Immigrants and Refugees are Modern-Day Pioneers


The White House commemorated Pioneer Day yesterday.

Its issued statement is thick with irony, however, as it omits any indication that the White House actually understands the lessons learned from our blessed, honored Pioneers.

Mormon Pioneers are best honored by putting our shoulder to the wheel and crafting policies that enable modern-day Pioneers to thrive.  Today’s Pioneers are immigrants and refugees.

So here you go, White House, I rewrote your statement for you:

* * *

On this day in 1847, Brigham Young and the first group of Latter-day Saint pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley to begin building a new home for their families.   Fleeing persecution, these families undertook a difficult journey spanning more than a thousand miles from Illinois to the Utah territory.

In the years that followed, tens of thousands of men, women, and children would convert to Mormonism and immigrate from Europe, fleeing poverty, unrest, and the Crimean War.   These Mormon Pioneers trudged across windswept plains and rugged mountains in search of religious freedom and a better way of life.  Once settled in the Mountain West, they worked tirelessly to transform the arid desert landscape into a blossoming new home where their families could live in peace and prosperity.  The Pioneers’ stories and accomplishments are lasting reminders of the importance of religious freedom and the enduring strength and spirit of the American people.

Our Nation honors the ingenuity, industry, and unwavering commitment to faith of all those who have endured and who continue to endure civil unrest, violence, and frontier hardships.  Regrettably, as evidenced by slavery, Jim Crow, the Trail of Tears, and the Chinese Exclusion Act, America has often been imperfect in welcoming the poor and estranged.  The Mormon Pioneers themselves embody a tale of both inspirational personal grit, and preventable American tragedy.  Their persecution was wrought by the hands of other Americans.  The Mormons would never have needed to flee to Utah if we the people had embraced their rich faith as it grew in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri.  Our collective failure to live up to our constitutional ideals perpetuated the hardships the Mormon Pioneers experienced.

America at its best strives to welcome all who seek to protect faith, families, and freedom.  Today, America watches in horror as Muslims and Christians seek refuge from civil war in Syria, Rohingya Muslims flee ethnic cleansing in Burma, and Catholics in El Salvador take flight from destabilizing gang violence.  Like the Mormons, these men, women, and children are extraordinary pioneers who are uprooting their lives and undertaking incredible leaps of faith into the unknown.

In recognition of the Mormon Pioneers and the modern LDS Church’s “I Was A Stranger” initiative, I am proud that America has placed welcoming refugees, streamlining administrative procedures, and ensuring family togetherness at the center of our immigration policy.  We are confident that like  generations of immigrants before them, their stories and strength in overcoming hardship will build an inspiring legacy and  help our cities and communities continue to thrive.

* * *

The above statement looks exactly nothing like the Trump Administration’s actual vindictive, racist, and cruel policies towards immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, families, and victims of violence and religious persecution.  This disparity should tell you everything you need to know about the sincerity of its commemoration of Mormon Pioneers.

Photo Attribution:  ResoluteSupportMedia on Flickr.


  1. John D Tedder says:

    Nothing like a politically-slanted, church-insinuated message to start the day. There’s no question the immigration process is broken and the current administration inherited a bill of goods that it is trying to repair, with a great degree of frustration. At the same time, wholesale, undocumented admission is nothing but detrimental to our society’s infrastructure. As the son of an immigrant, I would love to see a stream of folks enter through the front door and contribute to the great American experiment. Despite the struggles they are facing in their home countries, likening the illegal immigrants to the Mormon pioneers and their circumstances then is, at best, an attempt to cram a square peg in a round hole.

  2. Kristine says:

    Yeah, John–I heard the pioneers all waited in the burning city of Nauvoo until they could legally apply for asylum…


  3. Left Field says:

    What does “church-insinuated” mean in this context? The church is insinuating through this post that refugees are modern pioneers?

  4. Left Field says:

    One thing is certain about the statement attributed to Trump. He didn’t compose a single syllable of it.

  5. keepapitchinin says:

    Although we were refugees, seeking help from the federal government and accepting the charity raised at tea parties given by the wives of federal officials in Washington, we very quickly came to see our empire-building in the West as the natural, or God-given, result of our own boot-strapping hard work. We did work hard, God did bless us, but we’re blind to history and honesty if we see our ancestors as wholly individual success stories, the way we tend to do.

    By the early years of the 20th century, we had so forgotten what made our experiment work — largely, the cooperation of a sizable community — that we could drop a few dozen non-farmer Armenian refugees down in the Nevada desert with a few tools and seeds, but too few to build a house or dig a canal, and blame their failure on their race, then use that failure as an excuse to treat future Armenian refugees with skepticism with an unwillingness to help them get started.

    We’ve had another century now to mythologize our origins and forget that united and near-total community effort — along with help from anybody willing to give it — whether that be Thomas L. Kane or Dollie Madison or James K. Polk — as well as our own hard work, and the blessings of Heaven, were what brought our success.

    Dangit, we were refugees. Their story is our story. Turning on them will prove to be a curse on us.

  6. Well said, Ardis.

    Fantastic post, Carolyn.

  7. Echo Grover. Great post. Thank you, Ardis/keepapitchinin.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    A couple of days ago I read about the Americans and the Holocaust exhibit in Washington, D.C. It’s a very difficult look into why we didn’t do more to help the Jews. Very sobering.

  9. “I would love to see a stream of folks enter through the front door and contribute to the great American experiment.” Exactly. I wish immigration reform focused on giving more people the choice to come through the front door.

    I disagree that Mormon pioneers and today’s illegal immigrants are round vs. square, though. I see many parallels. Mormons migrated many times trying to find refuge from violence, only to be turned away repeatedly. Mormons were even the subject of several deportation orders. In 1846, Mormons did not have permission to settle in Mexican territory, and had Mexico known about the Mormon Battalion they certainly would have disallowed it. If Mexico’s logistical inability to enforce its border justified the settlement, then any evasion of immigration authorities is similarly justified on the grounds that ICE couldn’t catch them. And even when Utah became part of the US, Mormon immigration became a political issue similar to today’s immigration. The Secretary of State requested European governments prevent their Mormon citizens from emigrating here. Pres. Grover Cleveland petitioned Congress to stop the flow of Mormons coming. Mormon values were decried by many as incompatible with Americans’, and there was great concern about their growing numbers, both arguments I’ve heard repeatedly about today’s immigrants.

  10. Until the mass European immigration to the Utah territories, weren’t most Mormons already U.S. citizens? And those who immigrated from Europe – weren’t they operating under the immigration laws of the day (before quotas for different nationalities were established, etc.)?

    Not that I’m against welcoming refugees here, but I see many problems with having an immigration system that basically is the equivalent of open borders for all (as seems to be desired by a large portion of our citizenry).

  11. Loursat says:

    America has always been two contrary things at once. It is a beacon of freedom, inviting the weary and oppressed: Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
    It is also a cauldron of resentment and hatred toward immigrants. America has always been both of these things.

    Our conversations tend to focus a lot on what is legal. But the U.S. law of immigration has never about imposing some kind of impartial, rational order on immigration. It has always been mostly about keeping the undesirables down or out. Remember that hundreds of thousands of kidnapped and enslaved Africans were legal immigrants. American immigration laws have always been biased in favor of the “good” ones: the ones with the right language, the light skin color, the chosen religion, the best education, or the powerful connections.

    So when we talk about legal immigration, let’s try to avoid getting hung up on the abstract idea that whatever is legal must be right. Let’s be honest: the real topic here is the kind of society that we want.

    I choose openness. I know that means opening ourselves to change, and change can be scary. But I’m old enough now to know that change is inevitable. We can’t stop it from happening. The best we can do is try to make it a kind of change that will bless our children and grandchildren. For my house, I want changes that open our hearts and minds.

    If we choose openness, does that mean some kind of chaotic free-for-all? I don’t think so. I think we’ll see that it’s not so hard to make sensible, peaceable regulations. We start by casting out fear.

  12. Notice it says, ” I hold my lamp beside the golden door.” To me a door implies a process and perhaps even a doorkeeper, who will answer to all who knock and open to the right ones. Kinda reminds me of the parable of the 12 virgins. Jesus has requirements to get him to open his door, likewise our golden door comes with requirements and shouldn’t open tp all who knock at it.

  13. Jacob, I like the 10 Virgins analogy. The oil, in this case, is having close family who are already citizens in the United States, being sponsored by an employer unable to find citizen employees, or having an airtight asylum case.* Potential immigrants either meet those requirements or they don’t. They either have oil, or they don’t. And if they don’t, there’s not much in the way of an oil shop for them to go to. For that reason, I’d liken illegal immigrants more to uninvited guests than the 5 foolish virgins. (If Christ is the bridegroom, “He inviteth all to come to Him,” so there shouldn’t be uninvited guests.) And if they are uninvited, why? I think it’s worth scrutinizing our guest list to see why we left off so many people whose presence here would be mutually beneficial.

    *Asylum petitions have an 80% failure rate, according to Politifact.

  14. Amen, Carolyn. And amen, Ardis.

  15. Adam Selene says:

    Yes, we were all refugees and migrants. That’s why I don’t understand people who feel sorry for the Native Americans, especially those that were opposed to settlement. They were just being racist, vindictive and cruel.

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