Sen. Mitt Romney says America has become an “asylum magnet” for immigrants on our southern border. I say, good for us! If refugees cannot find asylum in the United States, we stop being Americans.

As a congressional chief of staff in the late 1990s for a southern California congressman, I visited the border from Texas to Tijuana, met with border agents and witnessed firsthand the stress of it all near the height of illegal border crossings and arrests – around one and a half million a year.

If ever there has been a modern crisis of illegal immigration, that time period would have been it. And, even then, only the craziest voices were calling for “emergency” responses. In comparison, today’s illegal crossings and arrests are some of the lowest in 25 years.

I am well familiar with the public policy of immigration. Also, as an original co-author of the Utah Compact and insider on the passage of the 2011 state immigration law, I know how Utahns think about this issue – which leads me back to Romney’s comment.

Romney and I share the same faith. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And, while that does not ensure agreement on everything or anything spiritual or temporal, it does mean that both of us read from the same book. In fact, the unspoken reason that most Latter-day Saints support the Utah Compact and historical opinions generally regarding the humane treatment of immigrants is precisely from the book we share in common.

To wit, the Americas, not just the United States, are sacred ground and the people below our southern border (i.e. Lamanites) are very special to the Savior who visited them and should be for us tasked with now caring for them. Romney and I, if we’re faithful, know of our covenantal obligations to “nurture ... carry ... and to bring out of captivity” our neighbors from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego. We also know the condemnation we’re under if we fail in this covenant.

Obviously, our faith beliefs are not topically relevant in public policy for the vast majority of Americans. But they should be for faithful Latter-day Saints. So, with Romney in mind, permit me to address sound immigration policy from a Latter-day Saint perspective – from a person who has spent over three decades writing laws and advocating for them in the backrooms and halls of legislators from Washington, D.C. to Utah.

Sound immigration policy comes in three steps: 1) settle on our commensurate values toward immigration, as Utah did with the Compact, 2) apply those values in reforming immigration laws, again as Utah has, and 3) once those tasks are accomplished, then do the work of nurturing, carrying and liberating the captive in our Western Hemisphere.

The problem of illegal immigration cannot be solved at our southern border. It’s too late by then. The big immigration work needs to be done in the countries of origin. There are many useful carrots and sticks available within American foreign affairs. Romney and the rest of our Utah federal delegation should focus on this task with those tools.

There are two warnings here for Romney and every other Latter-day Saint elected official. First, ignore the Lamanites at America’s peril. Every time our political leaders scorn Lehi’s children, the Lord demonstrates that His hand cannot be stayed from fulfilling the promises declared by Jesus Christ (3 Nephi 16:16, 3 Nephi 20:14). His hand “not stayed” looks exactly like the seemingly endless masses of refugees seeking asylum at our southern border.

Second, ignore the Western Hemisphere at America’s peril. We need to address the causes of refugees fleeing from their countries of origin and that task only can be achieved when Mexico, Central and Latin American countries know we are one when it comes to the peace and prosperity of our peoples. We can nurture, carry and liberate these refugees in their own countries, not just when they eventually arrive at our southern border. A man who sought the position of secretary of state should know this.

Latter-day Saint elected officials have two choices. We can fight against the Lamanites in our own country or we can nurture them and help them prosper in their countries of origin. What say ye, Senator Romney?

Paul T. Mero | Next Generation Freedom Fund

Paul Mero is president of Next Generation Freedom Fund.