Ripping children away from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border is not what Jesus would do, several Utah faith groups declared Monday, and they want it to end.
The state’s predominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said such separations are “harmful to families, especially to young children.”
Bishop Oscar Solis of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah’s second largest denomination, called the tactic “an unnecessary and aggressive act against human life, and unfathomable from a country with a heart as strong as ours.”
The Rev. Charles Robinson of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Park City decried the border actions as “inhumane, immoral, unjustified and unnecessary.”
And Pastor Steve Klemz of Zion Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City said “tearing children from the arms of their families for the sole purpose of deterring migration is cruel, unlawful and, I believe, immoral.”
The churches called for immediate action.
The LDS Church is “deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families,” it said in a news release. “While we recognize the right of all nations to enforce their laws and secure their borders, we encourage our national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions.”
This position is in keeping with earlier statements top Mormon leaders have made about immigration reform and maintaining parent-children connections.
“Families are meant to be together,” the church said in a 2011 statement. “Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society.”
In fact, the first major public policy statement under recently installed LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors in the governing First Presidency also touched on a hot immigration issue: the fate of “Dreamers.”
In January, the Mormon church urged Congress to act quickly to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, whose undocumented parents brought them to the United States as children, and to provide them with “hope and opportunities.”
“They have built lives, pursued educational opportunities and been employed for years based on the policies that were in place,” it stated at the time. “These individuals have demonstrated a capacity to serve and contribute positively in our society, and we believe they should be granted the opportunity to continue to do so.”
Dreamers had been protected from deportation under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allowed them a legal pathway to attend school and work in the country. President Donald Trump then announced plans to end the program.
On Monday, the LDS Church reaffirmed its position that immigration reform should strengthen families and keep them together — a goal also expressed in the Utah Compact, which was signed by various government, civic, business and religious leaders and endorsed by top Mormon leaders.
Solis joined his fellow clergy in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Monday in “urging the administration to rescind these policies that tear at our core values as a nation. ...We are, and must continue to be, a beacon of hope for families unable to find basic protections and pathways out of poverty within their home countries.”
The U.S. has a right “to protect its borders,” Solis said, but it also has a “moral obligation to do so through means that preserve families and the dignity and sanctity of all life.”
The Catholic bishop called on Congress not only to implement immigration reform but also “to enforce existing laws with compassion.”
Klemz said he sees family unity as a “fundamental human right.”
Refugees seeking a haven from violence in their own countries, he said, “have a right to seek asylum, and painting them as criminals does not change the fact” that they have that right.
When Jesus said, “Whoever receives one of these children, receives me,” the Lutheran minister added, he did not mean that “children should be received in detention cages, tent cities and certainly not separated from family.”
Robinson, Park City’s Episcopal leader, was even blunter.
“No matter where you are on the immigration question, and no matter how strongly you feel about border protection,” he said, “you can’t pick on kids or treat them this way.”
This, he emphasized, has to stop.