Dieter F. Uchtdorf and thirteen other faith leaders met with President Obama at his invitation on March 8, 2013 to discuss immigration reform. President Uchtdorf, second counselor to the Mormon prophet Thomas S. Monson, accepted the invitation after consulting with the prophet and the other apostles. Mormon is a nickname sometimes used to describe members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon counselor is an immigrant himself, making him a valuable resource in the discussion on reform.
The faiths invited represented a diverse range of political viewpoints. President Uchtdorf, who attended President Obama’s first inauguration as an official church representative, said that although everyone did not agree on every point, they were all in full agreement that new legislation needed to include respect for the law, protection against dividing families, compassion, and common sense. President Obama noted in a press release that the faith leaders were concerned about the impact of immigration laws on families.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is politically neutral, meaning that as a body, it does not promote or encourage membership in any specific party. It does, as churches should, speak out on the moral issues that are the natural territory of faith. However, those instances are comparatively rare and the stances taken do not tend to fit into the platforms of any party.
In November 2010, Mormon leadership officially expressed support for the Utah Compact, although they did not sign it. They issued a statement saying:
The Church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform. It is consistent with important principles for which we stand:
“We follow Jesus Christ by loving our neighbors. The Savior taught that the meaning of “neighbor” includes all of God’s children, in all places, at 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. All persons subject to a nation’s laws are accountable for their acts in relation to them.
Public officials should create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society. Such laws will properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws.” (See Church Supports Principles of Utah Compact on Immigration.)
Following the meeting, President Uchtdorf told the Salt Lake Tribune:
“He just said in this value process we need to stand together and make sure the United States is still a place where people can come and, once they come, feel not at fear. And do it, of course, in a lawful way. He was talking about his principles and what he said was totally in line with our values.” (See Mormon leader: Obama’s immigration plan matches LDS values.)
President Uchtdorf shared his own immigration experience during the meeting. He has been an immigrant three times in his life. He was born in what is now the Czech Republic and which was then occupied by Nazi Germany. His mother took the children to Eastern Germany while their father was away at war. There, his grandmother first learned about Mormonism in a soup line. When President Uchtdorf was ten, his father’s political beliefs caused the family to be in danger from the Soviets. They again fled, this time moving to West Berlin, which was occupied by the Americans. Today he is a naturalized American citizen, due to his call as a Mormon apostle, a position which lasts until death. He immigrated legally but said the process is cumbersome. He noted that the legal process needs to be one of dignity and also noted that there is a difference between those who came decades ago, when the United States essentially invited people to enter illegally in order to work in the fields, and those who have come recently.
President Uchtdorf said the Church will not be involved in any actual legislation, but does have an interest in the humane treatment of God’s children and in protecting families. He told the Deseret News, “Whether we are Christians or other faith groups, we focus on the human side. Yes, we should obey the law, but we need to take a look at how it impacts individuals and families.” (See President Uchtdorf, faith leaders counsel President Obama on Immigration.)