Lessons on Immigration from the Book of Mormon, Part 1

Should We Stop Capping the Number of Immigrants We Allow in Each Year?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

– from “The New Colossus”, engraved on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty

I love living in the United States.

I believe that the Americas truly are choice above all other lands (1 Ne. 2:20, 13:30; 2 Ne. 1:5, 10:19; Jacob 5:43; Ether 2:7,10,15, 9:20, 13:2), and that the United States Constitution was ordained of God (D&C 101:80). I believe the New Jerusalem will be built here (D&C 84:1-4), and I really like our food.

(That last one is worth mentioning, since we’re on the topic of immigration. Foods whose origins are Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Polynesian are all easy to find here. And while you might be able to get better Mexican food in Mexico, can you get decent sushi there? And how is the pizza in New Delhi? I honestly wonder if there is any place on Earth that has absorbed a greater variety of cultures.)

Most Americans* tend to agree. We love our country. Land of the free! Home of the brave!

Sadly, in the same breath, many selfishly want to keep others from enjoying what we’ve got. They’ll sing, “This land is your land, this land is my land,” but only that second phrase seems to reflect their feelings.

Our immigration laws are part of the problem — we cap how many people can become citizens each year. You have to get in line if you want to live here legally, and that line can take years to get through. Capping immigration is tragic to me. Why would we limit how many people can come here and enjoy the same freedoms as us?

Or said differently, what right do I have to exclude people from freedoms that I myself didn’t earn? I can’t even claim the childish excuse of “I was here first!”

Perhaps it’s because we don’t believe there’s enough to go around. Enough jobs, enough land, enough money. But we, as Latter-day Saints, shouldn’t be taken in by this false notion. We have it on good authority that there is plenty, so we shouldn’t hesitate to share:

For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

-Doctrine & Covenants 104:17-18

If you believe, as I do, that we have it better than a lot of other countries, then the laws that cap immigration become transparent: they are products of and for our selfishness, and they are not Christlike.

So how did the Nephites handle immigration? In the case of the Anti-Nephi-Lehites, they behaved like true followers of Christ.

Imagine receiving the news that came out from Zarahemla. The Chief Judge is calling for a vote. There is a group of thousands of Lamanites who want to join themselves to your country — what should be done?

Before you decide, remember it was only very recently, and without warning, that Lamanites attacked the city of Ammonihah, killing every man, woman and child who lived there.

And recall that a century before, the situation was reversed: King Laman had let Nephites come in to possess the Lamanite land of Lehi-Nephi, only with the intention of enslaving them later. How many people died in the decades that followed before they were delivered?

So the Lamanites have a history of being dishonest. They have a history of hating you, the Nephites, and of killing your people. It’s with good cause that the leader of these converts says, “Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.”

Fortunately, the Anti-Nephi-Lehites were dealing with a righteous generation of Nephites. Because rather than reject them, the Nephites voted to give them land.

And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.

-Alma 27:22

That is how you expect Christians to behave. They didn’t ask how many there were, or, perhaps, if they could afford to buy the land. They simply shared the blessings they had received.

Now picture it from the other side. Imagine yourself waiting in the borders between Nephite and Lamanite territories, having already lost your home, and likely some loved ones as well; you wait while Ammon makes the trek to Zarahemla; you wait while word goes out to the Nephite cities and votes are cast; you wait for Ammon’s return with the news. How many weeks have passed? How much hope do you have left that your people’s countless aggressions towards the Nephites can be forgiven? And if the Nephites say no, what next? Where can you go?

And the word comes that the Nephites aren’t going to let you in as slaves, or as indentured servants, but as full citizens. That they’re not going to make you buy land, you who have been subsisting on what you carried from your home weeks before, but they will give you land to call your own.

And yet, that wasn’t even all the Nephites promised.

And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.

-Alma 27:23

So. That’s how a righteous people handles immigration. They opened their doors and shared their country. That’s what I believe we should do in the United States.

Next time I’ll explain my feelings for illegal immigrants. But I wanted to conclude with this verse from the song Book of Mormon Stories:

Lamanites met others who were seeking liberty,
And the land soon welcomed all who wanted to be free.
Book of Mormon stories say that we must brothers be,
Giv’n this land if we live righteously.

*I use that term here to mean “citizens of the United States”, even though Canadians, Chileans, and everyone in between are “Americans”. But we don’t have a decent word for ourselves, and “Yankees”, as some call us, makes us think of a New York baseball team.

2 thoughts on “Lessons on Immigration from the Book of Mormon, Part 1”

  1. I totally agree. I know several Latinos and these people are really suffering and struggling from the impositions we have put on them. We need to be more compassionate.

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