One thing that church leaders said in their recent meetings with state lawmakers: Let’s take a humane approach to immigration. The Deseret News reports that:
House Minority Whip David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said the Democrats’ meeting with church officials brought up several issues, but the immigration discussion was the most touching for him personally.
“I interpreted what was said as this: ‘Take a step back, be calm, and above all remember that we are dealing with human beings here,”‘ said Litvack, who is Jewish and has himself called for cooler heads in dealing with the often emotional issue of illegal immigration.
House Majority Leader Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, a member of the LDS Church himself, said immigration issues did not take up much time in the Republicans’ meeting with church leaders. “But they did say we all need to approach this subject with compassion.”
. . .
LDS Church officials “used the word ‘call,’ they made a call for humanity in immigration” debates and legislation, Litvack said. “We should not demonize” illegal immigrants. “In some cases, the debate has become so ugly, I heard, so hateful and dehumanizing. Let’s bring back the element of humanity.”
How exactly should our LDS beliefs translate into specific ideas on immigration?
I’ve made some past suggestions on this blog. I’ve argued, for instance, that the Beharry v. Reno approach of requiring a hearing about family impact before deportation — a legal approach which I helped work on as a law clerk, and which was overturned on appeal — is consistent with LDS belief about the importance of family. And such discussions have come up from time to time throughout the bloggernacle. For example, elsewhere online, Stirling Adams has posted some discussions wondering how immigration questions should be affected by LDS beliefs.
I don’t know any church member who has thought more about the issue more than Rebecca van Uitert. Rebecca is an LDS immigration attorney in New York City, with a little side job (hah!) managing the undocumented minors program at the Catholic Charities. In addition, she has written a lengthy article about LDS thought and immigration. Rebecca’s article, “Undocumented Immigrants in the United States: A Discussion of Catholic Social Thought and ‘Mormon Social Thought’ Principles,” was published last year in the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. (The cite is 46 J. Cath. Legal Stud. 277). In it, she writes:
In the spirit of â€œusing gospel principles as a guideâ€ to achieve the righteous end of being a â€œfull participant in political, governmental, and community affairs,â€ this paper advocates one possible viewpoint on undocumented immigration linked to the history, culture, and doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Based upon this foundation, I believe that a sympathetic approach toward the plight of undocumented immigrants living in the United States is amply justified.
. . .
LDS scriptures recognize the intrinsic dignity and value of each member of the human race. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord, speaking to the prophet Joseph Smith, declared: â€œ[T]he worth of souls is great in the sight of God.â€ LDS doctrine further develops this principle of human dignity in that it recognizes divine potential within each individual; Latter-day Saints believe that all humans have the capacity not only to return to live with God, but also to become like God, someday. When we view the immigrants that live with us in our communities as not only our brothers and sisters, but also â€œGod[s] in embryo,â€ it is not difficult to treat them with respect and kindness.
Within the Book of Mormon, compassion toward immigrants is a recurring theme. In the Book of Alma, the People of Ammon flee their homeland due to persecution, and immigrate to the land of the Nephites. Not only do the Nephites allow the People of Ammon to freely enter their country, the Nephites provide these refugees with their own tracts of land, protect them from their foreign persecutors, and almost immediately begin to refer to them as â€œour brethren.â€ Perhaps due in part to the hospitality provided to them, the People of Ammon became firm in the faith of Christ, forever known as a â€œhighly favored people of the Lord.â€ A welcoming attitude was also extended when the People of Limhi migrated to the land of the Nephites, where they were received by the king of the Nephites with great joy. Similarly, another group of foreign immigrants, the Mulekites, were later accepted into Nephite society. Time after time, the Nephites made great efforts to assist immigrants transition to life in a new land.
Rebecca’s article is too long to fully set out or even summarize well here. She discusses a number of areas — including LDS history of immigration; scriptural mandates; and missionary work — in arriving at her conclusion that an LDS approach to immigration could exist, and that it would be distinct and humane. (For those with access to the journal, such as through Westlaw, Lexis, or a library, I definitely recommend the article.)
What do our readers think? What does it mean to have a humane response to immigration questions? Which church principles should we consider in this area of law, and how should they affect our analysis?