A recent The Pew Research Center‘s Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted an in-depth survey of Mormons in the United States. Mormon is a nickname sometimes used to describe members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The fourth article in a series that appears in Deseret News is evaluating the results of this survey and providing context for the results.
Immigration is a controversial topic in the United States. The survey asked one question on this topic. They were asked which of two statements most closely matched their view, even if they didn’t completely agree. They were asked whether immigrants strengthen or burden the nation. No distinction was made between legal and illegal immigration, leaving those polled to decide for themselves what the question meant.
In the general U.S. population, 45 percent of Americans feel that immigrants strengthen the country, while 44 percent burden it. 12 percent feel that neither or both are true or they have no opinion on the subject. Mormon views closely mirror these statistics. 45 percent of Mormons also believe immigrants strengthen the nation, although a smaller number, 41 percent, consider them a burden on society. The number of Mormons who accept both or neither or who have no opinion is higher, at 14 percent.
These numbers put them at odds with evangelical Christians, one of the few political areas in which they disagree. Within the white evangelical population, 59 percent believe immigrants are a burden, and 27 percent believe they strengthen the country. Like Mormons, 14 percent answered both, neither, or no opinion.
The statistics for Mormons shows a strong divide based on age, income, and education, as well as on religious commitment. Only 36 percent of highly committed Mormons see immigrants as a burden, while 50 percent of those who are less committed see them as a burden. This largely correlates with economic status. 84 percent of Mormons who are highly committed to their religion are college graduates. (The church strongly encourages education, which may be a factor in this.) Only 50 percent of those with high school educations are strongly committed to their faith. This statistic is very unusual in the religious world. For most religions, the least educated are the most religious.
49 percent of Mormons under age 50 see immigrants as a strength. 39 percent of Mormons over 50 see it as a strength.
Beyond the study’s statistics, several other factors influence the Mormon view of immigration. Many Mormons serve missions for their church. For two years, they live wherever they are sent, learning the language and living as the people in that community live. They go into the homes, attend the churches, and do service work in addition to their missionary work. Many of those serve in Spanish countries and have a realistic view of the hardships faced by those people. They come home with a compassionate view of the world and an understanding that Americans have much easier lives than most. The love missionaries almost invariably develop for the people they served influences their views on immigration.
Finally, the church has taken very specific stands on the subject of illegal immigration in recent years. Mormons believe God has sent a prophet to lead His church, just as He has always done in ancient times, and so, Mormons are asked to sustain the prophet as the leader of the Church. Official statements from the prophet or the Church are considered to be from God.
The Church officially endorsed the basic principles of the Utah Compact, a law working to create a balanced legal approach to immigration. In November, 2011, L. Whitney Clayton gave an official statement from the church in honor of the first anniversary of the bill. The statement said in part:
The Utah Compact is consistent with three principles we believe should be carefully balanced when considering immigration:
- We follow Jesus Christ by loving our neighbors. The meaning of neighbor includes all of God’s children, in all places and in all times.
- We recognize an ever-present need to strengthen families. Families are meant to be together. Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society.
- We acknowledge that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders.
We continue to encourage lawmakers everywhere to consider laws that properly balance love of neighbors and the importance of keeping families together, within the framework of just and enforceable laws.” (See Utah Compact One-Year Anniversary Marked by Utah Community Leaders.)
The official Mormon position is to encourage its members to stay in their homelands or to immigrate legally, but once they are here, however they came, they are to be treated with love, dignity, and respect, and laws should not separate families.
For a more in-depth look at the issue of Mormons and immigration, read the Deseret News article: Mormons’ immigration attitudes set them apart, by Eric Schulzke, Deseret News, published: Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012 8:12 p.m. MST.