Saturday, February 16, 2008

Political Musings III: Illegal Immigration

Deseret News article revisits this issue -- Debate resumes over illegal immigrants' status in LDS Church.

Comments made by an LDS Church leader this week again stirred debate in Mormon circles about whether the church should baptize illegal immigrants or allow them to enter its temples.

"The church's view of someone in undocumented status is akin, in a way, to a civil trespass," said Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, relating it to coming onto someone's property uninvited. "There is nothing inherent or wrong about that status."

Elder Jensen's comment came Wednesday during an interfaith forum on immigration at Westminster College in response to an audience question.
While I admire Elder Jensen's charity, he apparently misspoke in asserting that there is "nothing inherent or wrong" about illegal trespass. It is clearly a violation of the law.

Elder Jensen's analogy goes too far in attempting to paint illegal immigration as benign and harmless. The attendent issues are fraught with difficulty, starting from the assumption of legal and financial liabilty, including welfare and taxation, and continuing on to more esoteric considerations such as cultural integration and nationalism.

If matters were as simple as someone merrily tripping across my front yard to ring the doorbell, the subject would not be attracting the kind of attention it currently draws.

The basic issue turns on our responsibilty to honor and sustain the law. Even when we believe the laws are wrong, or when we think application of the law results in some kind of injustice, we are obligated to continue to act within legal constraints. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has addressed this issue in public comments -- Some Responsibilities of Citizenship Dallin H. Oaks, America’s Freedom Festival at Provo, Marriott Center,July 3, 1994.

Even when victimized by what they must surely have seen as very severe government oppressions and abridgments of freedom, the Mormon people and their leaders have remained loyal to their government and its laws....As long as a government provides aggrieved persons an opportunity to work to enlarge their freedoms and relieve their oppressions by legal and peaceful means, a Latter-day Saint citizen's duty is to forego revolution and disobedience of law. Our doctrine commits us to work from within. Even an oppressive government is preferable to a state of lawlessness and anarchy in which the only ruling principle is force and every individual has a thousand oppressors.
In this campaigning season, some suggest that interest in this issue is all about pandering for votes.

While that is obviously a factor in bringing this issue to the forefront, apparently Church leaders see it as a greater priority -- not just the election scheming that dominates the news just now.

I looked at this issue a while back on my blog --

Political Musings II.

In the early openings of this legislative session in Utah, the Utah legislature met with LDS Church leaders in a sort of advisory session. One of the messages from the Church was a suggestion that illegal aliens deserve a lighter treatment than the current harsh rhetoric in legislative consideration seems to indicate.

The context here is that Utah lawmakers are now sponsoring a number of new laws to deal more harshly with the problems of illegal immigration in this state. Perhaps the suggestions from the Church were intended to be a word to the wise. He that hath ears...

We'll see.

I am thinking too that it cannot be a small consideration for the Church to look forward to a large pool of potential converts in this tide of illegal immigrants.

Several years ago, I heard this idea suggested by an area representative who was addressing our stake conference.

More recently, a general conference address from President Hinckley, deploring racial discrimination.

When a man grows old he develops a softer touch, a kindlier manner. I have thought of this much of late.

I have wondered why there is so much hatred in the world. We are involved in terrible wars with lives lost and many crippling wounds. Coming closer to home, there is so much of jealousy, pride, arrogance, and carping criticism; fathers who rise in anger over small, inconsequential things and make wives weep and children fear.

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.  (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign, May 2006, 58-61)

President Hinckley's words cut me deeply at the time he spoke them. I still feel myself condemned, as one who has often been guilty of enjoying "racial slurs and denigrating remarks".

I'm still trying to be better.

When I get to considering the human issues involved in the illegal immigration picture, I am reminded of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.   Jean Valjean, condemned to a lifetime of servitude, because he tried to steal bread to help feed his starving family. The underlying message of the story is that the society he lived in created the environment of privation and repression that led to his criminal act. The evil part of his society and culture imposed every effort to create an evil man. And still, through many twists and turns, the story eventually celebrates the triumph of freedom and good will.

Human need and suffering has to be a significant consideration in weighing the law and circumstances that result in someone breaking the law. I don't know how to measure or judge these things -- I'm just a foolish old man. But I know that they must be in our thoughts, if we ever wish to understand the truth of such matters.

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