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LDS Church statement on DACA calls for 'hope and opportunity'

The Church Administration Building
The Church Administration Building

SALT LAKE CITY — As immigration, amnesty and "Dreamers" return to this week's headlines, the LDS Church released a statement Friday on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, calling for immigration provisions to strengthen and maintain families and to allow hope and opportunities for undocumented immigrants who have grown up in the United States and call it home.

In the statement, the LDS Church says it is not advocating for any specific legislative or executive solution, and it acknowledges each nation has a right to enforce its laws and secure its borders, with all people accountable for their actions in relation to those laws.

DACA, an Obama-era U.S. immigration policy, provided some protections for young immigrants — known as "Dreamers" — who either entered or remained in the country illegally. President Donald Trump ended the program last September.

Of the "Dreamers," the LDS statement said: "They have built lives, pursued educational opportunities and been employed for years based on the policies that were in place. These individuals have demonstrated a capacity to serve and contribute positively in our society, and we believe they should be granted the opportunity to continue to do so."

President Trump this week proposed a framework of immigration legislation that gives limited DACA-like amnesty but also calls for increased border security and sweeping immigration measures.

Friday's entire statement from the LDS Church reads:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established in 188 nations around the globe. Issues of immigration and legal status are of concern for many of our members. Most of our early Church members emigrated from foreign lands to live, work and worship, blessed by the freedoms and opportunities offered in this great nation.

"Immigration is a complex and sometimes divisive issue. As we have stated before, we believe that our first priority is to love and care for one another as Jesus Christ taught. Each nation must determine and administer its policies related to immigration. The church does not advocate any specific legislative or executive solution. Our hope is that, in whatever solution emerges, there is provision for strengthening families and keeping them together. We also acknowledge that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders and that all persons subject to a nation's laws are accountable for their acts in relation to them.

"We welcome the sincere efforts of lawmakers and leaders to seek for solutions that honor these principles and extend compassion to those seeking a better life. Specifically, we call upon our national leaders to create policies that provide hope and opportunities for those, sometimes referred to as ‘Dreamers,’ who grew up here from a young age and for whom this country is their home. They have built lives, pursued educational opportunities and been employed for years based on the policies that were in place. These individuals have demonstrated a capacity to serve and contribute positively in our society, and we believe they should be granted the opportunity to continue to do so."

On Thursday, President Trump proposed legislation framework that observers labeled as trading amnesty for a border wall — a way to citizenship for up to 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants in the U.S. in exchange for $25 billion toward border security, including the construction of the wall.

The proposal also includes two other “pillars,” as called by the White House, seeking to suppress family-based or "chain" migration and the diversity visa lottery. It would also crack down on other immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and give expanded power to federal immigration authorities.

The 1.8 million number includes the 690,000 people given protection under DACA as well as more than a million more who could have qualified but who never applied.

The LDS Church's statement drew acknowledgement and appreciation.

"Strengthening and keeping families together is also of utmost importance to me, and I applaud their encouragement to seek a balance between compassion and border security," Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said. "I recently met with the president to discuss solutions about how to move forward on immigration, and I look forward to having a seat at the table and working with my colleagues in the House on immigration legislation."

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who is challenging Love in the 4th Congressional District in this fall's elections, said: "I am grateful to LDS Church leaders for supporting policies that provide hope and opportunities for the young immigrants known as the ‘Dreamers.’ Strengthening families is a core Utah value and is reflected in the statement on the current federal immigration debate that was issued by my church leaders today, joining their voices with leaders of other faiths in Utah.”

One of those voices of faith came from the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

"The statement from our brothers and sisters at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a welcome reminder of our shared values as people of faith," said Jean Hill, liaison for government and community relations. "The Diocese of Salt Lake City is hopeful that our common desire to protect the vulnerables, preserve family unity and promote human dignity will be reflected in the decision of our congressional delegation regarding immigration."

Skyler Anderson, an immigration attorney with Taylorsville's Anderson & Benson, said he was delighted and encouraged by the statement "supporting all the amazing 'Dreamers' in this county," having gotten to know many very well through the years.

"This really should be a no-brainer," Anderson said. "Deporting this amazing group of people would only hurt our nation, all for the misguided purpose of sending a poorly defined and poorly understood message. I hope that everyone who reads the Church's statement, whether members of the LDS faith or not, will support the belief that 'our first priority should always be to love and care for one another.'"

For several years, the LDS Church has pointed media inquiring about its response regarding immigration to a post titled “Immigration” on its “Topics” page. The text also flags what it says was the church’s most recent statement on immigration, released in June 2011.

In the "Immigration" post, the church says it "regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform" and helping lead to legislation that "will properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws.”

The Utah Compact was a November 2010 declaration of five principles to "guide Utah's immigration discussion" that drew unified support from business, law enforcement, legislative and religious leaders, with the document ceremoniously signed at the Utah States Capitol.

In recent years, the church has also highlighted a February 2011 Deseret News editorial titled “A Model for the Nation,” which states that the Utah Compact is a model for the other states and U.S. Congress, not just in principle but as an example of cooperative, respectful dialogue and debate.

The Utah Compact also was mentioned by a Mormon leader who joined counterparts from other religions to meet with President Barack Obama in 2013 and 2014 on immigration reform matters.

In 2014, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — then a second counselor in the faith's First Presidency and himself twice a refugee in Germany during World War II — reaffirmed for the second time in as many years the church’s stance on immigration and again shared key points from the Utah Compact, calling the compact a pillar of federal immigration reform.