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" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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