Monday, May 14, 2018

Reporting Illegal Aliens In Our Congregations

       This topic came to mind because of an article that I recently came across at the LDS blog called By Common Consent (which I would describe as being liberal politically and theologically). The article is entitled "Immigration and the Twelfth Article of Faith," by Sam Brunson, who concludes that we should not report to immigration authorities those members who are in the United States illegally.

       First, some background. Joseph Smith at one time penned a list of 13 basic principles and beliefs of the LDS Church commonly called the Articles of Faith. The twelfth of these reads as follows: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." It seems pretty straightforward, essentially indicating that Church members should be good citizens of whatever country or jurisdiction in which they find themselves; same thing implicit in Christ's teaching to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.

      However, there are occasions when what the law requires may not be moral, and our duties to our nation may conflict with our duties to God; an historical example being the Holocaust where Nazi Germany followed a policy of exterminating Jews, Gypsies and other "undesirables". Brunson seems to believe that the presence of illegal aliens in our congregations presents one of these moral dilemmas, and that dilemma should be resolved in favor of not reporting illegal aliens (at least those in our congregations) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

      Here is the meat of Brunson's argument:
         However, in the last couple of days, we at BCC have verified instances where Mormons have called ICE on their ward members. I assume they claim they’re doing it because of the Twelfth Article of Faith, and especially that part that says that we believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” 
         Upfront: those people are lying. They’re calling ICE because they’re racists, xenophobes, or otherwise un-Christian-like.
He then proceeds with an analysis of the Twelfth Article of Faith and presents his argument why the Article does not require us to report crimes; and, moreover, he claims that doing so would be hypocritical, thus attempting to use shame to discourage members from reporting illegal aliens.

       Brunson's argument naturally, then, requires a discussion of why we have laws, why we should respect laws, and when we should report violations of laws.

       Recognizing that laws can be oppressive or become oppressive, it is nevertheless the fact that most laws are enacted to serve the purpose of protecting or promoting a public good, such as health and safety, and to promote and sustain social order, peace, and justice. As the author of The Morality of Law has noted, laws represent the minimum acceptable behavior tolerated by a society. While we may disagree with particular laws, as good citizens, we have an obligation to uphold laws. Thus, for instance, even though I may believe that the posted speed limit along a certain road should be 45 mph instead of 35 mph, as a good citizen, I should still strive to not drive more than 35 mph on that road (supported, of course, by the fear that I could receive a traffic ticket if I was caught exceeding the speed limit).

       Significantly, Brunson does not address--at least, not in the subject article--whether immigration laws are immoral or, in some other way, invalid. Certainly, he does not challenge the right and authority of Congress to enact laws restricting immigration and enforcing those laws including by resort to arrest and expulsion. This is significant because Brunson has effectively conceded that, in fact, immigrations laws are not ipso facto immoral. Thus, the issue is not the law but rather whether we should report violations of the law.

      Of course, there is a difference between obeying laws oneself, and enforcing the laws on others. But we do it all the time: erecting fences on property lines, complaining to a neighbor about their noise or parking, or even informing the police about law breakers.

      I will readily admit that whether we notify authorities of the breach of the law is largely dependent on whether the violation affects us personally or is sufficiently outrageous that we overcome our natural reluctance to become involved. For instance, very few of us would call the police to report a loud house party if we were driving past one well away from where we live, whereas if it was occurring on the other side of our back fence it would present an entirely different matter. Similarly, watching someone "roll through" a stop sign may irritate us, but rarely motivate us to get a license plate number or description in order to report the matter to the police. On the other hand, watching someone "roll through" the stop sign of a school bus would probably motivate most of us to report the crime. We certainly would be more excited about that type of traffic violation.

       But I think that reasonable people could agree that reporting a crime does not require that the violation affect us personally or prompt moral outrage. That is, we would not be morally wrong to report a crime even if it didn't affect us personally or did not outrage us. For instance, suppose you see someone shoplift some small item--perhaps a chocolate bar--at a department store. You are not personally affected by that one instance, and may not even be too excited about the incident. Yet, would you be morally wrong to notify a store employee of the theft? I think most of us would say "no," and even hold that it was the duty of a good citizen to do so notwithstanding that the particular incident was of a minor nature. Most of us are adult enough to recognize that there are greater stakes at issue, including the aggregate impact of shoplifting and the need to generally deter theft. We may even recognize that preventing the theft of a small item may discourage the thief from engaging in future crimes of a different nature or seriousness.

      The same concerns apply to illegal immigration. That is, even if a particular illegal alien causes no discernible harm, there is value to upholding immigration laws generally. Even if you believe that illegal aliens contribute to American society and the economy, there is a benefit to safeguarding borders and national sovereignty and following an orderly process in admitting aliens. Immigration laws protect and promote a public good; there is nothing inherently immoral or invalid about immigration laws. Thus, similar to the shoplifting example, there would be nothing morally wrong with reporting an illegal alien to ICE because it aids in the enforcement of immigration laws, which protect and advance a public good.

      But this is the crux of the matter. Brunson does believe it is morally wrong to report someone to ICE--well, not any illegal alien, but one that is a member of the Church. Not because the immigration laws are immoral, but, because, as he states:
It very clearly goes against Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. It actively disrupts the web of interconnectedness that Joseph Smith worked toward. And it’s 100% antithetical to Zion. We don’t live in a Zion community yet, but we’re trying to build one. And a Zion people would not try to alienate its members, much less rip a family apart.
       In rebuttal, I am going to state that reporting a member for committing a crime is NOT against Jesus' command to love our neighbors, even if that crime is being illegally in the country. Who are our neighbors? The parable of the Good Samaritan clearly teaches that our neighbors are not limited to those within our religious community. So, per that example, it is irrelevant whether the illegal alien is a member of our Ward or Branch. Our neighbors arguable could include the person that loses his job or works under a lessor wage because of cheap labor provided by illegal aliens, it includes the persons who suffer identity theft by illegal aliens, and it includes our fellow citizens that are subject to increased crime and taxes because of the presence of illegal aliens and the flouting of our law.

       What about the threat of splitting families and alienating members? All I can say is that is a possible consequence whenever a member breaks the law. Reporting other crimes may result in jail time, split families, or, at the least, hard feelings. And it will always create a dilemma requiring the weighing of costs and benefits. But just because there are negative outcomes to reporting a crime does not make the reporting of the crime immoral.

       Brunson's argument that violation of immigration laws is a trivial offense (he compares it to jay walking, traffic violations, not paying taxes, etc.) is also unavailing because it isn't trivial. Protection and enforcement of borders is one of the basic functions of government. Violating immigration and citizenship laws is an attack on the foundation of a nation, namely, safeguarding a nation from invaders. And, as I noted above, in the aggregate, illegal immigration results in increased crime (including identity theft), higher tax burdens, and strengthens the criminal cartels that control the illegal immigration trade.

       Finally, Brunson's contention that anyone that reports a fellow Ward member to ICE is a racist or xenophobe also fails for the reason that you don't need to refer to race or racial characteristics to justify immigration laws. That racial animus may motivate a particular person to report a particular crime does not mean that all persons reporting such crimes are racists, nor does the racial motivation of an accuser absolve the illegal alien of his or her crime.

       In the end, Brunson's argument comes down to the fact that he does not agree with current immigration laws. And everyday I drive a section of road that should have a higher speed limit.


  1. Hasn’t Brunson learned that the left has so overused epithets like “racist” and “xenophobe” that they have lost all meaning. And, Brunson’s reliance on those epithets tells me that he really has no sound argument against reporting illegals in a congregation to ICE, and instead hopes to shame us into avoiding a civic duty.

    Brunson has helped clarify things for me. If I see illegals at church, I will now be much more likely to report them to ICE.

    1. Brunson's churlish comments are un-Christian and stokes resentment against the left. On further reflection, his argument demonstrates a love of "neighbors" only if those neighbors are of the correct ethnicity. A classic case of projection.