"Inasmuch as Ye Have Done It Unto the Least of These My Brethren : Undocumented Immigrants and the LDS Church"
Steven W. Goold
SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 3 (Fall 2010)
NOTE: The Utah Compact is discussed in the Addendum to this article.
Illegal immigration has become one of the hot button issues of our time. Confusion abounds about who undocumented immigrants are, what they are doing here, and their impact on society. The immigration issue is used for political gain on both the left and right side of the aisle. This article reviews some of the controversy and how it contributes to the tone of public discourse. It focuses on the guidance the LDS Church has given that can lead to real solutions to a problem that affects individuals and families. Lastly, it concludes with what our relationship should be to these individuals as brothers and sisters.
The Spirit of Contention is Not of Me 
It is not the prerogative of a private member of the Church to state the Church’s official position on any issue. This is the responsibility of the First Presidency, the Twelve and any whom they ask to represent them. Everyone has a paradigm they use to understand the world around them; authors are not exempt from personal opinions. This author’s bias comes from knowing undocumented individuals, seeing the good lives many of these people live, and the difficulties they experience as they raise their families and attempt to serve God in an often hostile environment.
Anyone reading a newspaper knows that undocumented immigration is a heated and divisive topic. Reading comments posted after any news article dealing with “undocumented immigrants,” “illegal immigrants,” “illegal aliens” or just “illegals” further reinforces the division. Many responses to news articles claim illegal aliens are predominately “thieves, rapists, murderers, and criminals.”  In order to put this controversy into context, it needs to be looked at first from a secular perspective. It is difficult to determine the costs and benefits undocumented individuals bring to our economy and society. There is no central clearing house for information and statistics relating to this population. This is largely due to a lack of a coordinated, organized effort by the U.S. government to track many of these issues. There are organizations willing to explain the ramifications of this topic, but most, if not all, have an agenda.  Some may look at this issue and try to explain the facts in a more honest and objective manner, while others use methods that show less rigorous statistical analysis. 
On one side of the issue are organizations like the Minuteman Project that use statistics to show that illegal aliens are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime in the United States.  Americans for Legal Immigration claim illegals are the cause of the United States’ current financial crisis, due to banks’ predatory lending practices and immigrants’ inability to repay the loans.  FAIR, the Federation for Immigration Reform, states illegal immigrants are damaging our medical  and educational systems by over exploitation.  The American Chronicle affirms jobs are stripped from American workers.  The Center for Immigration Studies report social service costs for illegal aliens are drowning the U.S. taxpayer. 
On the other hand, organizations like the CATO Institute use statistics to show that undocumented immigrants have a positive impact on American society.  The Sutherland Institute says undocumented individuals have a slightly lower crime rate than the general population.  Immigration Impact maintains undocumented immigrants are too busy working and trying to maintain a low profile to risk involvement with the law.  FactCheck.org claim these immigrants make a meaningful financial contribution through a combination of filling jobs that would not otherwise be taken, paying taxes, and contributing to an expanding economy.  Latina Lista says the strain on our medical establishment is often exaggerated.  The National Immigration Law Center reports that the long-term benefit of educating undocumented children outweighs the cost due to the benefits society receives from having an educated workforce.  Truthout affirms undocumented workers having limited social services available to them and that they pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. 
Latter-day Saints assessing this issue need to be objective and consider personal motives and feelings. Filtering through information and determining the real situation is not easy and may not be totally possible. It is important to realize objectivity can be clouded by personal prejudices. Elder Richard G. Scott gave counsel that is helpful in considering such an emotionally laden topic. His advice is useful when communicating with others who hold an opposing point of view: “The inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride. When such influences are present, it is like trying to savor the delicate flavor of a grape while eating a jalapeño pepper. Both flavors are present, but one completely overpowers the other. In like manner, strong emotions overcome the delicate promptings of the Holy Spirit.” 
The Letter Killeth, But the Spirit Giveth Life. 
On different occasions, the immigration debate has been addressed by LDS authorities. They have attempted to have a positive impact on the tone and substance of the discussion (the addendum to this article discusses the recent Utah Compact and the reaction of the LDS Church to it). These opinions are often omitted or glossed over by individuals and organizations that work to show that undocumented immigrants have a negative influence on society. If taken to heart, their comments could provide a working model leading to solutions.
One occasion was an interview reported in Utah's two major newspapers, the Deseret Morning News and the Salt lake Tribune. On February 13, 2008 Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy participated in a collaborative panel discussion with Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake, and Pastor Steven Klemz of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. This dialogue was a response to Utah lawmakers deliberations on different measures to "get tough" on illegal immigration.  Some things Elder Jensen mentions at this event are: “I was assigned to come here by the First Presidency of the Church."  "Immigration questions are questions dealing with God's children . . . The current debate in our State Legislature is evidence of the very strong feelings that surround this issue," he continues, "I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted, and urge those responsible for enactment of Utah's immigration policy to measure twice before they cut."  He also encouraged State Legislatures to "slow down, step back and carefully study and assess the implications and human costs involved."  He noted that “immigration is not only a political issue but a moral and ethical one.” 
Different people interpret these statements in different ways. For example a Utah state legislator, Representative Craig Frank, was responding to Elder Jensen’s remarks a few days after the interview. Representative Frank was discussing this interview with some of his constituents and posted the following blog on his official web page:
The “Church’s” stance on Illegal Immigration needs to be reviewed in context. Regarding statements made during the Interfaith Dialogue on Immigration at Westminster College by Elder Marlin K. Jensen, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of Seventy, were qualified in the paper by saying the ‘LDS Church has taken no position on any particular measure on the federal or state level.’
The discussion could be left at that, no position on legislation. However, this is an example of selectively minimizing the Church’s message. Sometimes when dealing with issues, the Church follows the counsel given by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” 
Around the time the Arizona legislature passed SB1070 a “public issues” statement was posted on the LDS Church’s official web site. This statement may carry more weight than the interview above, because it is not second-hand reporting and was presented by the Church in the “Newsroom, The Official Church Resource for News Media, Opinion Leaders, and the Public.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes the complexities facing elected officials as they grapple with the implications of immigration law, such as employment, security and budgetary considerations. The Church has not taken a position on this issue, which is clearly the province of government. However, Church leaders have urged compassion and careful reflection when addressing immigration issues affecting millions of people.
In July of 2010, Utah State Governor Gary Herbert held a roundtable discussion where he invited 30 participants representing different concerns and points of view to discuss illegal immigration. The LDS Church was invited to be one of the participants and released the following statement.
The complex issues surrounding immigration are a matter of increasing concern and debate for all in this country.
In summary, to implement the Church’s counsel, any legislation would consider undocumented individuals as “God’s children.” It would reflect a “humane approach” and recognize this is “not only a political issue but a moral and ethical one.” It would incorporate “compassion and careful reflection when addressing immigration issues affecting millions of people.” Then it would “require the best thinking and good will of all across the political spectrum, the highest levels of statesmanship, and the strongest desire to do what is best for all of God's children." Legislation that embraces a one-size-fits-all approach would not meet this standard. It would need to recognize the complexity of the issue and consider that real people are involved. Those responsible for creating this legislation would do well to take Elder Jensen's advice to heart to "meet an undocumented person” and "come to know their family." 
But the Stranger that Dwelleth with You Shall Be Unto You as One Born Among You, and Thou Shalt Love Him as Thyself. 
Jesus Christ is our “Savior” and “Redeemer” because He saves and redeems us from the effects of a fallen world. All have need of his grace as stated by the apostle Paul, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”  The Church calls missionaries to serve in jails, prisons and addiction recovery programs. It provides humanitarian aid to countless individuals in need all over the world regardless of race, religion or status. This is consistent with the Church’s overall mission to include the needs of undocumented immigrants. The following examples demonstrate Latter-day Saints’ commitment to these individuals.
In the biography of President Spencer W. Kimball written by his son, Edward, the following is recorded:
“For President Kimball to express an opinion boldly and expect compliance was rare, Francis Gibbons (his personal secretary) remembered an incident because it was so unusual. In a joint meeting of the First Presidency and the Twelve considering whether illegal aliens should be baptized, some of the Brethren expressed the view that as law breakers they should not be baptized. After hearing all the views, President Kimball reportedly said, “I think they should be baptized.” That ended the discussion. “ 
In 2005 the Deseret News requested an interview with the Church on the immigration issue. The Church assigned Elder John C. Pingree to represent their position. Addressing the matter of baptism and temple rights for undocumented immigrants, Elder Pingree said, "It's not a problem for me. . . The Church does not see itself as an enforcement agency . . . Questions about citizenship are not part of the formal interview local leaders conduct with people before they join the Church or attend the temple, which is open only to members deemed worthy. Bishops and stake presidents look for commitment to live the tenets of the religion.” 
Some Latter-day Saints have difficulty reconciling Church membership and illegal status. Two things often quoted in connection with this dilemma are "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,"  and the 12th Article of Faith which says, "We believe ... in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law." 
While answering questions for the media after Elder Jensen’s comments, Mark Tuttle, a spokesman for the Church, responded to the 12th article of faith question, "I wonder how they'd feel about the second great commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself. It's not an answer to your question, but it's another question. Sometimes it's hard to do them all." 
Elder Jensen stated that, "The Church's view of someone in undocumented status is akin, in a way, to a civil trespass." It is related to coming onto someone’s property uninvited. "There is nothing inherently wrong about that status." 
Discussing this issue with individuals in the legal profession to determine if it is a crime to be in the United States undocumented, the answer is a bit complicated. Being in the country undocumented is not a crime but how someone got here and what they did once they were here could be. An easy explanation of this issue was found in The Star-Ledger.
Q: Immigrants in the country illegally are not automatically committing a crime by their presence. Is that true?
Many Latter Day Saints, including the author, have repented of sins that carry a similar or greater criminal penalty than the one for “sneaking across the border.” For example, buying illegal fireworks in Wyoming and discharging them in Utah on the 4th of July is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or a maximum of six months in jail. 
If it is conceivable an individual who has committed the crime of discharging illegal fireworks can repent and become a member in good standing again, then it is conceivable an illegal immigrant can live a good Christian life and be in good standing with the Church.
It is important to consider who is more culpable in the commission of their crime: someone who grew up in the heart of Zion where “much is given” [Luke 12;48], was baptized at the age of eight, received the Holy Ghost, and then decides to discharge illegal fireworks in order to make his 4th of July celebration more exciting; or an undocumented immigrant who crosses the border to come to the United States and provide opportunities and a standard of living for his family that would be impossible in any other way. Coming into the United States undocumented is not the "unpardonable sin". [Alma 39:6]
This message given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in the April 2010 general conference is similar to many others given by our priesthood leaders. His message does not apply directly to undocumented individuals but surely they would be included with the rest of us. He stated,
I hope that we welcome and love all of God’s children, including those who might dress, look, speak, or just do things differently. It is not good to make others feel as though they are deficient. Let us lift those around us. Let us extend a welcoming hand. Let us bestow upon our brothers and sisters in the Church a special measure of humanity, compassion, and charity so that they feel, at long last, they have finally found home.
In the 2005 interview with Deseret News Elder Pingree states, “The Church does everything it can to encourage its members to stay in their home countries to strengthen local stakes and wards. But once they're here, we want to make them feel like part of the community, a valued part of the community." 
There has been a renewed discussion, inspired by remarks made by President Obama, about whether the United States is a Christian nation, a nation of many Christians, or both.  Those who respond in the affirmative to at least one of those propositions need to evaluate whether the legislation they support represents Christian values. It is possible for individual Christians to have honest differences of opinion relating to a particular piece of legislation. However, an authentic Christian response to individual undocumented people would include the following: seeing undocumented immigrants as we see ourselves, extending to them the same mercy we would want to receive, and being inclusive rather than exclusive.
The editorial board at Square Two was kind enough to offer the opportunity to add an addendum to this article. This comes in light of recent events in Utah where political, business, civic, and religious leaders met together to create, sign, and release the “Utah Compact, a declaration on immigration reform.” 
The Utah Compact lists five principles to guide Utah's immigration discussion. Some of the major points are:
1. “Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries — not Utah and other countries.”
2. “Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code.”
3. “We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families.”
4. “We acknowledge the economic role immigrants play as workers and taxpayers.”
5. “The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors.” 
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints expressed support for the compact and added clarifying comments.  Each individual needs to decide for themselves what these statements mean and how they will respond to them.The Church’s current response sustains their past stance. The message may be clearer and contain more detail but reveals nothing new. Their statement says in part:
“We follow Jesus Christ by loving our neighbors. The Savior taught that the meaning of “neighbor” includes all of God’s children, in all places, at all times.
In conclusion, as we continue the debate over this issue, remember the council given by Elder Richard G. Scott quoted above, “The inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride.” In attempts to work together and craft solutions to this problem let’s “savor the delicate flavor of a grape” and not give in to the influences of the “jalapeño pepper which completely overpowers the other.” 
 Matthew 25: 40 [Back to manuscript]
 3 Nephi 11:29 [Back to manuscript]
 Steven Stockdale, Tuesday, May 4, 2010, Deseret New, Readers Forum, "Oppose illegal acts," http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700029382/Oppose-illegal-acts.html
 Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), "Breaking the Piggy Bank: How Illegal Immigration is Sending Schools into the Red," n.d., http://www.fairus.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=17193&security=1601&news_iv_ctrl=1901[Back to manuscript]
 Tony Dolz, April 07, 2006, American Chronicle, "97% of Illegal Aliens Take Jobs That Americans Want and Need," http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/7801[Back to manuscript]
 Steven A. Camarota, March 2003, Center for Immigration Studies, "Back Where We Started: An Examination of Trends in Immigrant Welfare Use Since Welfare Reform", http://www.cis.org/articles/2003/back503.html [Back to manuscript]
 "Immigration: The Demographic and Economic Facts," The Cato Institute and the National Immigration Forum, n.d., http://www.cato.org/pubs/policy_report/pr-imsum.html
 The Sutherland Institute, "Just the Facts," 25 June 2009, http://www.sutherlandinstitute.org/uploads/immigrationJustTheFacts.pdf
Lee Davidson, Thursday, May 27, 2010, Deseret News, "Salt Lake's Burbank, other police chiefs voice concerns about Arizona law," http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700035302/Salt-Lakes-Burbank-other-police-chiefs-voice-concerns-about-Arizona-law.html [Back to manuscript]
 Walter Ewing, 28 Apr 2010, Immigration Impact, "Arizona’s Punishing New Immigration Law Doesn’t Fight Crime," http://immigrationimpact.com/2010/04/28/arizona%E2%80%99s-punishing-new-immigration-law-doesn%E2%80%99t-fight-crime/ [Back to manuscript]
 Does Immigration Cost Jobs? FactCheck.org, 13 May 2010, http://www.factcheck.org/2010/05/does-immigration-cost-jobs/
 Marisa Treviño, May 20, 2010, Latina Lista, "New study shows undocumented immigrants aren't packing hospital emergency rooms," http://www.latinalista.net/palabrafinal/2010/05/new_study_shows_undocumented_immigrants.html
 Alberto Ponce de Leon, May 3, 2010, Truthout, "Undocumented Immigrants Pay More in Taxes than They Receive in Benefits," http://www.truth-out.org/undocumented-immigrants-pay-more-taxes-than-they-receive-benefits59264 [Back to manuscript]
 Elder Richard G. Scott, November 2009, Ensign, 179th Semiannual General Conference, ‘To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1117-2,00.html [Back to manuscript]
 2 Corinthians 3: 6 [Back to manuscript]
 Deborah Bulkeley, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008, Deseret News, "Have compassion for immigrants, lawmakers urged," http://www.deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,695253048,00.html [Back to manuscript]
 Matthew D. LaPlante, February 14, 2008, The Salt Lake Tribune, "LDS Church asks lawmakers to weigh morality, ethics in immigration reforms", [Back to manuscript]
 Deborah Bulkeley, Friday, Feb. 15, 2008, Deseret News, "Compassion call could affect immigration bills," http://www.deseretnews.com/article/695253341/Compassion-call-could-affect-immigration-bills.html [Back to manuscript]
 LaPlante, ibid. also Bob Bernick Jr. and Deborah Bulkeley, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008, Deseret Morning News, "Lawmakers, LDS Church brainstorm," http://www.deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,695245489,00.html [Back to manuscript]
 Dennis Romboy, Friday, Feb. 15, 2008, Deseret News, "Debate resumes over illegal immigrants' status in LDS Church", http://www.deseretnews.com/article/695253342/Debate-resumes-over-illegal-immigrants-status-in-LDS-Church.html [Back to manuscript]
 Rep. Craig Frank, February 19, 2008, Illegal Immigration…What Elder Jensen Said…or Didn’t Say, http://underthedome.org/2008/02/19/illegal-immigrationwhat-elder-jensen-saidor-didnt-say [Back to manuscript]
 John Taylor, Nov. 15, 1851, pg. 339, Millennial Star, “The Organization of the Church,” [Back to manuscript]
 Newsroom The Official Church Resource for News Media, Opinion Leaders, and the Public. http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/public-issues/immigration [Back to manuscript]
 Scott Taylor, Sunday, July 18, 2010, Deseret News, "LDS Church repeats call for 'civil discourse' on immigration," www.deseretnews.com/.../LDS-Church-repeats-call-for-civil-discourse-on-immigration.html [Back to manuscript]
 LaPlante, Ibid [Back to manuscript]
 Leviticus 19: 34 [Back to manuscript]
 1 John. 1: 8 [Back to manuscript]
 Edward L. Kimball, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 2005, Lengthen Your Stride, The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, pg. 34 [Back to manuscript]
 Romboy, ibid [Back to manuscript]
 Matthew 22: 21 [Back to manuscript]
 Articles of Faith 1: 12 [Back to manuscript]
 Romboy, ibid [Back to manuscript]
 Romboy, ibid [Back to manuscript]
 Kevin Coughlin, April 29, 2008, Morristown News, "Christie clarifies: 'Illegal' immigrants are in civil violation," http://www.nj.com/morristown/index.ssf/2008/04/christie_clarifies_illegal_imm.html [Back to manuscript]
 Lynn Arave, Jul 3, 2004, Deseret Morning News, "Illegal fireworks are still illegal," http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4188/is_20040703/ai_n11470153 [Back to manuscript]
 President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2010, “You Are My Hands” http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1207-23,00.html [Back to manuscript]
 Romboy, ibid [Back to manuscript]
 Brian Montopoli, "Hot Topic: Is U.S. A "Christian Nation?" http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-4943948-503544.html [Back to manuscript]
 Elizabeth Stuart, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010, Deseret News, "Community leaders urge moderate approach to immigration reform," http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700080754/Community-leaders-urge-moderate-approach-to-immigration-reform.html [Back to manuscript]
 Newsroom The Official Church Resource for News Media, Opinion Leaders, and the Public, http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/article/church-supports-principles-of-utah-compact-on-immigration [Back to manuscript]
 Newsroom, ibid [Back to manuscript]
 Elder Richard G. Scott, ibid [Back to manuscript]
Full Citation for This Article: Goold, Steven W. (2010) "Inasmuch as Ye Have Done It Unto the Least of These My Brethren: Undocumented Immigrants and the LDS Church," SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleGooldImmigration.html, accessed [give access date].
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