Saturday, June 11, 2011

The LDS Church Calls for a Balanced Approach to Illegal Immigration

Immigration has been a pretty hot topic for the past few years. Almost everyone would agree that the current U.S. immigration system doesn't really work. Our current immigration laws simply aren't based in reality.

Moreover, it seems to me that the strongest voices on the immigration issue, while often opposing each other, work together to prevent the adoption of reality based immigration policies. Plus there are many parties for whom the status quo is satisfactory. They have no interest in achieving rational immigration policies.

Here in Utah, I have watched with interest as some conservatives—many of whom are members of the LDS Church—have come out in strong opposition to recently passed laws that the LDS Church has publicly supported. There has been much quibbling about whether statements issued by the church's PR department should be construed to reflect the will of the Lord, as expressed through revelation to his chosen servants.

The LDS Church has made several statements with respect to Utah's approach to immigration policy. Now the church has released this statement about immigration that goes further in clarifying the church's stance on the matter than any previous statement. It is more of a general policy and does not directly comment on Utah's immigration policies.

When I first read this KSL article about the church's recent statement, I came away with the sense that the church had rebuked those that have strongly opposed illegal immigration. Reading the actual statement left me with a different feeling.

The statement, it seems to me, offers a rather balanced approach. Central to the statement is a reminder of the chief principle guiding the church's approach to immigration. "The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God."

Maybe if everyone involved took this principle as the main immigration policy guideline, it would be easier to find workable solutions to the problem. But care and concern are not synonymous with molly-coddling. The church promotes personal responsibility with the following statement:
"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."
The church makes it clear that the federal government is chiefly responsible both for our failed immigration policy as well as for solving the problem. The unchecked inflow of undocumented immigrants "may destabilize society and ultimately become unsustainable." That's a fairly strong warning.

The church goes on to say that "this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government." Moreover, the church says that "the federal government of the United States should secure its borders and sharply reduce or eliminate the flow of undocumented immigrants." This does not sound like the do-nothing approach supported by some immigration advocates.

While advocating secure borders, the church asks for a far less stringent approach to "the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States." The church is opposed to "mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families." In fact, any policy that targets "any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage" should be avoided.

This brings to mind the church's own history of having its members forcefully (or under threat of force) expelled from locations in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois in the mid-1800s. Perhaps Latter-Day Saints should be among the foremost to advocate against anything that might even smack of similar treatment of others.

What to do with the undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. is a difficult question. It is not feasible—nor do I think it should be considered desirable—to forcefully expel them from the country. The church believes that they should be "allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship."

There is a very vocal core for whom any "amnesty" program that allows illegal immigrants to "square themselves with the law" is anathema. In their thinking, such approaches threaten our national sovereignty and simply invite more illegal behavior. I get the sense that nothing short of expulsion or execution of illegal immigrants will suffice for some people.

While some of those that advocate for this position are vocal, they are known to be in the minority. They lack sufficient political clout to bring their desires to fruition. They do have enough power, however, to stymie progress toward feasible solutions. This plays right into the hands of those that prefer to keep things as they currently are.

The church openly opposes enforcement-only policies that fail to take a balanced approach to illegal immigration. In the eyes of the church, a balanced approach includes:
  • Compassion.
  • Reverence for the family.
  • Commitment to law.
Some illegal immigration opponents assert that not sending illegals back to their countries of origin is more likely to keep their families separated than allowing them to stay in the U.S., since many leave their families to come and work in the U.S. They conveniently ignore the millions of families in the U.S. that have one or more undocumented immigrants among their members.

As I said above, "commitment to the law" for some folks has only one possible approach when it comes to illegals: they must leave the country. The sooner the better.

After reading and considering the church's eight-paragraph statement on immigration, I see the church advocating for a reasonably balanced approach to a very difficult problem. The most strident voices on both sides of the issue are going to have trouble with the church's stance.

For some the statement will fall short of securing citizenship or something like it for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Even if the U.S. comes up with a program that allows these people to become legal residents, political reality dictates that it will undoubtedly be a somewhat challenging process. Since many will be unable or unwilling to navigate that process, a large number of illegal immigrants will remain in the country.

For others the church's statement will seem tantamount to treason. Period.

Are there enough reasonable people in the country that are willing to make the necessary compromises to work toward a compassionate, lawful, and balanced solution to this complex and controversial issue? Sadly, I lack the confidence to answer yes to that question.

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