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Mormons on Opposite Sides in Immigration Fight
No matter how much the LDS Church would like to remain neutral on the issue of illegal immigration, Mormon activists on opposite sides draw on their faith’s doctrines or practices to buoy their positions.
Russell Pearce, the Arizona senator who proposed that state’s tough anti-immigration law, is LDS and hails from Mesa, a stronghold of Mormonism.
Pearce did not return messages seeking comment for this story. But, according to Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, the Arizona lawmaker builds his case on the Utah-based church’s 12th Article of Faith, which says Mormons believe in “obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.”
That also is a key belief for Sandstrom, a Mormon who has met with Pearce several times and hopes to introduce a similar bill in Utah.
“We are a country with the rule of law,” said Sandstrom, who served an LDS mission in Venezuela. “That’s the only way a country can prosper.”
On the opposite side are Latter-day Saints who argue for a more complex and humane approach to immigration. They point to church teachings about taking care of one’s family, being hospitable to the stranger and building the kingdom of God.
“I don’t think the intent of the Article of Faith was to make us vigilantes and gatekeepers and create anti-immigrant rhetoric and climate,” said Ignacio Garcia, a Brigham Young University history professor.
Those who come into this country illegally make hard choices, Garcia said.
“It’s a violation of the law, sure, but circumstances often force people to decide to break one law to obey the higher law.”
Despite such roiling debates among its members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has given no clear-cut guidance on this issue. The church has taken no stand on the Arizona bill, spokesman Scott Trotter said Thursday.
The church takes a sort-of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the immigration status of its own members. Some estimate that 50 percent to 75 percent of members in Utah’s 100-plus Spanish-speaking congregations are undocumented. That includes many bishops, branch presidents, even stake presidents. The church sends missionaries among undocumented immigrants across the country, baptizing many of them without asking about their status. It also allows them to go to the temple and on missions.
“We’re not agents of the immigration service, and we don’t pretend to be,” LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland told The Salt Lake Tribune last year, “and we also don’t break the law.”
In January 2008, Marlin Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, was assigned by LDS President Thomas S. Monson to urge Utah legislators to use “compassion” in their immigration legislation.
That didn’t stop Utah’s mostly LDS lawmakers from passing SB81, which took effect last July and tightened enforcement while limiting immigrants’ access to some services.
Sandstrom does not advocate denying emergency care for undocumented immigrants, but believes “true compassion should be for those who can’t come here legally because of the huge numbers who are here illegally.”
And he doesn’t care if they are Mormons, Catholics or adherents of any other faith. The law is the law.
On several occasions, Sandstrom said, he has shared his legislative proposals on illegal immigration with LDS officials.
“Not one of them told me to ‘cease and desist,’ ” he said. “I’ve been told to do what I feel is right for the state and my constituents.”
Garcia has, again, a different perspective.
No, the LDS Church has not come out as strongly against these anti-immigration measures as the Catholics or the Evangelical Association, he said. Behind the scenes, however, Mormon leaders “do not support such draconian efforts.”
Mormon conservatives seem to feel that not only is the United States being invaded by foreigners, but also their homes, their churches and their congregations, he said. “But the Latter-day Saint who sees the work of the church as becoming a global faith are not running around complaining about immigrants.”
Utah Catholics say ‘No’ to Arizona Law
Bishop John C. Wester, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, spoke out Thursday against Arizona’s anti-immigration bill.
“I am very disappointed that Arizona SB1070 was passed,” said Wester, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration and a longtime advocate of immigration reform, in a prepared statement.
“This law does not solve the problem but it does highlight the frustration of the states at the failure of the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “This law continues the current policy of enforcement only without any consideration of human issues, such as family unity. Immigrants contribute to our country and many live in mixed-status families. This legislation has increased their fear that their families will be torn apart.”
In addition, Wester said, “by granting broad leeway to law enforcement officials to arrest someone on a very low legal standard, including the color of their skin or their accent, I foresee the strong possibility of racial profiling.”
The bishop, leader of Utah’s 300,000 Catholics, two-thirds of whom are Latinos, reiterated the church’s emphasis on the human dignity of all persons.
“Immigrants are human beings who share our values and who dream of a better life for themselves and their families,” Wester said. “They are not criminals, as this law defines them, even if they are here without papers.”
Immigration is a “complex issue,” he said. “Comprehensive immigration reform, which addresses not only enforcement provisions but also temporary work visas, orderly entrance and exit provisions, and human provisions, is the only solution.”
This week, Dee Rowland, head of the Salt Lake City diocese’s Peace and Justice Commission, encouraged Catholics to contact Utah’s congressional delegation to “remind them of their responsibility to pass comprehensive federal reform.”
In meetings with the delegation, Rowland said in the diocesan bulletin, “we heard that they understand the need for reform but they still feel they have not heard from enough proponents.”
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
Messages can be sent by visiting www.justiceforimmigrants.org.
To see more of The Salt Lake Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sltrib.com.
Copyright (c) 2010, The Salt Lake Tribune
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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