Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormons join in criticizing immigration policies as

A group of children hold up signs during a demonstration in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, on June 1, 2018, in Miramar, Fla. The children were taking part in the Families Belong Together Day of Action, where demonstrators in cities across the U.S. protested against separating immigrant children from their families. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Following revelations that the United States has recently separated approximately 2,000 immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and housed them in what some have referred to as “cages,” many religious leaders and groups have released sternly worded statements against the immigration policy of separating families.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a surprise move, issued a statement saying that the policy impedes individuals’ “right to life.” One Arizona bishop went so far as to suggest the Church enact ecclesiastical penalties on Catholics who take immigrant children from their mothers.

Other religious groups, from the African Methodist Episcopal Church to the Southern Baptist Convention, have also denounced the policy. The SBC, which is generally politically conservative, favors “a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity.”

Many Mormons, witnessing the growing avalanche of bipartisan and interfaith outrage about the policy, wondered aloud on social media why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had not yet weighed in.

Throughout the weekend, some joined the #KeepFamiliesTogether Twitter campaign, using the hashtag to call on LDS leaders to speak out. Some cited the Church’s 1995 document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” as evidence that Mormons have a sacred duty to encourage policies that keep families united.

“The disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets,” the Proclamation warns. “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

On Monday, Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the LDS Church, issued the following statement on immigration and the forced separation of families.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long expressed its position that immigration reform should strengthen families and keep them together. The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border is harmful to families, especially to young children. We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families. While we recognize the right of all nations to enforce their laws and secure their borders, we encourage our national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions.”

The statement echoes earlier LDS sentiments on immigration from 2010 to the present. In 2010, the Church issued a statement in support of the “Utah Compact” on immigration, which opposed the idea that police officers could randomly stop those they suspected were undocumented immigrants. The Compact also favored comprehensive federal immigration reform.

And in January 2018, the Church released a statement on DACA (the “Dreamers” program), which expressed the hope that “in whatever solution emerges, there is provision for strengthening families and keeping them together.”

Monday’s statement went further, however, in its specificity of context (“The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border”) and its critical language about “the aggressive and insensitive treatment” many immigrants are said to be receiving.

The official statement reflects the views of many U.S. Mormons, who are pro-immigration despite the fact that a majority are Republicans and they have a high approval rating for President Donald Trump.

In several national surveys, including research from Pew and the Next Mormons Survey, Mormons have demonstrated support for the idea that immigrants “strengthen” America “because of their hard work and talents.” The difference is especially noteworthy when Mormons are compared to other groups that are also predominately white and politically conservative.

One study by political scientists David Campbell, Quin Monson, and John C. Green found that roughly a quarter of U.S. Mormons actually favored more immigration (26%), which made them the second-most immigrant-friendly religious group, just after American Jews (29%).

Recently, the Next Mormons Survey found that LDS support for immigrants is highest among those U.S. Mormons who served a mission in which they had to learn a foreign language. This suggests there may be a link between sympathy for immigrants and prior immersion in another culture.


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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • So how would you suggest we enforce the law? A am sure Trump would be open to a more humanitarian policy if it had any hope of actually working.

    Amnesty, however, is not an option.

  • I like one option being pushed by some Republicans in the Senate, requiring that families be held together at the border and their cases expedited. So the families aren’t separated, but neither are they released to disappear into the general population.

  • Seems a reasonable position. We have a right to maintain our borders and decide who will be allowed to enter, but those laws should be upheld in a way that protects families. Given a choice between temporarily separating families while the adults are held until their status can be determined or releasing them to disappear into the general population, I’ll take the first. But better is the option some in Congress are pushing to keep the families together at the border while the process to determine their status is expedited.

    And yes, I’m one of those 26% of Mormons that favor more immigration. While I oppose allowing temporary residents access to state welfare, instead requiring that all seeking temporary resident status deposit enough cash in escrow accounts to pay for return tickets home, I believe that anyone not a criminal or security threat that can pony up that cash should be allowed to come here to work and make a life for themselves.

  • That’s for the fixing the entire system, a bill covering just this issue will be much easier. Sure, Schumer has come out against this simple fix, but there’s no way he’s going to be able to hold his party together when the bill comes up for a vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if that vote is veto-proof, much less filibuster-proof.

  • Congress has not been “trying” – it has passed nothing of substance in over 30 years.

  • “While I oppose allowing temporary residents access to state welfare”

    Which is good because it doesn’t happen. Even visa holders are ineligible for it.

    “I believe that anyone not a criminal or security threat that can pony up that cash should be allowed to come here to work and make a life for themselves”

    Wholeheartedly agree. Deportation as the catch all penalty is draconian and disproportionate to the offense of illegal alienate in of itself. A stiff fine however is not. You pay to stay. Like our system already does for the wealthy.

  • Wow, the only possible option here is separating families and detaining children? Are you kidding me? There were plenty of other routes to go besides gulags for children. This was malicious and to appeal to the neo nazi voting base Trump had.

    “I am sure Trump would be open to a more humanitarian policy…”

    LMAO! Again, are you kidding me?

    This was deliberately malicious, meant to harm others and appeals to cruel bigotry. Every suggestion Trump has made on the subject has been unnecessary, designed to deliberately harm others and in bad faith.

  • Didn’t answer the question. There are plenty of alternatives to family separation and gulags for children. Inhumane actions like this are never a last resort. They are the first for the bigoted and malicious. Harm for its own sake.

  • The Republican plan also attacks the rights of asylum seekers. Legal immigrants according to our laws. There can be no compromise here because the Republican immigration plan is worse than the current conditions. It seeks to destroy legal immigration and doesn’t really address illegal immigration either. The current situation amounts to taking hostages and demanding a right to take more hostages as a compromise.

  • Republicans have never been interested in immigration reform nor even bothering to educate themselves about the current immigration system. They are the problem.

  • It is meant to work. Past experience says it will at least reduce the problem.

    Where was your outrage when Obama did the same thing?

    You do realize that when you resort to calling us Nazis we consider ourselves to have won the argument. If you do not understand why do a little research and ask yourself how real Nazis would respond to this problem.

  • First of all, anyone who can claim with a straight face, “I am sure Trump would have sought a more humane policy if he could” is either woefully naive, or dishonest. Nothing about Trump before or during his presidency could make that sound like a true statement.

    Second of all, it was meant to attack families, intentionally frustrate possible legal asylum claims, and create leverage to get Democrats to support the white supremacist inspired Trump immigration bill as a form of ransom.

    I am calling you a Nazi because you support things which Nazis actually did. Like put children into concentration camps, separating them from their families, and subjecting people to malicious abuse of criminal process. Also for the fact that you are claiming the most repugnant, anti-democratic, abusive, malicious policy is the fault of others and your hands are tied.

    Actual bonafide Neo-Nazis have been WH advisors. Trump uses Neo-Nazi terminology, arguments and memes constantly. The immigration bill comes right out of their playbook as well. If you are talking about “ending Chain migration” and “the lottery visas”, you are repeating Neo-nazi slogans.

    By all means be offended, you have it coming. Your views are offensive to decent people.

  • Nonsense. Nazis would have shot or gassed illegal aliens and then bragged about it. 80 percent of asylum claims are bogus. I am indeed in favor of limiting legal immigration and totally eliminating illegal immigration.

  • Nonsense is claiming this policy was:
    1. Well thought out
    2. The only reasonable option
    3. Was the fault of anyone other than our President
    4. Has anything to do with border security or actually dealing with illegal aliens

    5. Is something moral and sane people can support in good conscience.

    “Nazis would have shot or gassed illegal aliens and then bragged about it.”

    Given your past remarks, if we did that right now, you would be making excuses for it and claiming it was the only choice available to deal with the overcrowded detention centers.

    But it seems the real endgame here apparently is human trafficking

    The government bragged about its malicious family separation and child detainment policy.

    Even tried to use Christian dogma to justify it

    And blame innocent parties as scapegoats for the repugnant actions

    All of which are quite analogous to Nazis and every autocratic regime. Plus Neo-Nazis and their platform already openly infest the WH.

  • It’s a shame that the Mormon Church wasn’t “deeply troubled” back when this program was going strong under the Obama Administration. Rather than actually trying to fix the problem, the church appears to be doing this solely as an effort to drum up dissatisfaction against Trump. Ne’er a complaint from the Mormon Church aimed at the Obama Admin., but they’ve already come out with several press releases designed to sway hearts against our current president. Selective moral outrage. This isn’t news; it’s old! The fake news had years of opportunities to complain about this. Why is this old federal law suddenly a topic of controversy; it was passed and implemented years before Trump was elected? Answer: to draw attention away from the I.G. report and to incite outrage against Trump. And it’s sad that the Mormon Church has made itself part of the fake news. May God answer our prayers that Pres. Nelson might become a modern Elijah (1 Kings 18:40) and is successful in draining the swamp INSIDE the church.

  • Actually, the Church put out several statements on immigration during the Obama administration that called for sensitive solutions to the immigration problems. The difference then was that the Obama administration did not implement a zero tolerance policy that had the effect of separating families whose only crime was illegal entry (a misdemeanor). Trump is lying when he says that this is a policy that Democrats put into place or that he can’t do anything about it.

    And if you think that the Church is actively trying to take down the Trump administration, you’re tilting at windmills.

  • I was impressed with members of Jeff Sessions Church because they specifically called him out. I am glad that many members spoke out against this horrible policy. I will say a lot of members defended it until the first presidency issued their generic statement. I wish they would learn to think on their own. I also was amused that Trumps daughter thanked him for stopping the policy he started.

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