICE, causing disorder and panic in the ward).

    What I object to most is the Church’s frequent and increasingly vocal reiteration of its position, which I find backhanded and insulting.

  29. Tossman,

    Maybe the watchmen on the tower know something we don’t? If they persistently reiterate their desire to allow people to work here without fear of deportation, perhaps we should choose to adjust our worldviews accordingly rather than choose to be offended.

    I think the moment we feel insulted by God’s spokesmen is the moment we should reconsider our position.

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