Church Counsels Against Enforcement-Only Approach to Immigration Reform

About a year ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued a statement affirming principles of a balanced and common-sense approach towards immigration reform. In June 2011, the Church issued a much more specific statement on immigration, specifically calling for "compassion" when considering what to do with the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Naturally, the Church's new statement counsels members to enter other countries in accordance with immigration laws and affirms the need of any government, including the U.S. Government, to secure their borders and to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering.

However, there are a few things that make the Church's newer statement particularly noteworthy, placing the Church at odds with most Republicans who believe that anything short of deportation for all 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. is amnesty.

  • The Church uses the term "undocumented immigrant" rather than "illegal immigrant." Many conservatives, particularly talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, have lambasted Democrats for referring to these individuals as merely "undocumented." The GOP prefers to use the harsher and more incendiary term "illegal immigrant."
  • The Church notes that its "bedrock moral issue" concerning the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. is "how we treat each other as children of God."
  • The Church asserts that effective and comprehensive immigration reform must happen on a national level. 
  • The Church expresses concern that any enforcement-only immigration legislation, particularly on the state level, falls short of our "high moral standard(s)."
  • And perhaps most importantly, the Church supports an approach that allows undocumented immigrants to "square themselves with the law and continue to work" in the U.S.

One thing the Church does not take a position on (wisely in my view) is citizenship. It advocates allowing undocumented immigrants to continue to work in the U.S. without necessarily obtaining citizenship. That is a hotly contentious issue and is not pertinent to the Church's focus on supporting and strengthening families. I am personally not opposed to a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, but that is far less important than finding a way to rectify the undocumented or illegal status of 12 million U.S. residents, most of whom are otherwise law-abiding and productive.

Some may ask why the Church would speak out on a civic matter like immigration reform when it remains neutral on most political issues. A good number of Church members in the U.S. are undocumented immigrants so any mass-deportation of immigrants would have a profound impact on Church wards and branches. Many families would be split as those born in the U.S. and thus have citizenship would be able to remain while their parents and other relatives would be expelled. The Church does not want to see families forcibly split by the government, as would certainly occur if conservatives in this country had their way with immigration policy. At the heart of the Church's mission is the family, so any civic matter that impacts the well-being of families is no doubt of concern to the Church, thus that is why I believe the Church is speaking out so directly about immigration reform.

The Church also issued a statement advising members to avoid being "judgmental" with respect to fellow members' immigration status:

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 congregation.

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