Mormons' immigration stance reveals some surprises

immigrationLast night’s presidential speech on immigration raised hackles among conservative Americans, who argue that Obama’s pending executive order to halt the deportation of approximately five million undocumented immigrants is an end run around Congress, which has failed to act on the issue.

Republican leaders have promised that they’ll fight the President’s action, with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell saying that Obama would come to regret it.

But many religious leaders have come out in favor of the President’s move, reports the Salt Lake Tribune – including, indirectly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the Church did not issue a specific statement yesterday, it is referring questioners to a 2011 official release that outlines its general position. Some highlights:

  • The Church discourages members from immigrating from one country to another without proper documentation.
  • Having said that, the Church also does not wish to see the mass deportation of as many as 12 million undocumented people who are now living in the United States, since doing so undermines the strength of the family. If undocumented immigrants are already here, they should “continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.”
  • The Church supports comprehensive federal legislation rather than a piecemeal resolution on a state-by-state basis.
  • Finally, the Church strongly discourages racism or “any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage.” It seeks a solution based on treating each other “as children of God.”

This centrist Mormon position on immigration is different from the views of many Republicans, which is interesting since most Mormons now affiliate strongly with the Republican Party.

In the forthcoming book Mormonism and American Politics, David E. Campbell, Christopher F. Karpowitz, and J. Quin Monson draw on sociological data about Mormons in American political life to assess their views on immigration, among other issues. They found some surprises: Mormons are “more accepting of immigrants than most other Americans, particularly in contrast to evangelicals.”

Their large-scale survey found that 26% of Mormons actually favor more immigration, which makes them more pro-immigration than any other religious group except Jews (29%).

Mormons are more than twice as likely as evangelicals (12%) to advocate more immigration.

Why the divergence here? Why are Mormons different from other Republicans on this issue, and other faith groups?

We hypothesize that the high proportion of Mormons who serve as missionaries in other countries fosters an empathetic perspective on illegal immigrants. Indeed, the LDS Church has a large missionary presence in Latin America, the source of most undocumented workers in the United States. Many Mormons, therefore, have seen firsthand the abject poverty that compels migrants to enter the US illegally.

Furthermore, the church’s own policy is to turn a blind eye toward people who are in the US illegally—the church will baptize them, call them on missions, and even have them serve as church leaders (Stack 2011). LDS leaders have consistently been a voice of compassion regarding immigration. . . .

More recently, the church has taken a vocal stand for moderate immigration reforms that balance a law-and-order mentality against compassion for immigrants and a strong desire for policies that keep families together. These stances moved public opinion among conservative Utah Mormons in a more moderate direction (Monson 2011).

Taken together, “these data warn against the overly simple conflation of Mormons with other segments of the Republican religious right.”


  1. I also think it has something to do with 2 Nephi 1:6:

    “Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.”

    So however people get here, legally or not, it’s by the hand of the Lord.

  2. Jana, I’m confused at the assertion that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even indirectly, has “come out in favor of the President’s move.”

    As the 2011 press release indicates, the church prefers that the rule of law be honored. Part of that rule of law is upholding constitutional principles in addressing such matters. By definition, when “[t]he Church supports comprehensive federal legislation,” it is the legislative branch of the federal government which authors the law. The job of the executive is to sign or veto the law. It is also the job of the executive to enforce CURRENT law. This separation of powers is crucial to the long-term viability of our form of government.

    The president’s executive action is hardly something one can suggest that the church has come out in favor of, even indirectly. The church may sympathize with some of the president’s aims, but that falls far short of an endorsement of the means.

    When all is said and done, I don’t think either party is necessarily more pro- or anti-immigration than the other. The devil is in the details. Especially in an era when America has increasingly padded the entitlement packages accessible to new arrivals rather than making immigration contingent upon self-sufficiency and the sponsorship of responsible parties. The greater the economic cost of immigration to taxpayers, the greater the need for controls. If the country were to do away with benefits of any kind to non-citizens, the need for such controls would diminish rapidly.

    I agree that the missionary service of Latter-day Saints makes them more open to immigration than your average American. And the church has a long tradition of strengthening its ranks through immigration. I do not believe that this affection, however, translates into support for violating the separation of constitutional powers.

    For as long as I can remember, the thrust of disagreement over immigration reform law has been the component of strengthening our borders. If you want to control the flow of a river, you fix the holes in the dam first before subjecting it to high waters. The Republican approach to immigration is to fortify the dam, and then control the release of water in a responsible manner so as not to overwhelm the landscape below. The Democrat approach to immigration doesn’t seem to substantive address the infrastructure of the dam whatsoever, and perhaps even to weaken its integrity, thus placing the landscape below at risk.

    I have little doubt both parties can agree on legislation which addresses the practical and humanitarian aspects of the present broken system, and do so while fortifying our sovereign borders against continuing abuse.

    I do not believe that the Republican party view is substantively different from the “centrist Mormon position on immigration” espoused by the church. We are a very pro-immigration people. But we also believe that our laws deserve to be respected, and that the legal path to residency and eventual citizenship must be followed by everyone who desires to call America home.

    Not mentioned often in these discussions, by the way, are those who really aren’t interested in making America their permanent home, but rather seek seasonal employment and the opportunity to come and go in the light of day. We used to have programs for such things which did not lead to a green card or other long-term benefits. It would make sense to consider such programs again.

  3. “Finally, the Church strongly discourages racism or “any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage.” It seeks a solution based on treating each other “as children of God.” ”

    Speaking as a gay man in California, and for gay people everywhere…


  4. That pretty much sums it up. I have no problem with anyone coming here that is willing to work hard and build a life and the immigration system needs to be fixed. But there’s no point in trying to fix it so long as we have a president that believes he’s an absolute monarch able to modify or ignore laws if they conflict with what his own goals or preferences.

  5. Tom, the one thing which unifies most of the opposition to immigration reform and these periodic efforts at relieving the situation is that such people are generally completely clueless as to how our immigration system and laws work. Yet they all feel the need to chime in on “rule of law”. In a democracy it is dangerous stupidity to talk about general upholding of laws one knows little to nothing about.

    The whole separation of powers complaint is borne of ignorance. The only input Congress has on immigration is to write and revise the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Everything else, including the judicial process of immigration law is part of the Executive branch. At the discretion of the president and cabinet. The Immigration laws give the Executive branch wide lattitude to do what it sees fit. There are as tons of discretionary exceptions to virtually every “hard and fast rule” one thinks of in the Immigration laws. The president doesn’t have to consult Congress to do something well within his powers. It may be stepping on toes, but not stepping over the line.

    Conservatives want the status quo. It creates conditions where the wealthy acquire cheap industrial labor through coercion and fear. Plus it allows them to appeal to bigotry and paranoia in demonizing a section of the population which does not vote. Bigotry and paranoia about illegal aliens allowed Republicans to institute efforts at disenfranchising significant numbers of poor, elderly and urban minority voters (who are generally Democrats). It allows for attacks on the 4th Amendment as well.

    The great myth about illegal immigration is that it can be helped if we just throw more resources into enforcement and at the border. The entire idea is fundamentally flaws and there has been nothing to show for it. 50 years of “catch and deport” has never done a thing to alter the flow of illegal aliens to our nation. How many different presidents, governing styles and changes of political party have we had in that time? Our economy has always been the controlling factor here.

    The whole setup doesn’t work. Especially since about 1/3rd of our illegal aliens in this country crossed the border legally and overstayed. Our own dysfunctional employment visa laws turned this group into immigration law violators.

    We made it easy to exploit foreigners coming here to do work, reap the benefits from their labor and then have a method of casting them aside.

    Those few politicians on both parties, who legitimately know how immigration works in this country, and have ideas as to how to reform it, are always drowned out in a sea of ignorant screeching.

  6. Yet you have no actual desire to fix the problem that would allow people willing to come here and work hard, build a life here.

    This is why the president felt the need to act. Obviously you don’t want the problem solved or even acknowledged.

  7. So you’re a mind reader? But as I said, I also agree with the majority of Americans that want priority given to closing the border first.

    As for the president’s action, that alone means there should be no legislative action to fix the immigration mess so long as Obama’s in office. What’s the point in sitting down and negotiating, working out a compromise deal if the president has shown that he will enforce the parts of the deal he likes and ignore the parts he doesn’t like? There is a BIG difference between that and prosecutorial discretion. I suppose Republicans ought to be celebrating, though, with this precedent that Obama is setting – all we need to do to fix our messed-up tax code is elect a Republican president, and he can instruct the IRS to not ignore anyone not paying income or loot-the-dead taxes, along with any other changes he chooses to impose. After all, how the president enforces the law is purely up to him, right?

  8. From the Church Newsroom from June 2011:

    “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.”

    Apparently that’s the approach the President supports too. Dislike the means all you want, but if you disagree with the results–millions of undocumented immigrants able to square themselves with the law and continue to work–you’re in disagreement with the church.

  9. Its called relying on your own statements.

    Compromise and deal making only work in an environment where such things are sought by both sides. Republicans themselves are heavily divided on the issue. You have a nativist branch with no desire to do anything besides make nonsense statements about enforcement and you have people legitimately interested in the situation who are hardly in much control.

    “all we need to do to fix our messed-up tax code is elect a Republican president, and he can instruct the IRS to not ignore anyone not paying income or loot-the-dead taxes”

    We did that already. Didn’t work.

    For all your talk about the president enforcing the law, you are ignorant of the huge latitude given the president on immigration issues which is an integral into the Immigration and Naturalization Act. The laws themselves grant a wide discretion as to how they are enforced on an individual basis. Its not ignoring the law.

    One of the stupidest arguments people make about immigration is when they talk about enforcement and upholding the law, but give no indication they know what those laws are or how the immigration system actually operates. How is that proper behavior in a democracy?

  10. I’m skeptical whether the results will ever materialize. As others have mentioned, this executive order is temporary and can be undone relatively easily. The current immigration laws are being only partially followed and enforced, and I don’t see how the president’s speech will substantially change that- especially in the long run.

  11. Funny how that renowned constitutional scholar Barak Obama didn’t know that when he said in statement after statement that he lacked the constitutional authority to do what he just did.

  12. It’s good to see that Jana didn’t ban you from this website.

  13. I have no problem disagreeing with a Church POLICY. it’s not doctrinal. It’s written by the arm of flesh. if it were inspired, they should have it sustained by Common Consent to make it official.

    The Church’s position is what they feel is best for the Church, not necessarily what is best for America. I bet if all of the LDS illegals were to rely on the Church’s Welfare system if they are relying on government, the Church would have a big change of heart.

    Even places that are open 24/7 (hospitals, police stations, Quickie Marts, etc…)and allow everyone in still make people come through the front door rather than sneaking in through a window or back door. America should be no different. We need to just build the wall and force all people wanting to come here to come through a port of entry and let us evaluate whether they’ll get in or not.

    Our immigration policy should be based on what is best for America. Should it be an open door policy where all are allowed entry and access to government benefits? We don’t have enough money for that. Massive immigration of poor, uneducated workers will only hurt the most vulnerable citizens we have (the young, minorities, etc…). We need to let in only those whom we need, especially highly skilled professionals that are in demand. Let those who have a lot of wealth come if they’ll invest in businesses that will contribute to the economy rather than drain it. Allow in those who are severely persecuted (non-Muslims in the Middle East, democracy advocates in repressive countries, etc…).

    Putting illegals at the front of the line to citizenship is a slap in the face to all of those law abiding immigrants who are applying for it in the proper way. they should be permanently barred from citizenship and should be deported when caught…even if they have kids born here. If they want to preserve the family, let the kids leave with the parents and then return, alone, once 18.

    All immigrants need to speak English. Having ballots in other languages is a travesty. BTW, i served a foreign mission and learned a foreign language.

  14. I encourage those interested in this topic to view the President’s actual statement at as we sift though the spin and furor on the topic of immigration policy.

    Congress is certainly granted the power to make laws under the Constitution and the President continues to call for them to do so in the area of workable immigration reform. However, Presidents beginning with George Washington have issued executive orders (see ). Further, under Article II of the Constitution, Presidents have the power to grant pardons and probably amnesties like President Ford granted to former President Nixon and have not infrequently been granted by other U.S. Presidents (see

    I appreciate the President Obama’s reminder to engage in civil discussion on these issues which echoed other such calls (See and ). I also appreciated his reference to Exodus 23:9 that reminds us we owe kindness to strangers. The scriptures have large numbers of examples of the plight of immigrants including Abraham, the children of Israel, Ruth, Christ and His family sojourning in Egypt, several examples in the Book of Mormon, etc.

    Finally, it is wise for Church members and others interested individuals to review official LDS statements which can be found at .4109

  15. I suggest you review President Obama’s speech. He did Not call for illegal immigrants to go to the front of the line, but to the back.

    Your suggest of building a really good wall raises several interesting images. The Great Wall of China, the Maginot Line, and the Berlin Wall were all failures. It also lead me to remember Robert Frost insightful poem, “The Mending Wall,” which would be wise to review at . I think I will trust the principles of loving our neighbors, strengthening families, and respecting laws, rather than the adage that “Good fences make good neighbors.”

  16. Your examples are flawed, unless you believe the illegals are coming in with vast cavalry armies or with tanks and paratroopers. And the Berlin Wall worked very well for decades for its intended purpose of keeping people IN, not OUT. No, the farmer in Robert Frost’s poem had it right: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

  17. I see immigrants doing back-breaking work, bent over in 100+ degree heat providing food for me and my family, and in return, they get a small paycheck and a chance to live here. I see immigrants cleaning bathrooms and bedrooms, so that I can have a nice place to stay when I travel. I see immigrants doing yardwork, working in care homes and a myriad of other jobs.
    I reject the characterization that immigrants not willing to work hard and are not striving to become self-sufficient. They pay taxes–even Social Security and payroll taxes they may never benefit from.

    Republicans want a piecemeal approach to immigration so they can get everything they want and nothing else. The last thing they want is to pass a comprehensive bill in the House which then goes to conference with the Senate version.

  18. It is illiminating (but not surprising) that the LDS Church will bring out the forces (and participate in demonization and untruths) to deny marriage equality to our LGBT brothers and sisters, but when it comes to immigration we get a statement or two but little else in the way of advocacy.

  19. Do you REALLY believe that the illegals will go to the back of the line with new applicants? Seriously? Arguments will be made saying that they are already here with jobs and kids (who may already be citizens). Of course they’ll be given priority.

    We need the wall to not only keep out the aliens, but also drugs, terrorists, criminals, disease carrying immigrants, etc… let those wanting to come here come through the FRONT door.

  20. The conventional wisdom states that Democrats push for looser immigration laws and Republicans for more strict laws… and the rhetoric seems to back this up.

    However- when it comes to action, the situation is somewhat reversed. Ruben Navarrette recently ran an essay pointing this out- that neither party really cares much about immigrants, but Republicans care about business, which loves immigrants… and Democrats care about unions, which hate immigrants.

  21. In all these discussions and debates I am wondering how this is v them nationalism discourse holds up to the teachings of Christ or the Book of Mormon (king Benjamin?) or the idea of consecration. The whole world layers in sin bc of inequality. Borders are political and man-made. We are ALL foreigners in a strange land— except maybe native Americans. Where is the charity in these debates? “Illegals”??? Does anybody on this site ever speed or roll through stop signs? We don’t call you “illegal” drivers.

  22. Even more flawed is any metaphor about “the immigration line”. Its not how the system works and the saying betrays a great deal of ignorance of the situation.

    Let me put it in even plainer terms, THERE IS NO LINE. The myriad of visa types, responses based on country of origin, and individual situations make it more like a disorganized mass than a “line”.

    Nothing Obama did acts as a direct path to permanent residency nor affects anyone’s visas already in process. If people actually gave a flying crap about the speed of the administration of immigration visas, they would stop wasting so much of the immigration budget on semi-useless border measures and throw more money towards the staffing and administration budget.

    Only about half of the illegal aliens in this country even “sneak past the border” and at least quarter of the total illegal population came here legally and overstayed. All this rhetoric about strengthening the border is simply to appeal to yahoos. To keep the status quo and create intentional dealbreakers to any attempt to reform the system.

  23. I wonder if your front door and windows have locks on them? They do? Why? Why aren’t you being charitable and letting people come in and take the things that they need? You obviously have a way to replace them while they don’t have the ability to acquire them in the first place. Your version of charity as outlined above demands that there should be no limits on who comes in and takes advantage of the wealth that’s here. Why the hypocrisy?

    Maggie Thatcher said socialism fails because you run out of other people’s money. Why is it OK to take other people’s money, but not OK for people to take yours?

  24. If the United States as a nation does not control its borders, then it is ceding control, not to individuals who cross the border, but to organized criminals who smuggle people, guns, and drugs in either direction. My understanding is that Mexico has very harsh policies to deal with people from Central America who enter Mexico without authorization. No policy that is made about HOW to regulate immigration can actually be implemented unless we take control of the actual flow of immigration.

    Once we actually have that control (it doesn’t have to be perfect, but strong enough to control the size and nature of immigration), we can revisit the question of how many people we can admit into the US, and allow to stay here, as a matter of law. The statutes on the number of legal immigrants who can be admitted each year were not handed down by God on Mt. Sinai; they were enacted by Congress, with all the messiness that implies, and based on all sorts of assumptions about the need of the american economy for immigrants that were not calculated in any rational way then, and are decades out of date now.

    A rational legal immigration policy would look at what the actual capacity is for the USA absorbing immigrants into the labor force and being able to keep them gainfully employed, and off public assistance and not driven to crime by poverty. We need to set up a mechanism for making that kind of calculation regularly (perhaps in every non-election year), and getting the feedback that comes from actually enforcing the limits, to see if they need adjustment.

    The calculation of demand for labor will need to be tiered based on skill and education levels. People who earn graduate degrees in practical specialties should be an automatic OK; people with no education and no skills would get the lowest allocation, since we already have plenty of people like that, and don’t really need more.

    Once we have true border control and have decided how many new immigrants our economy really needs, the people who are already here illegally but have been working should be given a higher priority to be given legal immigration status over people still outside the US. They are already here, are more likely to be learning English and basic social skills, and if they have demonstrated otherwise lawful behavior, we should prefer them over somoe unknown person who is still in Guatemala. And we should make it clear that people who illegally enter once this new system kicks in are excluded from the system, and from the chance for getting legal status. The illegal entrants who are already in the US and working get factored into the labor demand calculation, of course. Undocumented people who can’t get gainful employment during an initial grace period (not an amnesty), will then face deportation if they cannot qualify for addition to the labor pool as “new” immigrants.

    The main point is that we shut off new immigration (“legal” or “illegal”) of unskilled but otherwise law-abiding people UNTIL we have absorbed the current group into the economy. It may be that very few new immigrants will be allowed for several years, while we economically assimilate the existing “undocumented” population. The focus should NOT be on finding ways to open the borders to the maximum number of new people, but of closing the borders until we have economically and socially integrated the ones who are already here. The people who wish to become continuing residents should be required, eventually, to pass basic knowledge tests comparable to those required for citizenship, and make their intent of permanent residency a formal declaration. I would offer priority to people who enter public service in needed fields, including the armed forces, public education, and fire fighting.

    The notion that the arbitrary limits on legal immigration are holy writ, and that people who acted in defiance of them must be punished, does not take into account the more important goal of doing what is best for (a) the nation as a whole, and (b) the people who are already in our hands. The people outside the US now have NO claim on our sympathy. The best interest of the existing “undocumented” people is to PROTECT THEM from unlimited competition from a stream of new immigrants who select themselves, rather than letting the US select them.

    Once border control is established, new people making unauthorized entry should not just be given a reset by immediate deprotation, but should be placed into an extended detention system where they have to be self-supporting, growing their own food and purchasing basics like clothing and entertainment based on their work and cooperation. They will have no money they can send home, not accumulate a grubstake, but be taken out of economic circulation, and be self-supporting. Nevertheless, they could be given the option of learning to speak and read English and learn American culture, and combined with good behavior, the minority who prove themselves could be released into the legal immigrant program on a probationary basis, instead of being deported.

    Any solution to the problem requires shutting off the flow of unauthorized immigration. The second principle is giving priority to people who are already contributing to America, and not to anyone outside the nation.

  25. Around half of all illegal immigrants attempting to cross into the US succeed. You may not believe our border to be a “line,” may not believe we can and should do better, but I believe it is and we can and should. Is it the only way we should be working to prevent illegal immigration? No, of course not. But it is a major part of the equation, and one that needs to be enhanced instead of hindered as King Obama’s administration has been doing. And that enhancement needs to be done in accordance with law passed by Congress, not contrary to the law.

  26. DougH, what part of THERE IS NO LINE, did you not get?
    There is no “jumping the line”. That is a myth by people who don’t understand how our immigration system works so they can pretend to care about those already in process.

    The whole argument about it being unfair to people already in the system is fiction. The change of status for some illegal aliens, does not affect anyone else already in the system seeking a visa.

    There was nothing Obama did which was actually beyond his power as being the one ultimately responsible for immigration enforcement. The people affected, illegal alien parents of US citizens are eligible for discretionary waiver of their illegal entry anyway under the Immigration and Naturalization Act. They would also be eligible for family based visas through their children in a number of years.

    Nothing about Obama’s plan actually offers permanent residence for those affected. If Congress wasn’t so hell bent on doing as little as possible and avoiding the issue, such steps would not be considered important.

    Some suggestions to deal with illegal immigration requires:
    1. Ease many of the arbitrary restrictions on legal immigration.

    2. Reform the employment visa system. It is ripe with abuse and serves to create illegal aliens out of about 3 million people who came here legally and worked here legally. The idea that immigration law “protects American workers” has always been a sham. It only affects small companies and organizations. The rules allow large corporations to bring in cheap foreign (usually white collar) labor at below market wages with impunity.

    3. Reduce the penalty for non-criminal immigration law violators to a stiff fine. You pay, you stay. This way the only illegals left in the system are those too poor and unproductive or the criminals who would want to avoid being documented.

    Throwing massive resources at the border and making immigration reform contingent on border security is a waste of time and money. It only serves to give excuses for inaction.

  27. You give the impression of an intelligent discussion on the subject, but there are a number of misconceptions here which undermine any point you are trying to make. Your knowledge of how immigration works in the US is really flawed and incomplete.

    Immigration policy/the flow of immigration has never been dependent on the level of border control we keep. Making consideration of immigration reform dependent on notions of border security is an excuse for doing nothing. At no point will immigration reform opponents claim that the border is secure enough for discussion of reform. It is just a recipe for goalpost shifting. We will never have “true border control” because the criteria will always change. It is a bad faith condition.

    Using other nations as examples of immigration policies is inherently stupid unless we are referring to Canada or the UK. Everyone else has haphazard useless policies on the subject and lack the naturalization system which the US has employed so successfully in the past. We are the only ones who come close to doing it right.

    People in the US who are here on visas or even most permanent resident aliens are ineligible for Welfare. Economic status has always been a factor in granting resident status. Penalties for immigration law violation have always had a wide level of discretion by those enforcing it. What gets many all up in arms as “not following rule of law” is mostly ignorance of how those laws actually work. The rule of law in immigration is a lot looser than most realize. The people affected by Obama’s little half measure are those eligible for hardship waiver of deportation and eligible for family visa sponsorship if given enough time.

    We already have de facto methods of gauging capacity for immigrants. Its called our economy. What nativists miss is that when the economy takes a downturn, especially when blue collar labor is affected strongly, large numbers of illegal aliens leave the country. People coming here to make a living are usually less likely to stay if they can’t find work.

    The idea that measures dealing with illegal aliens have any affect on those already in the system seeking legal residence is fiction. Your premise that illegals will undermine the prospects of legal immigrants is laughably ignorant. For the most part people who are capable of coming here legally and applying for visas/residence/citizenship aren’t even the same class and situation. They are people with either:
    1) a family support network in the US,
    2) come from nations which are developed and have good political/economic ties to the US,
    3) possess job skills typically for white collar work, or
    4) people outside of economic consideration such as refugees and asylum seekers.

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