There is an interesting divergence in the LDS Church over the issue of immigration reform. The Church itself does not consider being an illegal immigrant to be any type of transgression, even though laws have been broken. On the other hand, the public mood in states like Utah is to refuse anything that looks like an amnesty for those who are considered "lawbreakers." What would immigration reform look like in light of the principles of the Restored Gospel that emphasize the important of both justice and mercy? What do you, our readers, say? Email your comments to squaretwojournal@yahoo.com. Comments that have already been submitted appear below.

Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board (2013) "Readers' Puzzle for Fall 2013: Immigration Reform," SquareTwo, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleReadersPuzzleSummer2013.html, <give access date>

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COMMENTS: 7 Comments

1) Steven W. Goold

I have been involved with the issue of immigration reform for a number of years as an observer and small time activist. This has provided familiarity with the emotions and arguments coming from both sides. Here are a few observations that may help answer the "reader’s puzzle." 

Two individual’s experiences illustrate some of the problems surrounding this issue. About five years ago, a young lady fell in love and wanted to marry a young man who did not have proper paperwork. They made plans to marry in the temple. I was aware the LDS Church was sympathetic to the plight of undocumented individuals and called the Priesthood Department at Church headquarters to find out their official position. After explaining the couple's situation and asking if there were any reason they should not be married in the temple, we received assurance his documented status did not bear on his worthiness. I then asked a hypothetical question, "What if the bishop has a problem with this?" He said, "Contact your Stake President." Then, asked hypothetically, "What if the Stake President has a problem." He stated, "Contact your Area Authority Seventy." Their marriage was solemnized in the Temple without any concerns expressed.

The young woman presumed since she was a U.S. citizen it would be easy to help her husband change his status once they were married. They contacted an immigration lawyer who told them there was no problem and asked for a 900 dollar retainer. After a few months and nothing happening, I contacted the lawyer to ask how things were proceeding. We did not receive a satisfactory response so I contacted someone I knew who has ties to BYU and was the President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. After explaining the situation, he told me to contact the lawyer and give him my friend's name and tell him to refund the couple's money or we would report him to the Utah Bar. The couple was able to pick up their retainer the next day. This incident demonstrated there are many individuals willing to prey on the undocumented population for financial gain due to their position of powerlessness.

This young couple learned the process was complicated, expensive, and not without risks. It involved the young man returning to his home country to apply for a change of status. Since he had been in the United States for longer than 12 months, there would be an automatic "bar" placed against him by the federal government where he would not be able to reenter the U. S. for 10 years. The young wife would have to show "extreme hardship," that she was unable to live without him. She would have to prove her case was somehow different than the average case of a couple in their situation. This would be done through psychiatric evaluations and other means. Then there would be the expense of between 4,000 to 10,000 dollars. Even with a good lawyer, there was only a possibility of a 75 to 80 percent chance of success.

During this same time, the mood in Utah was changing  towards individuals of undocumented status. Utah was moving towards adopting laws similar to Arizona’s legislation.  I chose to become involved on my own, politically advocating for a more compassionate and humane position related to this issue by writing letters to the editor, attending rallies, and contacting my political representatives. As a result, I had extended correspondence with a number of State Legislators about this issue. The emotion generated by this issue was perplexing.  I wrote a short article for SquareTwo trying to reflect the LDS Churches position on this issue as accurately as possible. This article is found at: 


As the political process unfolded, there were many things that provided hope such as the Utah Compact and Deseret News editorials. The night before the Utah Legislature voted on the issue, I received a call from my Senate Representative Wayne L. Niederhauser, who is now President of the Utah State Senate. He told me that it appeared "Things were going our way."

After the vote, the Church "described the package of bills passed by the Utah Legislature, taken together, as ‘a responsible approach’ to the difficult question of immigration reform."


The Church then issued a statement that said, "The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship." 


Later they clarified their position, "The First Presidency has for many years taught that undocumented status should not by itself prevent an otherwise worthy Church member from entering the temple or being ordained to the priesthood."


The question in the reader’s puzzle states, "There is an interesting divergence... The Church itself does not consider being an illegal immigrant to be any type of transgression, even though laws have been broken. On the other hand, the public mood in states like Utah is to refuse anything that looks like an amnesty for those who are considered ‘lawbreakers. What would immigration reform look like in light of the principles of the Restored Gospel that emphasize the important of both justice and mercy?"

I will share my opinion on one of the causes of this "interesting divergence" between the LDS Church's position on this issue and the "public mood in states like Utah" Elder Quentin L. Cook in the October 2013 General Conference gave a talk titled "Beware of Bondage."


He outlined four types of bondage he felt were "particularly pernicious in today’s culture." One of these being "ideology or political beliefs that are inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Of course, he was not talking about immigration reform and outlined specific areas of concern.  Some might interpret his comments as applying only to ideologies that are not in harmony with what they individually believe. My personal belief is that when we set up the "philosophy's of men," whether conservative, liberal, libertarian or any other, as the creed through which we interpret the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we place ourselves in "intellectual bondage" as Elder Cook described.

He states that, "Our challenge is to avoid bondage of any kind" and pointed out how to do so. "We must always remember that we do not save ourselves. We are liberated by the love, grace, and atoning sacrifice of the Savior," he added, "If we are true to His light, follow His commandments, and rely on His merits, we will avoid spiritual, physical, and intellectual bondage." I believe that as we do this, we will better understand the, "important of both justice and mercy" as it relates to the issue of immigration reform.


2) Stephen Cranney

The 12th article of faith speaks in broad principles about how rule of law, and the power of enforcement that comes with it, is necessary for society. It does not mean that we are sinning every time we violate a law. As Mormons we celebrate those of our faith who were members of the anti-Nazi resistance, as well as the founding fathers, when both groups were undoubtedly breaking the laws of the land. The articles of faith were meant to be used as a pithy synopsis of our general beliefs, not lengthy legalistic treatments of possible exceptions.

Consequently it becomes a question of whether entering the country is justifiable or not (I'm not going to make the "legal" and "illegal" distinction--until entering legally is logistically feasible it's a disingenuous argument). If I was a struggling parent across the border trying to make a better future for my children, I would really care less about current US immigration policy when deciding whether to immigrate, and if they were really faced with the type of poverty many migrants are faced with, I suspect that most of those making the calls for tighter immigration policies would regard restrictive immigration policy in the same light.

I find it somewhat hypocritical that many of the people who talk about keeping America for Americans are descended from a group of people who invaded the country and exterminated the original Americans (not that their descendants are somehow collectively responsible--I don't believe in original sin). Until they're willing to go back to England I don't think they should be telling anybody to go back to Mexico.

So open the borders. Completely. I really don't see where "justice" comes in when they are essentially doing what we laud our ancestors for doing, and unlike some of our ancestors they're even managing to pull it off without recourse to genocide.


3) Erik Linton

In Utah, fishing from the back of a horse is illegal. In California, no vehicle without a driver can exceed 60 miles per hour. In the US it is illegal to wear a fake moustache that causes laughter in church. When it comes to laws, not all are equally respected or enforced. Living in the United States without proper documentation is a violation of this country's laws for a good reason, but there is a lot of debate about how this law should be enforced. Even good laws can be harmful when they are enforced too severely. I don't think illegally living in the United States is a crime which merits separation of family members. I think that our current system encourages undocumented persons to hide and the long term public health, economic, and political results of a marginalized people in any society is negative one. 

I am proud of being a member of a church were people are recognized foremost as being human and children of God, not by their legal status.  


4) Ryan Decker

Imagine your city passes a law banning employment of members of a certain group. The group may be women, Jews, African Americans, or even those with an LDS church membership record number. Any employer who receives applications from members of this group must reject them. Any member of this group seeking employment may be arrested. Most Americans would find such a policy morally appalling.

Our immigration policy prohibits employment of almost all people who were unlucky enough to have been born on the wrong side of certain lines on a map. But it does much more than that. The people in my hypothetical city may be able to relocate to a place with better economic opportunities, but immigration policies in rich countries effectively condemn the world’s poor to lives of hunger and premature death (see Pritchett 2006).

Further, strict immigration restrictions even harm the lucky citizens of America. Immigration policy tells employers whom they can and cannot hire, prohibiting mutually voluntary transactions between adults. Immigration restrictions raise the price of many goods and services by ensuring that production is costlier than necessary; would America be richer if we had banned tractors in the 1800s? Arguments about low-skilled immigrants “stealing” jobs (i.e., offering to work for lower wages than other job seekers) make as much sense as the claim that a gas station that charges less for gas than the station up the road is unfairly “stealing” customers. More generally, the entire world pays a price for restricting immigration, as we trap productive resources (labor) in unproductive places. Estimates of the net economic benefits of looser immigration law—for both the nation and the world—vary widely but are generally massive (see Caplan 2012). Few, if any, policies would have the poverty-reducing power of freer movement of people, including people without advanced skills.

Our current level of immigration restrictions is indefensible, both morally and economically. Any policy change will have winners and losers, but nearly everyone loses from the status quo—and the most economically vulnerable lose everything. It is time to do the right thing for Americans and the world’s poor: forgive existing immigrants for the crime of seeking a decent life, and reduce the barriers preventing others from doing the same.

Caplan, Bryan. 2012. Why should we restrict immigration? Cato Journal 32 no. 1:5-24. At http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/pdfs/whyimmigration.pdf

Pritchett, Lant. 2006. Let Their People Come: Breaking the Gridlock on Global Labor Mobility. Center for Global Development. At http://www.cgdev.org/publication/9781933286105-let-their-people-come-breaking-gridlock-global-labor-mobility


5) V. M. Hudson

Immigration reform is absolutely necessary. The current system appears arbitrary and therefore cruel. Yet I am not as convinced as my colleagues Cranney, Linton, and Decker that open borders are the answer here. I take my cue from scriptures such as Luke 14:28, Mosiah 4:27, D&C 63:24, and D&C 101:72. Perhaps this is the Relief Society talking through me, but a truly open border is one of those pretty abstract ideas that looks a heck of a lot different when you are the ones having to pick up the compassionate service pieces at ground level.

No country has fully open borders, for all the reasons these scriptures indicate--large movements of people without advance preparation to support their needs (and they will be very needy initially) leads to serious problems. How will the flood of immigrants find enough food? Where will they all find housing? Where will they all find jobs? How will they live if many of them do not find jobs? How will the country afford to educate a huge wave of new K-12 students? How will current Medicaid coffers stretch to cover the immense need for health services? How will Medicare absorb large numbers of new enrollees? My colleagues may think that only mobile, unencumbered workers are coming, but there will be plenty of babies and toddlers and children and women who must be primary caretakers, and the chronically ill, and the elderly. We must think of their fate as well.

Even with plenty of goodwill, it's going to take a heck of a lot more than goodwill--it's going to take serious preparation and organization. I see nothing in my colleagues' views that addresses this point, so I have to question how serious they really are about an open border. Maybe it takes a member of the Relief Society to ask these types of down-to-earth questions--in which case, I sure hope a member of the General Relief Society presidency is at the table when immigration reform is discussed!

This is not to say that the current immigration system is optimal. It surely is not. But any immigration reform proposal that does not suggest how to prepare and organize to meet the immense human needs of a more open system is a non-starter. Needs and resources and political will must be correlated. As the Savior said about the pursuit of spiritually laudatory goals, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?" Good works both demand and deserve good planning.


6) Raymond Takashi Swenson

National borders are not mere lines on a map. They define the boundaries of authority. The government of Mexico has no authority to tax the citizens of Arizona, or to prescribe rules governing air pollution by the people of California.  The USA has no authority to draft residents of Canada into military service.  The authority of police to arrest, and of courts to judge, is limited by national boundaries.

One of the internationally recognized rights of nations is to ban the import of illegal drugs, and the entry of criminals, both those fleeing punishment in other jurisdictions and the ones intending to commit crimes in the entered nation.  A nation that does not control its borders for those purposes is ceding control to smugglers and criminal organizations. As recent events in Europe show, a nation that cannot control who enters its land is liable to lose its land.

For many reasons, each nation needs to control its boundaries. Once that control has been established, the question of who it allows to immigrate and become resident can, for the first time, be tackled as a real issue under its control.  Without border control, immigration policies are meaningless. 

The laws of supply and demand say that, if there is a limitless supply of labor willing to work at very low wages, the price of labor will stay very low.  It is the very proliferation of immigrant labor that ensures the relative poverty of the surplus of illegal immigrants. A regime that limits the number of unskilled workers crossing the border would raise the wages of those who are already here. It is not in the best interest of immigrants already here to have unlimited movement of competitors for their jobs. 

The original limits enacted by Congress on immigration were largely based on racial prejudice. The 1923 statute that barred new immigration from Japan was a prelude to the World War II internment of both immigrants and native born Americans of Japanese descent.  That law was still in force when I was born in Japan in 1949 to my Japanese mother, but was changed by 1952 when Japan had become a needed ally in the Korean War.

Later immigration laws have had largely arbitrary limits on immigration that have not been adjusted to correspond to the growth of the US economy or the actual need for labor at various skill levels. The fact that the economy has absorbed large numbers of workers above what the statutory quotas allow shows that disconnect.  The quotas are the product of the same congressional sausage factory that has given us other laws that are criticized by large numbers of citizens. They are not in the sacred Constitution and were not carried down from Sinai on tablets written by the finger of God.  They should be adjusted to reflect a balance between demand for labor and the cost to society, including unemployment. A process could involve readjustment every two years by a semi-independent commission using an agreed formula. Further, the Federal government should assume the responsibility to ensure that companies that benefit from immigrant labor are not externalizing the costs of that labor. For example,  farm produce could be taxed to fund basic health care and other benefits for immigrants to relieve taxpayers in border states. Abuse of immigrant workers with the threat of deportation would be curtailed as we create a realistic system that allows but regulates immigrant labor.

The result would be a system that does not allow unrestricted immigration, and raises wages for them and for citizen Americans as the supply of labor is decreased.  The transition to a more realistic and less hypocritical system will not be easy, but it requires real border control, so that numbers are enforced, and a realistic adjustable quota for new immigration, along with relief to border states for the disproportionate burdens immigration places on them. The fact is that the entire immigrant worker process has been an exercise in deviation from the law by the Federal government, by businesses, and by individuals.  Obedience to statutes has been arbitrary and hypocritical, more like a corrupt satrapy than the nation that tries to lead the Free World.  For the government to put the punishment and blame on the workers it manipulates is dishonest and corrupt.


7) George 'Brandon' Sherwood

Let me echo the need for solid control of borders.  Without such control other policies are merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  There are a number of differences between the wave of illegal immigrants coming across the southern border of the United States and previous immigrant waves.  Without getting into all of the historical differences between previous waves the single most important difference is that of territorial contiguity.  Waves of Italians, or Irish, or Chinese, or other large immigrant groups in the past, never had immediate access to the country of their origin that the massive influx of Mexican illegal immigrants has.  That creates some marked differences.  One is that it undercuts the real need for becoming truly integrated into the country they have moved into.

In fact, among the data available, it is easy to discern that this is the case.  Of all foreign speaking immigrants to the United States, those whose native language is Spanish have the slowest rate of English acquisition.  How could this be considering that Spanish is a good deal closer to English in both form and vocabulary than Vietnamese, Korean, Punjabi, or myriad other languages?  Because, the size of the influx and the links back to Mexico and through Mexico to points further south virtually eliminates the need for actual linguistic assimilation.  This is problematic, not because of some inherent problem with Spanish, be because failure to learn the language of the new host country hamstrings ability to get work beyond menial jobs, it prevents participation in political process, prevents making their case to the citizens of the host nation, and makes them largely alien to those around them. 

But a bigger issue at play is that winking at the very illegality of illegal immigrant status creates a two tiered system of racial/national preferences: by only selectively enforcing the law, our government is in effect saying to citizens: You have to obey unless you happen to be from a special class of people who come from south of the border.  You cannot engage in the kind of on-going document fraud that is required of most illegal immigrants, unless you are Mexican, where it will then not only be tolerated by argued in favor of.

That selective enforcement is corrosive to rule of law.  It says that others, namely those that tried to go through the process legally, were, in essence, chumps.  It also sends the signal that there is an inherent preference for Mexican immigrants versus immigrants from Asia, Africa, Europe, or other parts of the world.  Having got rid of racial preferences as Brother Swenson described, I find it problematic to recreate them on a de facto basis.

Besides these problems, one of the things that the huge influx of illegal immigrants does is severely weaken the position of low skilled workers native to the United States.  Part of the difficulty that the African-American community has suffered over the last 30 years can be laid at the feet of being driven out of the work force by cheap labor brought up from Mexico.  That has left many in that particular community in a position to not take care of themselves.

While I sympathize with the desire Mexicans and Central Americans have to better their circumstances by coming to the United States, albeit illegally, I do not feel I can support efforts to normalize that status because doing so creates circumstances in my own country that I believe to be deleterious.  I believe nations have a responsibility to their own citizens and, while holding no ill toward other nations, must be accountable first and foremost to those who already have a legal claim on them.

Illegal immigrants already have a claim on a nation: their home countries.  They must do their best to get those countries to make changes sufficient to improve their lot in life there, rather than seeking to extend a claim to the United States which in a very real way is at cross purposes with the claims United States citizens have on their own nation and government.