I previously wrote an article for LDS Liberty about the problems of illegal immigration and a scriptural examination of the principles involved. I am gratified that it has been a highly popular article on the site. I have enjoyed reading the comments that have streamed in since that time and I am amazed at the diversity of opinions. The article has been a sort of two-edged sword that reveals the positions of two camps of latter-day saints.
One group is a Pharisee-like contingent that is devoted to strict interpretations of civil laws, asserting the scriptural admonitions that those who follow God’s laws have no need to break the laws of the land (Doctrine and Covenants 58:21). The other side leans toward a more humanitarian position that esteems human needs outweigh the enforcement of nation-state boundaries. This side considers the blind acceptance of oppressive or unjust laws a kind of “corban” that relieves the saint from rendering charitable works towards another. The LDS Bible Dictionary describes “corban” in these terms:
Corban = given to God. The word describes anything dedicated to God, and therefore not available for ordinary uses. The utterance of it was held to constitute a binding vow, and the fulfillment of a vow was regarded by the Pharisees as of deeper obligation than the duty even to parents. See Matt. 15:5 and Mark 7:11, where it appears that the Pharisees misused the opportunity of dedicating their material possessions to God, in order to avoid responsibility to care for their parents.
In other words, slavish devotion by latter-day saints to maintaining America’s unjust immigration policies might well be considered a cop-out to our duties to aid and assist the unfortunate immigrants who come to America to seek a better life. Are we using devotion to law and order to excuse ourselves from living a higher law? In that case, are we using outrage against infractions of a civil law to “cover our sins” or “exercise control or dominion or compulsion” over others? (D&C 121:37) Some of the comments that have been expressed about the article are downright racist in nature, and bespeak a barely suppressed intolerance of people who have a different language and culture. If we’re going to use something to “cover our sins,” let us use charity, as Peter exhorted (1 Peter 4:8).
I wrote the article and it was published shortly before the emergence of the Utah Compact, which was endorsed by the Church in November 2010. I was gratified to find that my positions were consonant with those expressed in that document. I also found it somewhat disconcerting that so many members found themselves at odds with the Church’s endorsement. It places them on perilous ground, in positions about which Elder Ezra Taft Benson warned in his “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.”
One of the major thrusts of apostasy that took place in the primitive Church was the insistence by Jewish converts that Gentile converts adopt Jewish customs and practices along with the ordinances and covenants of the gospel. The apostles struggled mightily to deflect this and preserve unity in the faith while Satan tried to get the first century saints to back-step into practices which “which neither our fathers nor [the disciples] we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10) In dealing with the challenges of immigration reform and the ever-expanding borders of Zion, are some of us requiring LDS immigrants to become Americans as a prerequisite to our acceptance of them as saints?
Immigration reform is an issue that is close to my heart. In the past year, I began teaching in a school where the student population is 98 percent Hispanic. They actually don’t like the term “Hispanic” that shows up on all the demographics. They like the term Mexican. Most of these students were born here in America. Most of their parents are very likely undocumented workers. I have several students whose families have weathered the trial of having their father deported back to Mexico for immigration violations. Dividing families in this manner is cruel and unwarranted, provided that the only crime committed by the individual is being undocumented. A couple of my students have parents that are incarcerated and are awaiting deportation in the near future. I cannot begin to express the heartache this causes for these children who are American citizens by birth. It distracts them from their schoolwork. It places their families in poverty—because the breadwinners in these families were workers, not living off the government dole. It fosters resentment toward civil authority.
Some might say, “Send the whole family back to Mexico then!” The problem is that these children are Americans. Although some Spanish appears from time to time in their conversations, English has become their primary language. They consider themselves Americans. If given the chance to serve in our military, they would do so proudly. Some of them would even like to pursue careers in law enforcement, because they regard protecting others as a noble thing.
Consider that these people come to America for economic opportunity and also for peace. Many of them left communities where drug cartels and criminal enterprises threatened their families’ security. How ironic that, in their flight from a growing criminal influence, they get turned into “illegals” here and accused of being criminal lawbreakers. Our policies make them criminals for fleeing from criminals. By marginalizing them and isolating them, the criminals are able to insinuate themselves among them and exploit the failed “morality” of our policy. If we make them Americans, we can truly liberate them from the terrors the fled in their home country.
These families show surprising resilience and ingenuity at surviving in difficult conditions. It is not uncommon to find aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents living in their homes with them. They take each other in and honor the bonds of family, even to the sacrificing of their comforts and material goods. They exemplify self-reliance because they have no one else to rely upon.
It’s easy to be a hardliner on immigration when one doesn’t know any undocumented people. When you get to know them as people and friends—when you put a face on the problem—suddenly it looks somewhat different. When I was a branch president in a small, rural area, we had several members who were undocumented immigrants. They were always the most faithful tithe-payers in the branch, even though they weren’t the most affluent by any means. One of them was our elders’ quorum president. He worked here in America so he could send money home to take care of his son and his ailing wife.
I discovered that this righteous priesthood holder had not yet had the opportunity to go to the temple for his endowments. I interviewed him and found him worthy to go. I arranged for him to attend temple preparation classes. He got his recommend signed by the stake president. There were a lot of obstacles. When he called the Washington Temple, he had trouble communicating with the operators and receptionists. His English was good, but heavily accented. He lacked confidence. (I recall how difficult it was on my mission in France to talk to people on the telephone in French.) The man called the temple and, instead of a person, he got a voice-mail prompt that asked him what department he wanted and the terms confused him. There were no Spanish options for the voice prompts on the system at the time. He hung up, confused and disappointed. He was also a little nervous about traveling four hours to the Washington Temple, concerned about the danger of an undocumented alien traveling in the area near the nation’s capitol.
A couple of months went by and I discovered that he had experienced this difficulty. The recommends for living ordinances are only good for 90 days, so we had to go through the interview process again with me and the stake president. This time, I called the temple and made the arrangements. Then I drove him up in my own vehicle to the temple. I figured it would be a long day of awkward silences, because I don’t speak Spanish and his English was limited. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily we communicated. I discovered that he was a great scriptorian and had a deep knowledge of the scriptures and the doctrines of the Church. I learned about his family and his devotion to care for them, even though they were thousands of miles away.
Our day at the temple was wonderful and he seemed to glow with the holy light that he felt there. On our way out of the temple, we met the temple president, Elder Earl C. Tingey, and spoke with him briefly. Elder Tingey had been one of the seven presidents of the Seventy prior to his assignment as temple president. It was a thrill for my friend to meet one of the Seventy.
On the way home, we spoke about the next step—getting him sealed to his family. Here’s where I became an activist for immigration reform. The only things that keep this good, righteous man from being sealed to his family are money and an international border. We can fix the money part easily. I am convinced that our immigration laws and national borders do more to hinder the Lord’s work than help it.
The world is changing right before our eyes. The global financial crisis is on the verge of making nation-states irrelevant. Nation-states evolved out of a military necessity. Once it was possible for cannons and artillery to blast through fortified castles, warfare changed to the art of controlling territory. To control a large amount of territory, it took the resources of a nation-state to finance and man the armies. That model has now become obsolete. In a world where we have global markets, global defense interests and alliances, etc., how relevant are national borders? In the next year, we may see the dissolution or break-up of Spain and Greece as nation-states. When the relationships between ethnic groups like Basques or Catalans are no longer served by the political entity called Spain, what is the justification for keeping that political entity intact? Similarly, when we look at the reasons for maintaining a semi-closed border with Mexico in a global society, would other arrangements not be more beneficial to both countries? Would not immigration reform benefit the spread of the gospel?
As I have mentioned previously, the Lord announced his intent to “make a full end of all nations” in D&C Section 87. Whether or not the reader believes the “new world order” to be a positive or a negative, it simply is a reality. The Lord will use the emergent world order to accomplish his ends, just as he used the Roman Empire to do so anciently or as he used Russian Communism to diminish the entrenched religious opposition to the entry of Mormon missionaries into the old Soviet empire. It may be the case that the last obstacle to Zion’s establishment is nationalism. Once we begin to regard one another as “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God,” we relinquish an important barrier to Zion’s progress. With that in mind, it might be well for us to reconsider our opinions, forsake racist sentiments that are covered by the appearance of Pharasaic “law-and-order” demands, and for us to reach out to the undocumented and offer support and succor. In conclusion, let us more perfectly live the ideal expressed in Deuteronomy 24:14–15 which says:
Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee.
Again, I appreciate all who have read my original article and expressed their opinions. I hope these thoughts will cause additional reflection and a softening of the heart through the Lord’s Spirit.