Mormonism and Immigration: Why I’m Voting for Joe Biden

Editor’s note: In the final week, we’re sharing a series of perspectives from Latter-day Saints on why they’re voting for Joe Biden. This is the third, from David Dalton. Read the first here and the second here.

It’s often lonely being a supporter of Joe Biden and a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to PEW, 70% of Mormons are Republican. Nevertheless, I argue that former Vice President Biden and the Democratic Party better embody LDS values than does Donald Trump’s GOP. This rings especially true regarding immigration.

My feelings about immigration politics center around my experience as a young, LDS missionary in northern Mexico from 2004–2006. I made one especially close friend while serving in Mexico. We’ll call him Javier. He had entered the US as a child without papers in the early 1990s. After settling in Ogden, Utah, he joined the Church. When he turned 19, he served a mission. However, in those days, legal conditions meant that the Church could not call undocumented people on missions. Because of this, Javier traveled, alone, to Mexico, where he applied to serve. Javier could not reunite with his parents in America after finishing his two-year mission. Instead, he flew to Tijuana, where he lived with an uncle he barely knew. Troubled that thousands of undocumented youths had to choose between serving a mission or remaining united with their families, the Church commissioned Utah Senator Robert F. Bennett in 2005 to write a law that would give the Church legal protections to employ undocumented aliens as full-time volunteers without facing sanctions. In promoting this law, the Church showed its commitment to keeping undocumented families together in this country.

The Church reaffirmed this in 2010 with a press release following The Utah Compact on immigration. It stated, 1) “we follow Jesus Christ by loving our neighbors”; 2) “we recognize an ever-present need to strengthen families. . . . Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society”; and 3) “we acknowledge that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders.”

Donald Trump’s administration spurns these values. In referring to Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals,” the president shows his xenophobia. This hatred has made its way into policy. He and his advisers implemented a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding irregular entry into the country because this would let them separate all migrant children from their parents. Finally, the administration has shown disdain for legal immigration. It has prolonged wait times for green cards and visas by refusing to fill vacancies at USCIS, ICE has imposed unprecedented restrictions on student visas, and it continues to increase restrictions on H-1B visas for high-skilled workers. Rather than support an orderly immigration process based on law (much protect the sanctity of immigrant families), the administration has attempted to curtail migration in all of its forms.

As president, Biden would align more closely with Church values on this important topic. He would approach immigration with empathy rather than xenophobia. He would reinstate DACA while ending legalistic justifications for child separation. Biden has also pledged to work toward a passing a version of the DREAM Act, which is a bipartisan bill that LDS Republican Senator Orin Hatch co-introduced with Dick Durbin in 2001. This law would have given people like my friend Javier — if he still lived here — a pathway to citizenship. For these — and many other — reasons, Biden embodies LDS values more closely than does Trump.

David Dalton is an assistant professor of Spanish, Latin American Studies, and American Studies at UNC-Charlotte. He is the author of Mestizo Modernity: Race, Technology, and the Body in Postrevolutionary Mexico, which discusses race in Mexico. He is currently finishing a book manuscript that discusses US-Mexican relations.

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A wall painted with a message saying: “Be Happy, Be a Mormon” stands next to a road in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (AP / Dario Lopez-Mills)

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