Missionary Visas and Political Strategy

February 18, 2011 | 50 comments
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Mexican-American activist Raul Lopez-Vargas letter asking Mexican President Felipe Calderón to hold up LDS missionary visas to Mexico because of proposed illegal immigration enforcement legislation is being called a blatant blackmail attempt. If true, I have to wonder how he could possibly think it would work.

Lopez-Vargas sent his letter, signed by 39 people (or 100 or 130, depending on which source you read), late last week, and received a pro-forma response from Calderón’s staff yesterday. [See news reports here and here]. The sponsor of the proposed legislation, State Representative from Orem Stephen Sandstrom, called the letter “improper” and said “It’s unfortunate that someone would try to blackmail the LDS Church.” [FWIW, I'm not sure that this is more unfortunate than a Mormon state legislator ignoring the LDS Church's hints about immigration legislation.]

To be honest Lopez-Vargas’ move has me scratching my head a little. Does he really think this will change the situation in Utah? While I am no fan of Sandstrom’s bill and consider myself a supporter of immigrants in general, my first reaction to this move was one of mild offense: don’t blame my religion for the sincere, but misguided, actions of a minority of its members.

For the letter to actually have the apparently desired effect, first it needs to be credible. Would Calderón really cut off missionary visas over anti-immigration sentiment in Utah? Mexico has reacted to the similar Arizona law, participating in a lawsuit against the law and issuing travel advisories warning Mexicans against traveling there. In addition, fellow immigration activist Tony Yapias, while disavowing his tactics, claims that Lopez-Vargas does have ties in the Mexican government.

On the other hand, the LDS Church is not without ties in Mexico. One LDS Church member, Jeffrey Max Jones, has served as a Senator in the national legislature as a member of Calderón’s party. I’m sure there are other ties as well. In addition, the Church counts at least 250,000 active members in Mexico (1.2 million total), a large enough block to make most politicians pause and consider their actions carefully. Even if Mexico did chose to hold up missionary visas to Mexico, such a move would likely draw some kind of reaction from the U.S. government, if for no other reason than the presence of LDS Church members in the U.S. legislature and other areas of government.

Assuming that the above doesn’t keep the Mexican government from putting a hold on missionary visas, for Lopez-Vargas to be successful the LDS Church would still need to be convinced to put pressure on the Mormon legislators in Utah. Given the heavy-handed and public nature of the letter sent to Calderón, the LDS Church likely will not want to give in to this coercion, lest other Church opponents think that they can force the Church to do what they want by interrupting missionary work. Nor does it seem likely that the Church would want its decisions to appear to come from outside pressure instead of inspiration through the Church’s ordained hierarchy.

Even if the Church did take action along the lines of what this activist wants, what exactly would it be able to do? Signing the Utah Compact could be done, of course, but that alone is unlikely to help Lopez-Vargas reach his goal. It seems a stretch to suggest that the Church would take disciplinary action against legislators for failing to vote as the Church wanted. I suppose there are things that the Church could do, but is it really likely to take action when it apparently didn’t against members in California who fought against Proposition 8?

So, with the above logic, I’m not sure I understand Lopez-Vargas’ strategy.

It could be that his motivation comes from wanting the attention and support of another group besides the Church and Utah legislators. Perhaps he is looking to gain approval from the Latino community in Utah or the U.S. Since he is reported to have dual citizenship in Mexico and in the U.S., I suppose this might somehow give him notoriety among a segment of the population in Mexico. It might also give him notoriety with the left in the U.S. or with journalists or something. I’m afraid I don’t have enough information or knowledge of these other areas to judge.

Short of that knowledge, I suspect that this is simply a badly misguided decision—a belief that a heavy-handed attempt at blackmail might somehow prevent the passage of Sandstrom’s bill. If that is the case, then Lopez-Vargas has forgotten that heavy-handed attempts like this often backfire. At least, the Mormon majority in Utah likely thinks less of this activist than it did before—will he be able to function as an activist in Utah after this? At worst, many LDS Church members will atribute Lopez-Vargas’ actions towards the LDS Church as somehow similar to the feelings of most other non-LDS Latinos in Utah, and perhaps more will feel that Sandstrom’s bill is justified.

And that, I am convinced, would be bad for everyone involved.

[I discovered yesterday what I should have known all along, I suppose—that the Utah Compact is something anyone can sign. Given that the LDS Church has endorsed the principles behind the compact, I urge my readers to join me and sign the compact.]
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50 Responses to Missionary Visas and Political Strategy

  1. Chino Blanco on February 18, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Who knew it was that easy to sign? Not me. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Sgarff on February 18, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Kent,
    Your points are solid. There is no way that Lopez-Vargas could think that these tactics would do anything to alter the church’s actions with respect to immigration. I see two possibilities:

    1. He is making a snarky political point about fairness, much the way Prop 8 opponents did by mentioning polygamy (not going to endear you to church members or change minds, but you can score high fives from your allies) or;

    2. He is trying to antagonize the church and its members into a political war that he thinks he will win. I personally am a staunch supporter of the Utah Compact and compassionate handling of the immigration debate, but Lopez-Vargas makes me think the church should not sign the compact because I so despise his tactics. I think a lot of members with anti-immigration leanings will become further entrenched in their positions and more vocal in their opinions as a result. This may be the point.

  3. Dan on February 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I give him high fives. Preach on brother.

  4. Dan on February 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Kent,

    Why is the church not openly offended that one of its members (Russell Pearce) is inhibiting its missionary efforts with his ridiculous law in Arizona? Maybe it’s time to hit back hard at the church so they finally make a far more vocal stand on what they believe than these soft press releases.

  5. Kent Larsen on February 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Dan (3 & 4), did you read the post?

    The whole point is that “hitting back hard at the church” won’t work! I don’t think it really matters who does it.

    As for why the Church isn’t openly offended about Russell Pearce, I think that you need to think about how that would work — what strategy would the Church use to do this? Would it work? What would be the reaction of members, governments, etc.?

    One of the important issues in leadership is knowing where those you lead are and not getting too far ahead of them. Like it or not, it can cause problems.

  6. Tim on February 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    If I were one for conspiracy theories, I’d think this guy was being paid off by the xenophobic far-right. The church is on your side, dude, even if some of its members are too stupid to realize it.

  7. Adam Greenwood on February 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    FWIW, I’m not sure that this is more unfortunate than a Mormon state legislator ignoring the LDS Church’s hints about immigration legislation.

    Church directions to elected officials who happen to be Mormons is pretty tricky. It could be bad for the Church if anything too blatant happened. That’s why hinting is a good idea. Not just because it leaves room for plausible deniability by the Church, but because it also leaves room for the elected official to go in a different direction without getting into a confrontation with the church (hint to newlyweds: don’t hint unless you are OK with your spouse missing your hint or even deliberately missing your hint). So I guess I don’t see what’s so unfortunate, unless you think that the Church hinting is *purely* about giving the Church cover and not at all meant to leave the elected official wriggle room either.

  8. Adam Greenwood on February 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Tim,
    don’t discoun us xenophobic center-rightists either. We can dig skulls and bribe nutjobs just as well as our Bircher brethren.

  9. Tim on February 18, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    The Arizona-style law passes one hurdle:

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/51269040-76/amendment-bill-enforcement-federal.html.csp

    I do wonder, based on this latest news, how the church will react to an Arizona-style law. I do think a lot of this could have been averted had the church taken a stronger stand–although putting its support behind the Utah Compact (and having people like Elder Oaks actually sign the thing) should have been enough for the members to take notice. Looks like Utah politicians are ignoring the message.

  10. Clark on February 18, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Dan (#4), do you think the Church should act on any member who espouses a political action that might “inhibit missionary efforts.” Does that mean you think if Harry Reid or (potentially) Mitt Romney should be disciplined if they promote a political position that irritates enough people such that it hurts missionary work?

    Also as Kent notes hitting back at the Church simply wouldn’t work as a practical matter. I think some think this not true though given the backlash against Prop-8. Maybe you are one of them. I think the whole Prop-8 activity has made the Church think twice about that level of political engagement. I think it’s dangerous to generalize past that point though. Interestingly this activist seems to want the Church to take that level of political engagement.

  11. Dan on February 18, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Clark,

    The church acts politically whenever it feels like and wherever it feels like. It made little sense for them to act on Prop 8 in California while staying almost completely silent everywhere else in the world on the matter. But they did so anyways, because they felt it was the proper course of action. They could, if they so chose, to make stronger statements vis a vis immigration but they choose not to. People give praise to someone like Russell Pearce because, the argument goes, “at least he’s doing something.” I praise this guy down in Mexico because he too is “at least doing something” to break this ugly status quo. Nobody is happy with the status quo, but few are willing to actually do something about it. The church baptizes illegal immigrants. The church sends illegal immigrants on missions. The church wishes to have its cake and eat it too, staying quiet, or saying very little, when its own are creating laws removing its members from this nation, but also trying to benefit from the work of those same illegal immigrants. I think Lopez-Vargas’s plan is good, because it “at least is doing something.”

  12. Matt Evans on February 19, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    [FWIW, I'm not sure that this is more unfortunate than a Mormon state legislator ignoring the LDS Church's hints about immigration legislation.]

    Unfortunate how?

  13. Kent Larsen on February 19, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Dan (11), is blackmail good?

    FWIW, there is also a qualitative difference between what Pearce has doe and what Lopez-Vargas is doing — Pearce’s effort now has the force of law. Lopez-Vargas’ effort is highly unlikely to make any difference (again, have you read the post?) and may actually do the opposite of what he intended!

    Matt (12), unfortunate in terms of its results.

  14. Clark on February 19, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Dan the “at least he’s doing something” defense sounds a lot like an “ends justify the means” sort of view.

  15. Clark on February 19, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    To add an obvious counter-example of that (to me) very despicable attempt to list illegal immigrants. As you might remember their few defenders (for what to most people was at best immoral if not illegal) was them “at least doing something.”

  16. Raymond Takashi Swenson on February 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Mr. Lopez-Vargas is turning a dispute over enforcement of immigration law, with its racial implications, into a religious dispute, inviting those who have prejudices against the Mormons to exercise those prejudices in the name of racial politics. If a national government adopts the self-righteous notion that it is legitimate to discriminate against US religious institutions on the basis of that other nation’s desire to influence US domestic politics, it can only devolve into increasing hatred and division. There is no reason to expect it will stop at the point of denying visas. It can easily be extended into restrictions on all activities of the LDS Church in Mexico or another country, including bans on meetings and confiscation of Church buildings. That has happened in some countries.

    Anyone who promotes religious bigotry while claiming to be concerned about racial prejudice is a hypocrite. Mr. Lopez-Vargas is going to drive many Utahns who would otherwise be sitting on the fence about the immigration issue into a mindset of seeing him and other pro-immigrant groups as enemies to Mormons. To achieve any kind of legislative victory, one must persuade voters to your point of view. Mr. Lopez-Varga is deeply harming the cause that he claims to support. He and those whose positions on illegal immigration are grounded in racial considerations are both exercising bigotry.

    Mr. Lopez-Varga is harming his own alleged cause, just as the Utah state senator who wanted to mandate teaching of “divine design” in public schools harmed the argument for balanced discussion in classrooms of scientific arguments for, and against, the evidence of intelligent design in nature. He has raised the specter of the government of Mexico meddling in the political process of an American state, feeding the fears of many Americans that the growing number of immigrants from Mexico (legal and illegal) are a threat to American democracy. He is fanning the flames of prejudice just as much as any right wing advocate of the summary arrest and immediate deportation of all undocumented aliens.

  17. Dan on February 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Raymond,

    The flames are already fanned. They’re burning quite bright. What Mr. Lopez-Varga is doing is mild in comparison to what we’re doing.

  18. Kent Larsen on February 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    I don’t agree Dan (17). Lopez-Vargas is going after the Church for something that individual Mormons are doing without Church sanction. The Church itself isn’t doing this.

    If you try to make the Church responsible for what its members are doing, then there are all sorts of issues you’ll have to blame the Church for, such as this unfortunate case:

    http://www.theunion.com/article/20110205/NEWS/110209825&parentprofile=search

    Which led to a letter to the editor trying to make the Church respond:

    http://www.theunion.com/article/20110219/NEWS/110219682/1025&ParentProfile=1056

  19. Dan on February 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Kent,

    Unlike the possum bashing incident, the church is actually involved in the matter over illegal immigrants because the church actually employs illegal immigrants in its service and actively promotes itself among illegal immigrants.

  20. Alison Moore Smith on February 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Would Calderón really cut off missionary visas over anti-immigration sentiment in Utah?

    I’m aware of anti-illegal-immigration sentiment all over the country. But specifically, could you point to the “anti-immigrant sentiment”?

    Just one note, often when presenting our position as being the Christlike or compassionate one, we do so by ignoring a great deal of harm being done. I’ve seen this with everything from giving kids boundaries, to child sexual abuse, to illegal immigration.

  21. Kent Larsen on February 20, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Alison, you are welcome to read that as “anti-illegal-immigration” sentiment, although i fail to see much difference. It seems most of those trying to make this distinction are trying to assuage their consciouses or rationalize their positions.

    After all, we can turn illegal immigrants into legal immigrants very easily.

  22. Mark D. on February 20, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    After all, we can turn illegal immigrants into legal immigrants very easily.

    That would make perfect sense, if we were also determined to repeal all the existing immigration laws so that there was no such thing as illegal immigration. If we are going to have unrestricted immigration, lets hear the arguments for doing just that.

    Otherwise, complaining about some minor procedural detail for the enforcement of laws that will remain on the books no matter how many amnesties we have seems entirely beside the point.

  23. Dan on February 20, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Open up those borders, I say. The more people come here, the more our economy will grow. I have no problem with that.

  24. Mark D. on February 20, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    The more people come here, the more our economy will grow.

    In absolute terms, definitely. But there are a number of other problems, foremost among which is that wages for “working class” individuals will continue to fall, and the strain on government finances will be vastly increased, to the point where the welfare state becomes even less viable than it is today.

    For example, what would people say if they were told they had to pay twice as much in payroll taxes as they do now, but their Social Security and Medicare benefits would be much less.

    If you are a true believer in “social democracy” we don’t even need to have people immigrate here – we can just export trillions of dollars of tax revenues to the rest of the world. So if we set up a world wide Social Security system, presumably we would have to export 90% or more of tax revenues abroad to even scratch the surface.

    Admittedly having open borders wouldn’t be quite that serious. We could double U.S. population in a generation, and per capita income would drop not quite in half. Per capital welfare and social security benefits would drop not quite in half too.

  25. Dan on February 21, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Don’t get me wrong, Mark, I think we should also tax those making over $1,000,000 at 50% without question. 50% worked well under Reagan (but then again, so did 90% under Eisenhower). Create an incentive for businesses to not pay their top employees so much by taxing those high levels all to hell. Create an incentive where businesses shift the money back to the middle class, where tax levels will continue to be at their lowest levels.

    In the end, Mark, I will take the cons of having more people here than the pros of having less people here. Any day of the year. Open up those borders.

  26. Kent Larsen on February 21, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Kent (21) wrote “After all, we can turn illegal immigrants into legal immigrants very easily.”

    Mark D. (22) wrote: “That would make perfect sense, if we were also determined to repeal all the existing immigration laws so that there was no such thing as illegal immigration. If we are going to have unrestricted immigration, lets hear the arguments for doing just that.”

    I think that one doesn’t necessarily follow from the other. A program making most of those here in the U.S. legal doesn’t require opening the borders in order for it to function. To avoid the same situation developing again, immigration law does need to be changed, I admit. IMO What changes should be made ought to recognize two issues:

    1. The root cause of most illegal immigration is the desire to earn a living. Just passing a law doesn’t make that desire go away. Our best chance to eliminate illegal immigration isn’t though stronger and more restrictive laws, but through addressing the economic needs of would-be immigrants, either through letting them come here legally or through massive assistance to their home governments. I’m somewhat ambivalent as to which one, with a slight preference towards letting more immigrants come.

    2. The motivation behind most attempts to restrict immigration is either selfishness (keeping what we have here in the U.S. for those here) or, too often, racism (keep those that aren’t like us out). Because of this, most attempts to restrict immigration are ethically suspect or immoral. We should therefore reduce our immigration restrictions to those that are necessary to preserve security and control, and address the infrastructure expansion needed to accommodate a larger population.

  27. Clark on February 21, 2011 at 11:32 am

    If we are going to have unrestricted immigration, lets hear the arguments for doing just that.

    Economists have been doing that for some time. Most of them consider unlimited immigration a great thing: especially the more libertarian ones. Marginal Revolution has been blogging the issue for years. The Library of Economics and Liberty has a great paper as well, not to mention lots of other blog posts, podcasts and the like.

  28. cantinflas on February 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Not to threadjack, but is there a way to comment on Notes from all over? I was in the ward in NJ when it got vandalized.

  29. Mark D. on February 22, 2011 at 1:41 am

    The motivation behind most attempts to restrict immigration is either selfishness (keeping what we have here in the U.S. for those here) or, too often, racism (keep those that aren’t like us out)

    How about the idea that unrestricted immigration relieves pressure for the source countries to reform so that they can prosper like the United States? Large scale emigration may very well be making everyone in Mexico poorer, for just that reason.

    I agree that economically speaking, we could certainly sustain unrestricted immigration, but that it would entail the end of the welfare state as we know it. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public education would all be the palest of shadows relative to what they are now. Wages for low skilled workers would be pushed down to third world levels. We have that problem to a degree already due to free trade, and it is extremely painful for many, even though it makes the world as a whole better off.

    So when the people (through their elected representatives) say we prefer to limit immigration to one million immigrants a year, they are saying in part – immigration is good, but we can only handle so much at a time, for a large number of reasons.

  30. Kent Larsen on February 22, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Mark D. wrote:

    How about the idea that unrestricted immigration relieves pressure for the source countries to reform so that they can prosper like the United States?

    Honestly, Mark, how much of the time is this not only an argument used but actually the motivation behind opposition to immigration?

    The rest of your comment is rooted, BTW, in a selfish motivation (i.e., we won’t have enough to handle incoming immigrants, so we restrict them).

    Even so, if this was actually the way that our policy was set — if we actually took a look at our capacity to handle immigration and set the number based on that — I would have much less to complain about.

    Since in 1907, when we had 1/3rd our current population, we accepted more immigrants (1.3 million) than we do today, I think its clear we can accept a lot more than we are now.

  31. Martin James on February 22, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Kent,

    I don’t think you see political identity and practice the sma eway activists do.

    First, the differentiation between individual and group responsibility is contested. In other words, increasingly, groups are more important than individuals in being seen as responsible for political actions and political affiliation is based on how people want to be identified.

    Tying the LDS church to Utah seems like a viable strategy in terms of public opinion. Many legislators are LDS and the strategy of tying the two together makes sense to me.

    What is wrong with the following logic.

    1. The Utah legislature takes a position X adverse to group A.
    2. Group A attempts to create a tie in people’s minds of the LDS church to policy position X.
    3. Those against position X look less favorably on the LDS church including decreasing contact or less positive missionary activity.
    4. Supporters of policy X realize that public opinion may create adverse consequences for those associated with them through LDS connection.

    That seems a lot more like political transparency than blackmail to me.

    Isn’t the very root of politics “Are for fer us or agin us?”

  32. Kent Larsen on February 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Martin James (31), I’m sure that I don’t see “political identity and practice” like others. I’m not a political scientist or analyst or campaign wonk.

    I think you are merely suggesting that Lopez-Vargas’ attempt will work somehow, without looking at the items in the post where I say that it won’t. Are you providing something different from what Lopez-Vargas has? Or are you suggesting that one or more of my claims in the post are wrong?

    In terms of your outline/logic, I can’t see that actually working (depending on who the people are in each step), even though the same logic might work in other situations.

    In step 2, who are the “people” who will pick up on the connection between the LDS Church and anti-immigration policies? The Mexican people? Do you have a lot of knowledge of politics in Mexico? Of whether or not the Mexican people have any remote possibility of demanding action? Has this move gotten significant press there?

    Even supposing that in step 3, Mexico managed to take some actions against LDS missionaries from the U.S., by my estimate 1/2 of the missionaries in Mexico are locals, and at least 1/2 of the missions would stay open. Local leadership is essentially all Mexican. What actions could Mexico take that would really hurt the LDS Church without raising the ire of active LDS Church members in Mexico — who are a large enough group that those against the LDS Church would have to be really strong to overcome them.

    And, in your step 4, are you sure that Utah voters and the LDS members of the state legislature would cave so easily? If I go back to look at Utah’s early history, and see the pressure on the LDS Church and its members during the U.S. government’s anti-polygamy efforts, I have to think that it would take a significant amount of pressure (perhaps not as much now as then) to force Church members to change their views.

    Again, your scenario ignores any possible backlash because of this pressure. You don’t think that Mormons in Utah and the rest of the U.S. would be upset at a Mexican move to force Church members to vote for different laws? For all I know the Church might even eliminate its advocacy for compassionate immigration laws! If Mexico eliminated visas for Mormon missionaries alone, I’d bet it would get a black eye on the net Religious Freedom report that the U.S. State Department issued at the very least.

    I’m not suggesting that your logic can’t work against other groups in other circumstances. Although I suspect the object of such an attack would need to already be an opponent, instead of a friend (albeit a perhaps not as active as you want one).

    My main point is simply that I don’t see any way that this logic will work in these circumstances. I suspect (with my limited knowledge of Mexican politics) that the Mexican government won’t even act. but even if it does, that action won’t lead to any change by the LDS Church or by Church members in Utah’s legislature. From the latter I would expect a negative reaction.

  33. psychochemiker on February 22, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    The motivation behind most attempts to restrict immigration is either selfishness (keeping what we have here in the U.S. for those here) or, too often, racism (keep those that aren’t like us out)

    I for one don’t think racism is the real reason. For example, I’d be willing to exchange many of the white liberal Americans for a conservative of any other ethnicity.

  34. Bryan in VA on February 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    My 2 cents worth on this discussion…

    1. I agree that racism is not the real reason. If it were, the same people calling for the return of illegal immigrants to their home countries would be calling for the return of Cuban exiles to Cuba and would not enbrace Puerto Rico as a US territory.

    2. Being a simple man, I don’t understand why LDS illegally in a given country aren’t counseled to return to their home countries and attempt to enter their desired destination legally. It seems that entering a nation illegally is a sin given the scriptural guidance to obey the law. We also know that we won’t be given any temptation beyond what we’re able to bear. Won’t the Lord bless those who obey the law in spite of the lure of higher wages? Doesn’t sincere repentance call of the law violator to give up what was gained by the sinful activity, which in the case of an illegal immigrant would be to stop trepassing illegally? Doesn’t obeying man’s law help us to obey God’s law?

  35. Kent Larsen on February 23, 2011 at 10:33 am

    psychochemiker (33), you wrote “I for one don’t think racism is the real reason.”

    I think perhaps you didn’t understand what I meant to say. I’m not suggesting that racism is the case in every person who wants to restrict immigration, but that it is the case in some who want to restrict immigration.

    Each individual who wants to restrict immigration has their own reason or reasons. I’m merely suggesting that the vast majority of those motivations fall into at least one of those two categories: selfishness or racism.

  36. Kent Larsen on February 23, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Bryan (34) wrote: “I don’t understand why LDS illegally in a given country aren’t counseled to return to their home countries”

    What makes you think that they are not counseled to do just that? I have no idea what their Bishops tell them in their confidential interviews. I’m sure that in the right circumstances, some illegal immigrants are counseled to return home.

    As for your (2), I suppose the same thing could be said of traffic tickets, littering and a host of other civil infractions under the law [Immigrating illegally is not a crime under U.S. law, it is a civil infraction like traffic or parking violations].

    I’m not sure where the line is between minor violations that you don’t need to confess to your bishop or that aren’t crimes and major violations that you do need to confess.

    Bryan, the piece I think you are missing comes from your assumption that illegal immigration is some kind of major sin (and, I assume, some major crime). Like I say, I’m not sure where the line is between the major issues and the minor ones.

    I’m fairly sure that the Church is more concerned with things like sexual impropriety than civil infractions, even though many Church members feel these are much larger violations than the Church itself does.

  37. Adam Greenwood on February 23, 2011 at 11:48 am

    “merely suggesting that the vast majority of those motivations fall into at least one of those two categories: selfishness or racism.”

    Its pretty uncharitable to smear your political opponents this way. I know, I know, truth compels you to do it, you want to give them the benefit of the doubt but they really are blinkered greedy trolls.

  38. Kent Larsen on February 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Adam, are you suggesting that this is inaccurate? That the motivations don’t boil down to either selfishness or racism in general?

    I’m really only trying to be descriptive. I’ve read a lot of arguments about limiting immigration, and I’ve yet to encounter one that doesn’t boil down to one of these. I thought I was being rather charitable by saying things like “most” and “vast majority” instead of “ALL.”

    I didn’t even suggest that it was any particular group of people other than those who oppose immigration. I didn’t single out those who oppose “illegal immigration” for example, nor did I blame any ethnic, political or religious group or name any individual. Surely there is enough wiggle room in my statement for anyone who has other motivations!

    My motivation was no more an attempt to smear anyone than your comment (37) is an attempt to smear me.

    Really, Adam, if you think the suggestion that the motivations of those who oppose immigration are not either selfishness or racism, then I suggest you make an argument, instead of accusing me of being uncharitable.

    Is there any motivation for opposing immigration that doesn’t boil down to these?

  39. El Chupacabras on February 26, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Jeffrey Max Jones is a joke in Mexico. For starters, he comes from the colonies, which are more like the U.S. than Mexico. Real Mexican Saints are appalled at the cultural imperialism displayed by “colonos.”

    Also, Jones was forced to resign as Agricultural Undersecretary a year ago because of comments that he made that “Mexican producers should take lessons from the Narcos.”

    Jones represents a neo-liberal elitist party that has destroyed Mexico, and has been an extension of the Porfiriato over a century ago, only propping up the Mexican oligarchy. And the PAN’s record on human rights and immigration is just as abismal. Leading human rights groups have criticized Mexico’s stance on immigration to be just as bad or worse than that of Arizona’s. Thanks to the PAN, terrible massacres such as the on that took place in Tamaulipas last year will continue. (We would have been better off under Lopez Obrador, the rightful winner of the 2006 election.)

    I don’t mean to threadjack, but to imply Jones is an influential figure in Mexican politics would be about like saying Larry Craig has the ability to lobby the Tea Party.

  40. Kent Larsen on February 26, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Chupacabras (39), I had no idea. As I indicated in the post, I have very little knowledge of Mexican politics, and your statements make that clear. I assumed because of Jones’ position in government that he had some influence.

    It would be very useful if you could give us some idea of how likely the Calderón government is to pay significant attention to Vargas-Lopez’ letter or how much support such a move would attract among the Mexican electorate, if it became widely known.

  41. Mark D. on February 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Kent, It is not particularly illuminating to classify those who believe that immigration should be restricted at some reasonable level with those who are “opposed to immigration” in any form, at any time, and under any circumstances.

    Your argument could be equally made to private property rights of all types. Is there any other motivation for private property other than the most low minded self interest? Certainly all those who are generous with their limited means and property are to be classified with those who wouldn’t lift a finger to help a stranger, right?

  42. Mark D. on February 26, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    In particular, the rights associated with United States citizenship are a gift that come at substantial economic cost. The argument for unrestricted immigration boils down to the position that no one has a natural right in the fruits of his own labor. It’s not his to decide. Property is theft. Lying, cheating, and stealing to take advantage of the generosity of others is no crime at all. None of it was theirs in the first place.

  43. Mark D. on March 1, 2011 at 2:25 am

    No one responding anymore, so let me correct myself. My sarcasm is a vast oversimplification of course. I don’t mean to say that people don’t have an obligation to share their blessings with others, but rather that they have the right to decide time, place, and manner.

  44. Kent Larsen on March 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Mark D. (42), wrote “The argument for unrestricted immigration boils down to the position that no one has a natural right in the fruits of his own labor.”

    Hmmm. Most of the new-born babies I’ve seen haven’t performed any labor to justify their citizenship.

    If you do want to go that right, then I’m behind you one hundred percent. Let’s set up a system where each and everyone of us needs to perform some real labor for the community before we earn our citizenship. I like that idea – but only if it is open to anyone who wants to perform the labor, regardless of things they can’t control like the color of their skin or where they happened to be born.

    Mark, U.S. citizenship is currently only based on where you are born. It doesn’t come from labor any more than race or eye-color comes from our labor. And your suggestion that it does is, in my view, nonsensical.

    Now, if you are suggesting that it is the labor of their parents that has paid for this, then I need an explanation as to why this right should be inherited at all. I can’t see any reason why it deserves to be inherited.

    In my view, citizenship should either be free to all, or earned only by the individual who is a citizen and not by his parents or anyone else. Citizenship should either be free to all or non-transferable.

  45. Mark D. on March 2, 2011 at 12:40 am

    Kent, my view is the grant of citizenship to the children of citizens is simply a matter of inheritance. No one “deserves” to be born in a certain family or a certain country, but the world works best when parents take care of, protect, and provide for their children.

    No one forces parents to adopt children, even though such adoptions are morally praiseworthy. But everyone expects parents to provide for their own children – civilization depends on it. It is a natural obligation of every parent to provide for his own. He or she cannot provide for everybody.

    Citizenship is a similar matter of inheritance and adoption. Everyone receives his initial citizenship by inheritance of some sort. That cannot be taken away. Everyone has a natural right to citizenship in at least one country.

    If individuals apply to be adopted by another country, the principle is that country has the right to decide how many to adopt each year. It would hardly be praiseworthy for a prosperous country to refuse to adopt anyone. But it seems more than reasonable for a country to decide that all things considered it can handle only so many adoptees each year, especially if that number is relatively high.

    In California, 1/3 of all births are to non-citizen parents. That involves an incredible burden on public education and welfare. California has a 20 billion dollar deficit, and may very well go bankrupt, which won’t solve the problem either. In addition, such substantial levels of immigration mean that in many areas people are slow to learn English and adopt the necessary elements of American civic culture. That causes lots of interesting social problems, similar to the ones with the French and English parts of Canada. Quebec nearly seceded not so many years ago.

    Now if we did not have a substantial welfare state, most notably a modern public education system and a highly progressive tax system, the framing here would be different. It would be less accurate to speak of “adoption” as I have done here, and the number of new “members” we could accept each year would be much higher, as it was a century ago, before the advent of modern immigration laws. That is my view.

  46. Kent Larsen on March 2, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Mark D., what you describe is similar what happens now. You don’t describe WHY citizenship should be something that can be inherited from one’s parents.

    But what happens now is not quite the same as what you describe. Anyone who is born here, regardless of their parent’s status is a citizen – so they are not inheriting the rights of citizenship from their parents. [Germany is an example of a place that is like you describe, as I understand it.]

    The point is, WHY should citizenship be inherited?

    Citizenship is not gained at the death of the parent, like other inherited property, but at birth like the rights of royalty, which we have largely rejected. Citizenship is not property, which the owner has the right to dispose of as he wishes. It cannot be transfered — I can’t decide to move to Brazil and transfer my citizenship to someone else since I don’t want it any more. And there is no clear connection between the civic efforts of an individual and citizenship — its not earned by their efforts in any direct way.

    So, why should citizenship be “inherited”?

    The answer is that it is not inherited.

    Citizenship is simply the rights and obligations of everyone who has agreed to become part of our nation, something we extend to everyone born here under the assumption that they will participate. Too often that is a bad assumption.

    Believing that it is some monarchical right inherited from parents is surely in conflict with the founding principles of our government.

  47. Jax on March 2, 2011 at 8:25 am

    This has been a quite interesting thread to read.

    Just one post with my opinion. If anyone has read Starship Troopers (not seen the movie) I am totally in favor of the citizenship standards therein described.

    A quick description would be that citizenship only comes from military service. Non-military members have “membership” in the society and get the benefits of social services (medical care, schooling, can own and operated businesses, etc). Citizenship is required to participate in the political process, either vote or hold office, ergo if you aren’t willing to protect society you have no say in how it is governed.

  48. Kent Larsen on March 2, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Jax, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers did introduce the idea to me that Citizenship should not be just given to people at birth.

    While I am persuaded that simply handing out citizenship at birth is not ideal, I don’t necessarily think that military service should be the only qualification — I think service to the community in general is a better standard (although defining what service is sufficient is not trivial).

    BUT, I can also live with a system that gives citizenship to all willing to take on the obligation, regardless of place of birth.

    Having said that, I should mention that I do recognize some need to control immigration so that our infrastructure is not overwhelmed. Fortunately, we are no where near that point. I think we could handle several times what now allow to enter both legally and illegally.

    Nor, are we any where near the limit that the natural resources of our land will support. I believe we in the U.S. could support 5 times the population we now have.

  49. Jax on March 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Kent. I agree that there could be other qualifications, such as serving on a police force or as a fireman for a certain number of years, or by being the spouse of such a person. The principle I agree with is that if you aren’t willing to defend the society or its people then you don’t have a vote in how it is governed.

    We absolutely have room and resources for several times the population we have. Not just in the U.S. but on the planet. We produce enough, we just have institutions in place that make getting the food and supplies to people more difficult than it should.

    There are serious problems with both citizenship by blood and by place of birth. I would very much support a citizenship by merit instead; something where people have to put forth the effort and show they are willing to keep the standards of the community in order to be granted citizenship. This is the way it works to have a place in God’s Kingdom (show fruits of repentence and you can enter through baptism) and I see no reason a system couldn’t work in a worldly kingdom as well.

  50. Mark D. on March 3, 2011 at 7:23 am

    The point is, WHY should citizenship be inherited?

    Reason number one is the laws, culture, language, and infrastructure of a nation are primarily the creation of current citizens and their forebears.

    The first and foremost responsibility of every citizen with a family is to provide for them. One of the primary ways they provide for them is passing that heritage – including laws, culture, language, and infrastructure – on to their children. Via citizenship in this case.

    It is the same thing as before – it boils down to a consideration of the merits of both real and abstract property rights. In cultural and political terms long term massive immigration without gradual assimilation is potentially suicidal. It is like saying the heritage of a country isn’t worthwhile enough to be worth preserving.

    The French have the right idea on this, the British don’t. France believes in French-ness. They believe that their language and culture is worth preserving and that immigrants should become French in fundamental ways. Very high levels of immigration, especially from radically different cultures, are a threat to the heritage of a nation (even in its very fundamentals), and that is one of the reasons why several major leaders in Europe have recently said that multi-culturalism in Europe has turned into a disaster.

    In the U.S. context those particular issues are not nearly as severe, but they would become real enough in a big hurry if we eliminated all immigration restrictions. The strong consensus in the U.S. highly values the merits of immigration at relatively high levels, but not arbitrarily high ones. The consensus is for a balance to be drawn.

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