Monday, July 21, 2014

Burma, The Book of Mormon, and the Immigration Conundrum

I was raised conservative. My political views have shifted significantly over the past 20 years of my life, but I come from conservative background, and in many ways still identify more with “conservative” than I do “liberal.” However one thing that I have never been able to grasp is the stance of many conservatives against immigration. Even in my truest reddest Republican days, I never could make sense of this position. Open immigration is a free-market idea. Being pro free-trade and anti-immigration is a completely contradictory and hypocritical stance. Recent events have made the stance of conservatives further isolate them from being successful.
            I always hated the term “compassionate conservative” applied to some conservatives because it implies that conservatives are not compassionate, which I do not think is true. However, recent events in Texas and on the border have tested my thesis, so I bet conservatives everywhere to prove that they are indeed compassionate people by their treatment of individuals as individuals regardless of what side of an imaginary line they happened to be born on.

The Current Situation

The most important thing to understand about the current border situation is that the flood of immigrants is almost entirely driven by U.S. foreign and drug policy.

The immigrants are not coming from Mexico; they are coming from Central America. Central America is a place that has been repeatedly destroyed by U.S. foreign policy. There is hardly a country in Central America that has not had the slimy octopus tentacles of U.S. intervention. The U.S. has propped up multiple dictators, helped dispose of democratically elected governments, supported rebels. You name it; the U.S. has done it in Central America. It is no wonder that the place is in complete turmoil. As is obvious now from Iraq, U.S. intervention rarely helps to eliminate violence and increase stability, in fact all the opposite.
The drug war in the United States has forced the militarization of an entire industry to protect itself from the U.S. military and the DEA. This has turned the drug war into a real war with real human casualties. It replaces peaceful voluntary exchange with violence. It does nothing to eliminate or lower drug usage, and it creates violence both here in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in south and Central America.

The U.S. government through foreign intervention and drug policy has turned entire countries into war-zones.  Honduras is one of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world. Central America is loaded with violence, much of which can be directly attributed to U.S. involvement. With this in mind, the idea that we would turn away children fleeing from violence that our government created, is so repulsive and disgusting to me, I do not see how any loving human being could embrace this idea.

The bottom line these are people; real life human beings who happened to be born on the other side of an imaginary line. They have cares, dreams, and hopes. They have been on one of the most treacherous and dangerous journeys imaginable. They are victims of violence sewn by our government, and they arrive at our door step and we are going to say we hate you and get out? Where is our humanity?

In this essay I want to give some examples that will hopefully appeal to conservatives as to why they, more than anyone, should be more open and loving towards immigration and immigrants. There is no excuse for the hate being spread against immigrants.

The Karen people from Burma

            The Karen are an ethnic group from Burma (Myanmar). During World War II they supported the British in Burma, which caused a lot of animosity from the majority ethnic group: the Burmese. In 1949 just after Burma was granted independence, conflict arose. Since 1949, there has been conflict between the Karen people and the Burmese government. It is one of the longest civil wars on the planet.
The Burmese have attempted to carry out a systematic extermination and genocide of the Karen people. Many Karen fled the terror in Burma to neighboring Thailand. Had the Thai government done nothing except to grant these victims free exercise of their rights of life, liberty, and property, this large work force and potential market would have built and helped lift a struggling Thai economy. Besides basic police protection they would have had essentially no burden on the government while benefiting the economy.
Instead the strict immigration policies would not allow the entrance of the persecuted people into Thailand. People in Thailand were so worried about having more job competition that they turned away people who were on the brink of starvation. People who were eating tree bark just to make their hunger pains not be so intense, people who had had their entire villages livelihoods burned to the ground, people who had seen brothers and fathers and cousins tortured in the most horrific of ways. Can you imagine? Oh, but they might take a job, they may want to work to support their family. That of course cannot be. We cannot have people working to support their families here, so send them back, send them back face death and starvation on the other side of this imaginary line.

A group of Karen refugees eat traditional food in Salt Lake City

The Karen people were forced for many years to straddle the border. When the Burmese military was getting close they would flee to the Thai side, when the Thai police came, they would flee to the Burma side. Needless to say, living conditions were far from ideal and people died. Eventually because of international pressure, refugee camps were set up. These camps granted some (limited) protection from the aggression of the Burmese military, but did not grant the refugees much opportunity. They could not work and chase their dreams, they had to live their entire lives in a few acre area. If they did leave they were outlaws and were constantly at risk of being caught by the Thai police who were notoriously corrupt.
What is one of the saddest parts about the whole situation is that instead of working and contributing to the Thai economy as would have been the case had they been granted entrance, the refugees became a burden on the economy. The Thai government (with the UN) had to feed the refugees, and the refugees with little to no opportunities in the camp were left with no motivation to get an education and succeed. Drug use and other problems became rampant. Hopelessness became epidemic. Of course if anyone was put in a small compound with no opportunity for growth or ever leaving that small area, they would get infected with hopelessness as well.
So not only did the Thai government turn away the victims of violence, they hurt themselves and destroyed even more lives through complete enabling and taking of opportunity from those that did survive. (For more information on Karen refugees and the Karen people see
How is the situation of the Karen people and the Thai government, any different than the United States current immigration “problems”? There is essentially none. The option is clear. We either treat these victims of violence as human beings and let them work and contribute in our economy, or we shun them. We turn them back to their homelands to be killed, or we put them in some sort of refugee camp where they will become dependent on the government, cost the government money, destroy their own lives, and not help anyone else either.
The choice is clear and easy: acceptance and love is the only way.

For LDS readers, Examples from The Book of Mormon.

            A few years back in Utah, the immigration debate exploded. Rarely does the L.D.S. church take a stance on any political issue, but with immigration they did, with not one but multiple press releases. Although not extremely direct the first went against any SB270 Arizona type law and supported compassion and caring in regards to immigration. They then supported a guest worker program that was supported by the Utah legislature. The church referred people to this editorial from the Deseret News when asked about immigration.
            I thought for sure this would lead to Utah becoming a model of compassionate immigration reform. The legislature passed HB116 as a guest worker program focused on getting people here legally, instead of keeping people out. It appeared as if Utah was at least open to a more rational and compassionate approach.
            However, just when everything was going so well, the Republican caucus met and voted for a repeal of HB 116. They even went to so far as to call those that passed it “traitors to Utah”. Many of the caucus also called for a stricter, Arizona-style immigration law. It seemed as if not even the state’s prominent religion was able to curb the vitriol of some conservatives. It was very discouraging. However, based on polls, it appeared that those “hard-liners” were a small vocal minority

I would hope that the U.S. and particularly Utah would be an example of welcoming immigrants with compassion and love. The Book of Mormon has many examples that support the idea of a more open immigration policy.

Case 1: Omni 1: 12-14
            In these versus the people of Nephi are the immigrants (or refugees) escaping aggression from the Lamanites and were probably a good-sized group of people.  They find the land of Zarahemla.  One might think with this huge influx of people from another group that the native inhabitants would be angry. But the Book of Mormon says nothing about rallies and protests because these “immigrants were taking their jobs.” There does not appear to be any anger or animosity from the Mulekites (the people already living in the land of Zarahemla) toward the people of Nephi. In fact it appears to be all the opposite: “There was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla.”

Case 2: Mosiah 24:25 - Mosiah 25
            In this section of the Book of Mormon the people of Zeniff and the people of Alma return to the land of Zarahemla after being away for a couple of generations in the land of the Lamanites. This group was also the victim of violence from the Lamanites, and fled to live with the people of Zarahemla. The groups were also of considerable size and yet once again the Book or Mormon makes no mention of anger or contention about a competitive job market or education possibilities. Rather, just the opposite: “King Mosiah did also receive them with joy.”

Case 3: Alma 27:5-23
            In these versus a group of the Lamanites (bitter enemies of the Nephites at the time) converts to the religion of the Nephites. As this group is now a persecuted group among the Lamanites they decide to seek refuge in the neighboring nation of the Nephites, their former enemies (sounds somewhat familiar to some similar modern situations). Once again this group of people is not turned away with the excuse of not having the proper documentation. They were not subject to all sorts of legal obstacles, or put in tight refugee camps, but rather welcomed as fellow-citizens, given freedom, land, and protection.
            All of these are interesting cases from the Book of Mormon on how immigration was handled, and I feel case enough to support compassion and understanding in the immigration debate.

The New Testament and Final Comments

            Conservatives more than anyone should embrace a more-open immigration policy: it is based in free-markets and free-trade and encourages more freedom. David Brooks quotes a study from the National Opinion Research center that shows that, “Those who express less tolerance toward a variety of minority groups also are more hostile to capitalism.” Capitalism is all about freedom and trust of other people to do what is right. If conservatives claim to be those that support capitalism, freedom, and the “American Dream” they must be willing to grant freedom, capitalism, and the opportunity to live the American Dream to those on the other side of the imaginary line.

            Christ said the second great commandment was to “love they neighbor as thyself.” Neighbor means any human being. Christ even gives an example of someone from a different group and place as being a “neighbor.” There is no asterisk in the verse that says only those of the same nationality. In fact the New Testament does not give much credence at all to nationality. Regardless of the nation they are born in, regardless of what side of the line they were born on they are still people, they are still neighbors, and as such deserve our love and compassion. 

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