Moral Leadership From Some US Religious Leaders on Immigration

I was pleased and relieved this morning to see a tweet from Father James Martin linking to and discussing the moral leadership of US Catholic Bishops against the inhumane, shocking, and dangerous asylum decision that domestic abuse and gang violence will not count as grounds for seeking asylum in the United States of America, which many see as the land of liberty where they can begin a new life protected by the rule of law and strong institutions.

“A denial of our heritage”

The America Magazine article linked in the tweet describes brave, outspoken, and direly necessary criticism directed by US Catholic bishops at this asylum decision. For instance,

“San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy called a ruling by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reject such claims ‘a denial of our heritage.’

“‘For the whole of our history, the United States has been a refuge for people seeking protection from oppression,’ he said. ‘If we are going to begin now to categorize domestic violence and rape as other than an oppression of people’s human dignity, then we have truly lost our moral compass as a country.’

“He added, ‘This is simply the end of the United States being the haven to refugees in the world, the end of our great national tradition.'”

My heart thrilled at this statement! This expresses my view about my country as well. I want America to live up to its Christian aspiration of being a light on a hill, a beacon of hope, and a place of refuge. The asylum decision kills part of our culture that was the most valuable. Can a Christian Zion exist in such an atmosphere?

The Archbishop of Galveston-Houston emphasized the asylum decision undermines and threatens the culture of life the Catholic Church has long supported in its opposition to abortion and the death penalty:

“‘The Attorney General’s recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection,’ he said.

“‘These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country,’ he said. ‘This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence. Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors.’ The cardinal urged U.S. courts and policymakers ‘to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.'”

Leading executives of Catholic initiatives noted this also threatens religious freedom:

“‘To declare that asylum can no longer be granted to victims of gang violence or spouse abuse not only flies in the face of the American tradition of protecting the most vulnerable immigrants, it sets a dangerous precedent for other victims of violence, including those who are targeted for their religious beliefs,’ said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (Clinic), in a statement released on June 11. According to Clinic, asylum law has long recognized that persecution can occur at the hands of entities that a national government is ‘unable or unwilling to control,’ including terrorist groups like the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Tamil Tigers.”

“Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”

I was further encouraged by New York Times Reporter Laurie Goodstein’s thread highlighting other US religious leaders also speaking out against the inhumane, terrorizing tactic recently announced of separating children — including infants and toddlers — from their parents whether they are legally seeking asylum at a port of entry or attempting to enter the United States illegally.

Again, the US Catholic Bishops are leading the push, as expressed by US Cardinal DiNardo, who noted in a statement that “Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together.” The idea that families are foundational elements of society used to be a principle that American political conservatives trumpeted loudly and frequently in their efforts to combat policies or cultural trends relating to sexual conduct they viewed as threatening the familial unit.

As the America Magazine article notes,

“In his statement on June 13 on behalf of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal DiNardo took the opportunity to join with Bishop Joe Vásquez, chairman of U.S.C.C.B.’s Committee on Migration, in condemning ‘the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the administration’s zero tolerance policy.’

“‘Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma,’ he said. ‘Families are the foundational element of our society, and they must be able to stay together.’ The cardinal acknowledged that ‘protecting our borders is important,’ but, he said, ‘we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.‘”

Goodstein also notes in her Twitter thread that other key “socially conservative” religious political demographics including the Southern Baptist Convention (see Resolution 5 on Immigration) and the Evangelical Immigration Table, representing a large contingency of American Evangelical leadership, as well as individual Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham have expressed shock and outrage at the family separation policy. (Graham places blame on past politicians, not the current Administration that actually enacted this new family separation policy.)

“O, my father, what are the men going to do with you?”

Some Mormons have also protested from a grassroots level. BCC Permablogger Michael Austin forcefully denounced the family separation policy in a recent post. JKC, another BCC Permablogger, added a powerful protest rooted directly in current Mormon teachings and linking them to revelations to Joseph Smith from the beginning of the Restoration:

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World says that ‘the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, nations, and communities the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.’ Some say that this applies only to gay marriage, but I can think of no more obvious or violent disintegration happening today of the institution of the family than a government practice to literally, physically tear children from their parents unnecessarily.

“I won’t hide my pro-immigration views, but I recognize that there’s room to disagree in good faith about how to strike the proper balance between the important competing interests that inform immigration policy. But there’s no good faith policy argument for unnecessarily separating parents from children.

“Separating children and parents is in our own history and scripture so obviously evil that that’s the example that section 122 draws upon to show how awful the persecution was that the saints endured: ‘if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you?’

“There’s almost nothing more sacred than the Child-Parent bond. Even the gospel of Christ itself speaks of our conversion in terms of becoming a son or daughter of God in order to express the unbreakable nature of the gospel covenant, to show that ‘nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.’ This is no time to stand on byzantine legal technicalities (I saw that as a lawyer that loves legal technicalities). We’re in the realm of fundamental wrong and right that precedes legal obligations.

“Let’s disagree about policy, but the unnecessary separation of children from parents is something that should outrage any conservative and any liberal who claims to believe in protecting the family. It is my belief that if we allow it to continue, God will not excuse us, and will not forgive us unless we repent in sackcloth and ashes.”

BCC Permablogger Kristine also attentively addressed issues raised in the comments to Michael Austin’s post through a string of trenchant remarks, powerfully criticizing the family separation policy and especially its emotional, psychological, and overall detrimental effects for the children involved. One of her comments in particular caught my attention because it broached the race issue: “I mean, for heaven’s sake, Mormons OFTEN make arguments about how awful it is for a mother to leave her children in someone else’s care for a few hours a day so she can go to work. How is it possible for us to immediately forget all of that when the mothers and children in question are brown or poor?”

Does anyone have any examples from the last few months (or ever) of white illegal immigrant or asylum-seeking families from Canada, Europe, Eastern Europe, or Russia having the infant or toddler children forcefully separated from mothers or parents so the parents can be sent to prison awaiting a deportation hearing while the children are held in chain-linked cages in empty Walmarts with other children they don’t know — often much older children including teenagers? (I haven’t seen any.)

In the absence of further direct moral leadership on this issue, one avenue Mormons have is prayer that God will see fit to intervene and correct this shameful, cynical, and dangerous denial of our moral promise as a people and country. Other possibilities for action certainly exist — what are some concrete things you are doing to oppose the family separation policy and the asylum decision and to help offer protection to our brothers and sisters fleeing here to this American “land of promise” and to defend their families?


  1. One of the most powerful moments of the recent Mormon History Association conference was Sujey Vega’s call to look to the Latinx youth leading the way (in some ways in definane of our leaders) in calling for justice and really, fairness for all. I’ll link in the next comment since it will get lost in the spam filters but if you see this comment, hopefully you’ll release it.

  2. A call to recognize #Mormon liberation theology and the LDS Latino/Latina youth pioneering today. #MHA2018— Mormon History Association (@MormonHistAssoc) June 8, 2018

  3. Yes, exactly. We can stop this, but it is going to take moral leadership from religious groups that traditionally back (or at least lean) Republican. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has risen magnificently to the occasion. Previous LDS statements on immigration stress the importance of keeping families together, and I pray that our leaders will soon address this policy directly and forcefully. Thank you for amplifying these statements. It is crucial that we do any way that we can.

  4. Thanks EmJen — looks like an interesting talk!

    Yes, Michael, it goes without saying that mainline Protestant institutions have already long opposed these horrendous immigration policies and advocated for humane and decent policies and treatment of would be immigrants. The recent shift is that now the religious leadership of religious institutions that identify themselves for political purposes in the United States as “conservative” or GOP-supporting are also expressing shock and dismay at these immigration developments.

  5. At the end of the post, I asked if anyone is doing anything concrete to oppose the family separation policy and the asylum decision and to defend immigrant families.

    I’ve just learned Mormon Women for Ethical Government has planned a “Keep Families Together Border Vigil” in Nogales, Arizona on June 23rd at 6 pm:

    Please join the Arizona chapter of Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) for a “Keep Families Together” vigil/gathering of women and children at the border in Nogales, Arizona on June 23rd at 6 pm. Due to our current administrations destructive practice of separating children from their families at our Southern border, we and others of like-mind will gather with children along the border to sing hymns in English and Spanish, read meaningful statements and scriptural passages, and literally shine a light with a candlelit moment of prayer for those suffering as a result of this terrible policy.
    We plead with everyone whose hearts are touched by the plight of these families to please contact your members of Congress about it as well as to prayerfully beseech the Lord to soften the hearts of those in position to change these practices.

    We invite everyone who wishes to participate with us to pledge to honor MWEG’s six fundamental Principles of Peacemaking (as found at ) which includes refraining from shouting, hate speech, or retaliation of any kind during this peaceful vigil.

    This looks like an excellent opportunity to make Mormon voices against these policies heard.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for this, John,

  7. I noticed John does have a bio under “Authors” on this website. Like the other writers, it would be nice to know a little about John F.

  8. Mormon father of five — including a 7 and a 4 year old. (I can’t imagine their anguish if they were pulled from my wife’s or my arms by weapons-wielding, uniformed officers and taken to a warehouse and housed in chain-linked cages with older kids.) Lawyer. Former student of literature. Wanna-be Pilgrim and traveler. BCC blogger for over a decade.

  9. jaxjensen says:

    Asylum should be sought when it is unsafe to be in your own country. An abusive spouse or gang violence are typically only issues that wouldn’t apply since they usually only affect specific locals, not an entire nation. You could just as easily avoid violence in your city by moving to another city/state. The smaller the nation the harder this is to do simply because of lack of options. The larger the nation (say, Mexico) the easier it is to get away without the need to go to another country.

    This isn’t always the case. I know an asylum family from Argentina where the father was involved in gang activity that lead to one son getting shot and another almost as he saved the 1st ones life. Mom and 4 kids came to the US under asylum protections, and I’ve helped assist the 3 boys who are all on stateside missions right now. I’m not sure if they would qualify for asylum under the new system. Perhaps not. Argentina is big enough that they could have probably relocated there and been perfectly safe. I don’t know if they’d qualify now, and that would be a loss to the Utah County community.

    So I don’t see much fault with the policy in theory, but I see how it could have previously negatively affected a family I care about. So… torn.

  10. I love your fierce spirit, my friend.

  11. This policy tears me up. I’ve been trying to be active about it for the last few weeks. I feel hopeless about actually making change happen but here are some of the things I’ve tried and am trying:

    -Call: federal reps, state rep, and governor
    -write letters to the editor
    -attend a rally (for those in SLC there is one tomorrow night, June 14 6-8 PM, )
    -volunteer for a congressional campaign (which I’ve never done before this election cycle, but I live in the only competitive district in Utah and Mia Love has been terrible on this issue)
    -request meetings with staffers (no luck, I’m probably blacklisted…)
    -donate to the ACLU

    Some things I haven’t tried yet:
    -Send postcards (supposed to be better than writing letters because they don’t have to be screened)
    -Show up to a rep office and try to talk to someone

    I would love to attend some peaceful protests – picketing offices, sit-ins, marches. Organizing that sort of thing is beyond me though. There are very few things I would be willing to get arrested for but this is one of them.

  12. The problem is a policy that widens large enough for most of the world to fall under. Most of the world are not up to the standards in domestic abuse and violence that the US, and hundred of millions, and possibly billion of people live in conditions comparable to a degree to what these poor people currently live under in these Central American countries. In addition there is no doubt that a high number of migrants of these countries are economic migrants that do fear gang violence, but similar to how kids in a Chicago and Baltimore fear violence in their cities. While things such as police corruption are different in those places, the murder rate is quite comparable. Also, according to PEW most state that they move for economic reasons. Over 25% state that they would move without authorization and 75% state they have family and/or friends currently residing in the United States.

    I have no doubt that most are running from poverty and a general sense of violence. A significant number are also running from specific threats that if returned would substantially put their life at risk. However, when you go from 9,000 asylum claims to 90,000 in a 10 year period from countries with historically high murder and violence rate(mid 2000s the murder rate was consistently in 30-50 deaths per 100,000… spiked in early 2010s in some areas to 70s during some years) there is a gaming of the system. Just the interviews with these poor people has shown that there is an attitude of anyone south of the border having a “right” to immigrate to the US and they are justified to do anything to secure that right, even if it means making fraudulent claims.

  13. Geoff - Aus says:

    Where are our church leaders on this? As you point out basic church familt stuff, why are our leaders not in the lead on this?
    It would be more effective to have percieved supporters condemning these actions.

  14. Thank you, John F. Your comment is timely and helpful for other readers interested in doing something concrete about these cruel family separations. And thank you so much, Michael A.

    Yes, MWEG (Mormon Women for Ethical Government) has been actively engaged in tracking and countering unethical deportations since long before these border stories were happening or at least came to our attention. Beyond having held face-to-face meetings with key local, regional and national politicians on immigration policies, we members of MWEG have been actively involved in individual cases of egregious deportations (where families are viciously torn apart), have held public vigils at airports to draw media attention to such deportations, and have been busily informing our members and the broader public about immigration issues through the written word. (Many of MWEG’s original members—and all of its Founders—are faithful Mormon women who happen to also be writers.)

    The most recent of our pieces, penned by one of our MWEG founders, immigration lawyer Diana Bate Hardy, is superlative as an educational and explanatory tool:

    View at

    I strongly suggest sharing the above with anyone confused or appalled by how these forced separations could be happening in a modern democracy. Further, those whose love for and commitment to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is bound together with our view of the family unit as sacred and eternal, ought to be among the best informed and most alarmed about policies that exploit those most tender family ties. These people who are being victimized are family—our family. Family togetherness is no mere platitude to fill verses of LDS primary songs. It is a priority for all humankind.

    Have I not made a covenant to bear my sisters’ and brothers’ burdens, mourn with them, lend them strength, and stand as witness to their truth at all times, in all things, and in all places?

  15. Oh, and why not just drop these right here?

    This isn’t meant as a thread-jack, but as amplification of what common citizens with a little organizational grip can do to counter harmful policies. These 15 Declarations on Ethical Immigration Policy, written by our MWEG team, have been shared with top law makers.

    Thanks for taking the time to peruse and share.

  16. Thanks Melissa! Glad you saw this.

    Also, there are nationwide protests against the family separation policy today:

  17. Rachael says:

    How to help? This article had some good recommendations:

    There seems to be a lot of lawyers who are readers of BCC and they are in a special position to help. They can be trained to offer volunteer legal assistance for unaccompanied children.

  18. There is also a rally in SLC today:

    In fact, there are rallies and marches all over the country:

  19. Donald Trump changes course when one of two things happen, his daughter Ivanka speaks to him or he is praised. Be smart. Contact his daughter.

  20. Oops! I posted when I didn’t have time to read all the comments. Sorry for the repeat, John F.

  21. Aussie Mormon says:

    Geoff: “Where are our church leaders on this? ”

    Our leaders have been pushing us to help for at least two years now

  22. Some moral religious leadership came out of Utah yesterday:

    Episcopal Diocese of Utah:

    “From Bishop Hayashi:

    “The use of the Bible by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to justify the inhumane policy of separating immigrant families is shameful.

    “He said: ‘I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,’ Sessions said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. ‘Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.’

    “Attorney General Sessions cites the same verses that were used to justify the institution of slavery in the United States. Following A.G. Sessions’ ‘logic’, one can imagine him in Germany in WWII utilizing his same thinking to justify the slaughter of the Jewish people.

    “If you are are a citizen of the United States, remember, what is being done by our nation is being done in our name. If you are a Christian living anywhere in the world – this is being done under the banner of Christianity. This is sin.”

  23. There was a great NYT editorial recently on how to act on this issue if you are concerned. There are 3 specific bills you can ask your reps to support in congress:

    -Help Separated Children’s Act (R 5950 / S.2937)
    -Keep Families Together Act (S 3036)
    -Fair Day in Court for Kids Act (R.2043 / S.2468)

    The first two are aimed on ending the separation, the third would help migrant kids get legal representation in court. These kids are far more likely to be granted asylum when they have legal representation, which is not guaranteed them by the law in these proceedings.

    I have also started asking my House Rep to consider sponsoring a stand-alone bill on ending the separation of kids from their parents if the larger bill in the House fails (which it probably will as Trump just said he wouldn’t sign it).

  24. Paul Ritchey says:

    Where’s the moral leadership from mormonnewsroom? Shouldn’t we be expecting a revised/expanded statement soon, given the salience of the issue in the press?

    I predict Tuesday, June 19 at the latest. Here’s hopin’.

  25. What’s significant about that date?

  26. Paul Ritchey says:

    Nothing yet. It seems the Newsroom typically takes 1-2 business days to issue a statement when a big (for the Church) issue like this flares up.

    I’m trying to pay enough attention to be able to predict God.

  27. I’m sure the Church will say something this week, and I’m sure it will be some variation on the statement it made earlier in the year on a related issue:

    “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.”

    Given the vile nature of the current administration’s actions, we could see somewhat stronger language, but I’m certain the major points (families should be kept together, nations have a right to secure their borders, we won’t get into specifics on how to balance the two) will be present.

  28. Update: Yep.

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long expressed its position that immigration reform should strengthen families and keep them together. The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border is harmful to families, especially to young children. We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families. While we recognize the right of all nations to enforce their laws and secure their borders, we encourage our national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions.”

  29. Aussie Mormon says:
  30. Paul Ritchey says:

    Aaaand the 1-2 business day rule strikes again. In a way, the predictability is as reassuring as it is humorous.

  31. Paul Ritchey says:

    And I’ll say, dsc, that you’re “somewhat stronger language” was spot on, too. It did have more of an “anything but what you’re doing now” sort of a tone, but agreed – no real specifics.

  32. Real moral leadership from some US religious leaders:

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