Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

My SLTrib Op-Ed from last year

It’s not available on the SLTrib main search page now, I thought I’d post it here to have it available online.  

Harsh immigration laws echo 19th century anti-Mormon legislation
By Kaimipono D. Wenger
Article Last Updated: 02/25/2008 06:20:25 AM MST

The Salt Lake Tribune

The 47th Congress was a busy bunch of bigots. In March of 1882, they passed the Edmunds Act, a notorious anti-Mormon law that barred polygamists from voting, serving on juries or holding office. This law (along with related statutes) sent hundreds of Mormon men into federal prison and shattered families across Mormon country. 
Barely a month later, that same Congress passed another odious law. Called the Chinese Exclusion Act, it was the first major federal immigration law, and it was explicitly designed to keep out the despised Asian immigrants. It set the framework for the draconian approach to immigration that continues to this day. 
Both the hateful immigration laws and hateful anti-Mormon laws were challenged in court. The racist Supreme Court of the era upheld both laws in close succession, with telling language that compared Mormons to Asians. Apparently, that was reason enough to allow persecution of both groups. 
This tainted history is just one reason why some Latter-day Saints like me are troubled by current immigration laws and proposals. Today’s harsh laws and harsher proposals are a direct legacy of the most hateful anti-Mormon legislators of the late 19th century. 
It’s an awfully good thing that Congress didn’t start regulating immigration until shortly after the largest wave of Mormon immigration was finished. If the hateful and anti-Mormon Congress had thought to 
exercise this power just a few decades earlier, there’s little doubt that they would have included Mormons – along with Chinese and other outsiders – as undesirables, subject to exclusion and deportation. 
Sometimes fellow church members ask me, but what about the Articles of Faith? This is an important series of short statements setting out basic church beliefs, and one of them (the 12th) states that church members believe in “obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.” 
Does that mean that church members – legislators, even – should support more stringent immigration law policy or enforcement? 
No, it doesn’t. Church members are not required to support unjust, anti-family laws; and in fact, church history is full of opposition to such laws. Church members vigorously opposed the unjust, anti-family Edmunds Act and its cousins, and we should similarly oppose (in existence and enforcement) the harsh immigration laws that sprang from the same poisoned well. 
Immigration laws as enforced today are among the most anti-family laws in existence. Every single day, immigration officials break up families, flaunting another recent statement of church doctrine – the church’s Proclamation on the Family, which solemnly declares that children are entitled to a home with father and mother. 
Recent proposals to further penalize immigrants would only make matters worse. A better immigration policy would be one that built on the proclamation’s statement that children are entitled to be reared by father and mother. It would focus on keeping immigrant families together, rather than tearing them apart. 
Immigration barriers also clash with another of the church’s basic Articles of Faith – the 10th article of faith, which prophesies the “literal gathering of Israel” to a promised land here in the United States. This idea corresponds to verses from the Book of Isaiah that “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains,” and that “all nations shall flow unto it.” 
Church leaders have long explained these verses as a prophecy that the nations of the Earth would come to the temples of the Lord in the Utah mountains. (The idea is reflected in popular church hymns like “High on the Mountain Top.”) 
If church members really believe in this gathering, why would we try to impede it? We should instead welcome the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the nations of the Earth be gathered to Zion. 
As church Elder Marlin Jensen recently reiterated, “Immigration questions are questions dealing with God’s children.” In these matters, a humane approach is required. We are all children of God, a popular church hymn goes, and He has sent us here; He gives us an earthly home and parents kind and dear. 
Children are entitled to be raised within those homes, not in homes fractured by misguided government policies. Legislators of all religious persuasions should take steps to reinforce immigrant homes and families, not tear them down. 
And people everywhere who share Latter-day Saint values should follow Elder Jensen’s words, and push for more humane immigration laws and policies. 
* KAIMIPONO D. WENGER is an assistant professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.


February 2, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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