Illegal immigrants?


I post this to spark some discussion on a Monday. If you’re going to comment, keep it civil and keep on-topic.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

26 thoughts on “Illegal immigrants?

  1. Just some facts to help people think about this issue. In 1845, when the Saints were leaving Nauvoo, Utah was part of Alta California, Mexican territory. Yes, there were very few government officials there, but it was technically part of Mexico. It was still technically part of Mexico in 1847 when the first Saints arrived in Utah. By 1848, the United States had taken this territory after the Mexican-American war.

  2. It is probably worth pointing out that most of the handcart companies came after 1848 so they were traveling to a territory that was then part of the United States.

  3. One other comment: there were very few Mexican government officials in Utah in the 1840s, but the Mexicans actually did have a procedure for dealing with immigrants into their northern territories. In Texas, for example, Mexican government officials tried to control the influx of settlers from the United States but of course unsuccessfully.

  4. Further history at:
    and at:

    In other words: “We stole it, fair and square”.

    Actally, the US paid “$15,000,000 ($497,452,885 today) – less than half the amount the U.S. had attempted to offer Mexico for the land before the opening of hostilities, and the U.S. agreed to assume $3.25 million ($88,587,500 today) in debts that the Mexican government owed to U.S. citizens.”

  5. The Bureau of Immigration was not established until 1891 to deal with the problems. Up until that time, immigration was pretty much uncontrolled. There was a mish-mash of state and federal laws to control immigration of some considered undesirables such as anarchists (1901), polygamists (1891), etc.

    There also was an act which excluded Chinese immigrants and levied a fifty cent tax on all other immigrants in 1892.

    However, during the heyday of immigration into the United States by LDS converts (and a multitude of others), I can find no laws or policies controlling such immigration. There were laws concerning naturalization which established some residency and other requirements since at least 1795.

    So, there is nothing to see here, nothing really to discuss, if the idea is that the hand cart pioneers into Utah were illegal.


  6. illegal immigration is a product of a welfare state if you remove the welfare state you remove the concept of illegal immigration in the same breath.

  7. Glenn, when the first Mormon pioneers came to Utah, they were illegally entering Mexican territory. Not much enforcement, but it was technically against Mexican laws.

  8. DQ, the territory belonged to Spain, which claimed it the same way the British claimed the colonies and France claimed Quebec, etc, etc. Mexico declared independence and took all of the Spanish territory, including Alta California, which included California, Nevada and Utah.

    It is probably worth pointing out that if the Salt Lake area had remained Mexican territory Brigham Young almost certainly would have approached the Mexican government to get legal status. So the LDS pioneers did have the intention of becoming legal immigrants rather than illegal immigrants.

  9. Why not show a wagon with oxen if you are seeking veracity. My great-grandfather was among the first handcart immigrants which started their journey west in 1856. America’s immigration laws are arcane and often cruel with remnants remaining of old prejudices. The current policies that create a porous border leave our country vulnerable to economic and terrorist threats and are overlaid on practices that deny immigration to people who would truly benefit our nation.

  10. Geoff,
    I was specifically talking about the hand cart pioneers as per the picture at the top.

    But I agree on your point that Mexico claimed that part of the continent since its declaration of independence from Spain in 1821. Spain had climed those territories for hundreds of years. I am not sure how strong that claim was, nor is it relevant now. I don’t know what would have been the situation had not the “war” with Mexico taken place. Would the Mexican government have agreed to the LDS immigration. I don’t know. The immigration happened during the middle part of the war (which spawned the Mormon Battalion).

    So, technically you are correct there, but the hand cart settlers came to a U.S. territory with no real immigration restrictions at the time.


  11. I am generally politically conservative, but have never really understood how many conservatives’ ideas of immigration fit in with God’s idea that we are all brothers and sisters. I am interested in more ideas of how to make things work, but to me, the idea that we are so much better and deserving because we are born in the US makes just about as much sense as when people thought they were better because they were white. Perhaps Ron makes sense when he talks about welfare. Perhaps if there is less of that available, we will more likely attract the type of person who wants to work, and we could gladly welcome that kind of person.

  12. AmyE, definitely. On the one hand, I am not sure that God much cares about borders, but on the other hand he does want people to obey laws. The Church really works at obeying laws, even difficult laws in difficult countries. I also agree that it is difficult to reconcile our growing welfare state with the idea of limitless immigration. And I agree that we are in the U.S. potentially under threat from foreign agents sneaking into the country (although if we had a different foreign policy without constant activity in the Middle East we would be under less of a threat). The Church also emphasizes the human aspect of immigration and the need to keep families together. So, overall, this is a very difficult subject with no easy answers.

  13. “although if we had a different foreign policy without constant activity in the Middle East we would be under less of a threat”

    I am not sure that I agree with this idea. How active is Bali in the Middle East? Or India? Or the Netherlands (maybe more than Bali)? I think that this is often used as an excuse, but terrorist activities around the world seem to exist regardless of specific levels of ME involvement.

  14. P.S. – sorry for the thread jack. You can delete the posts if it is going too far off topic.

  15. I believe in protecting our borders to prevent terrorism and drugs entering the nation. That said, I’m all for opening up immigration to those who wish to make a good living here. Those illegals currently here that are not committing felonies, should be given work visas. Others that immigrate should also be given work visas. Citizenship can be figured out later, if necessary.

  16. You can’t read the Book if Mormon and support governmental controls on the movement of people. You might even argue the possibility of such cost Laban his head! But there are numerous other immigration stories in the book and they nearly all have to do with following Gods will. Where laws and governments thwart Gods will, they will ultimately be thrown down….

    Anyway, I don’t think Mexico had a really valid claim on Utah in the first place, much less so than the pioneers. Claiming a land that you don’t even occupy and improve upon, especially in those days isn’t a claim at all. You can’t compare it to immigration now, as there was no one there for hundreds of miles, less some Indian tribes, who in theory would also be illegal by the same token.

  17. It is strange how this topic so confuses people – I suppose it is the vast scale of a modern nation, the foolish undiscriminative term ‘immigrant’, and the consequent lack of responsibility. Modern society allows (indeed encourages) individuals to take benefits while pooling costs- favour the short term and ignore distal outcomes- favour the sound bite kock-down and forget about objective right-and-wrong.

    If we restore the question to a common sense and human scale, the issues become clearer; and some of today’s accepted attitudes and practices become seen as obviously destructive.

    To trigger the sensible responses we need to suppose that ‘immigration’ is about your specific family, village or town – the consequences of what *and how many* specific people of specific characteristic are allowed to live with you and and nearby; under what conditions and assumptions they move, who is responsible for newcomers well-being and/or good behaviour (and for how long) – and what are the sanctions.

    One thing is sure; the situation in Brigham Young’s Deseret/ Utah and in modern USA (leave aside the Book of Mormon context) are so different in so many ways, as to make simple comparisons grossly misleading – indeed such comparisons are often deliberately dishonest.

  18. Granting the assumption that yes, the Mormon (and California) pioneers were illegal immigrants, the next logical question is:

    How’d that work out for the Mexicans?

    As Glenn Reynolds says–border security, democracy, and cultural continuity–pick any two of the three.

  19. I’ve misquoted my Reynolds. That should be “open borders, democracy, and cultural continuity–pick any two of the three”.

  20. The Book of Mormon does show border controls. Captain Moroni used the military to keep Nephites from emigrating to Lamanite lands. The Anti-Nephi-Lehites asked permission to enter Nephite lands.

    That said, Nephites were generous in giving land and favor to those who wanted to come into the land. They didn’t have an extremely long process for each individual, but actually gave a large chunk of land to tens of thousands of Ammonites after discussing it over just a few days’ time. A more streamlined system would definitely help us, while strengthening the border for security sake (as Capt Moroni secured his borders).

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