As a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve always considered myself conservative. I believed the Republican Party best promoted the values of family and faith that define my moral core. Yet, during this last election, I did something I never thought I would do: I broke ranks and refused to vote for any of their candidates. My values hadn’t changed. My party’s had.
Standing at the ballot box this November in Provo, I cast my vote for candidates who stood up against President Donald Trump’s family separation policy and his lack of compassion for Dreamers, the 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children.
And I wasn’t alone. Across the country, Democrats flipped 40 seats in the House. In many of these districts, the Republican candidates had stoked racist, anti-immigrant fears on the campaign trail. Although Republican John Curtis eventually won the House seat in my congressional district, backlash to two anti-immigrant ads that were posted on Facebook was so swift that he had to take them down. One argued: “It’s time to end illegal immigration once and for all,” and the other claimed that sanctuary cities put us in “harm’s way.”
As I watched these ads, I felt angry, and I thought about the 18 months I spent as a missionary on the remote African islands of Cape Verde. From 2013 until 2015, I met some of the kindest people I have ever known. They welcomed me — as a stranger — into their homes and lives and treated me like family. These are the Christian values I hold dear, but throughout the midterms, many Republican candidates promoted just the opposite.
My church has always encouraged me to vote my conscience, and I’m proud that many of my Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters share my compassion for immigrants. In fact, a new poll of LDS voters across the country by AP VoteCast found that 55 percent say immigrants do more to help the country than hurt it, and nearly 7 in 10 believe undocumented immigrants should have the chance to apply for legal status.
Serving a mission changes you for life. It opens your mind and heart in ways you never could have anticipated. I share this blessing with the majority of my peers at Brigham Young University, where more than 60 percent of the 33,000 students here are returned missionaries like me. We’re also part of an increasingly engaged and open-minded millennial demographic. An estimated 31 percent of people ages 18 to 29 voted in the midterm elections, up from 21 percent in 2014, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
It’s a lesson that Republicans should heed as Congress gets ready to tackle immigration reform. At the polling station, people like me will vote for people over party. This is especially the case as Utah’s demographics shift to include more minorities — many of whom have their own immigration stories and backgrounds — and future candidates would be wise to consider what matters to these new voters. More than 1 in 5 Utahns is a minority, according to the latest estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The church has always taught us to love and understand each other. I can be conservative and still stand up for immigrants, whether they’re my friends back in Cape Verde, my Guatemalan neighbor in Provo who invites me and my husband over for dinner or my Cambodian sister-in-law. It’s what Jesus has asked us to do.
Jesse Griffin is a senior at Brigham Young University and a member of the Slate Canyon 11th Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Provo.