On March 8, 2013, President Obama met with a small group of invited faith leaders to discuss immigration reform. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, the second councilor to the Mormon prophet, was among those invited. He is a natural choice in that he has been an immigrant three times in his life and the Mormons have made immigration reform one of the few political topics in which they have taken an interest.
As a church, the Mormons are politically neutral. Its members belong to many different parties, both in the United States and worldwide. They do not speak out in support of specific parties, but do periodically become involved in moral issues, particularly those that impact families, a core value to Mormons. On the issue of immigration reform, they have adopted a fairly moderate approach that balances justice and mercy.
In November 2010, the Church endorsed without signing the Utah compact. They had been involved in an advisory capacity in its development—not in drawing up legislation, but only in recommending certain moral principles for the political leaders to consider. The resulting document was a bi-partisan and multi-denominational success that was hailed by the New York Times:
“Not all the political news this year involves the rise of partisan extremism and government by rage. There has been lots of that. But maybe there is a limit, a point when people of good sense and good will band together to say no. As they have just done in Utah.” (See New York Times Editorial Praises the Utah Compact.)
When reporting on its support of the compact, Mormon leaders outlined their stance on sensible immigration reform:
The Church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform. It is consistent with important principles for which we stand:
“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.
We recognize an ever-present need to strengthen families. Families are meant to be together. Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society.
We acknowledge that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders. All persons subject to a nation’s laws are accountable for their acts in relation to them.
Public officials should create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society. Such laws will properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws.” (See Church Supports Principles of Utah Compact on Immigration.)
President Barack Obama invited fourteen faith leaders to the White House to discuss immigration reform. They were a varied group, both religiously and politically. President Uchtdorf said that each leader had an opportunity to share his faith’s beliefs and values on this subject. While the group did not always agree on everything, they did agree on the moral issues at stake in this challenge, and were particularly concerned about protecting families.
As an immigrant, President Uchtdorf took the opportunity to share his own immigration experiences which eventually brought him to the United States of America as a newly called Mormon apostle. He is now a naturalized citizen.
President Uchtdorf was born in the Czech Republic. While his father was a soldier, his parents agreed that if the situation became too dangerous in their Nazi-controlled homeland, his mother was to leave with the family, which she did. They settled in Eastern Germany, but this too became too dangerous. His father was a Soviet dissenter, which caused them to again depart, this time to West Berlin, which was then controlled by Americans. He lived there until immigrating to the United States. President Uchtdorf noted that the legal immigration process he followed was cumbersome and that legal immigration needs to be done in such a way as to allow immigrants dignity and a feeling of safety.
President Uchtdorf suggested personal approval for the idea of treating recent immigrants differently than earlier immigrants, many of whom came thirty or more years ago and were essentially invited and welcomed if they worked in fields. He was pleased with President Obama’s plans for immigration reform.
“He just said in this value process we need to stand together and make sure the United States is still a place where people can come and, once they come, feel not at fear. And do it, of course, in a lawful way. He was talking about his principles and what he said was totally in line with our values.” (See Mormon leader: Obama’s immigration plan matches LDS values.)
For Mormons, immigration reform is an issue of humanitarian concern, not a partisan one. President Uchtdorf said, “”Whether we are Christians or other faith groups, we focus on the human side. Yes, we should obey the law, but we need to take a look at how it impacts individuals and families.” (See President Uchtdorf, faith leaders counsel President Obama on Immigration.)
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.