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Lawmakers, LDS Church brainstorm

Published: Saturday, Jan. 19 2008 12:44 a.m. MST

LDS Church leaders have told legislative bosses that the "element of humanity" should be re-introduced to the state's immigration debates.

Before each general session, GOP and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate sit down separately with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints special affairs committee, a group made up of church general authorities, church public relations officials and their lobbyists, to discuss any items on the minds of both legislators and church leaders.

House Minority Whip David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said the Democrats' meeting with church officials brought up several issues, but the immigration discussion was the most touching for him personally.

"I interpreted what was said as this: 'Take a step back, be calm, and above all remember that we are dealing with human beings here,"' said Litvack, who is Jewish and has himself called for cooler heads in dealing with the often emotional issue of illegal immigration.

House Majority Leader Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, a member of the LDS Church himself, said immigration issues did not take up much time in the Republicans' meeting with church leaders. "But they did say we all need to approach this subject with compassion."

When asked about the legislative meetings, church spokesman Rob Howe said, "We communicated our policy ... The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken no position regarding currently proposed immigration legislation."

After Congress refused to deal with immigration issues in 2007, more and more states are now stepping up and passing various kinds of laws. Last year, Oklahoma passed a law that makes it a crime to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants and that creates barriers against undocumented immigrants obtaining jobs or public assistance.

In Utah, Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, is drafting a bill modeled after the Oklahoma law. Other lawmakers are working on piecemeal efforts, which included tightening or repealing Utah's driving privilege card, and repealing a 2002 law that allows qualified undocumented students to pay in-state tuition to attend Utah's public colleges and universities.

LDS Church officials "used the word 'call,' they made a call for humanity in immigration" debates and legislation, Litvack said. "We should not demonize" illegal immigrants. "In some cases, the debate has become so ugly, I heard, so hateful and dehumanizing. Let's bring back the element of humanity."

The worldwide church has many Hispanic and Latino members, and the church's missionaries in Latin America are some of the most successful in getting new converts to the church.

Across America, but especially in the West, the tone of immigration debates has, at times, turned harshfully critical of immigrants and of the politicians arguing for what they term reasonable immigration laws.

Especially in the Republican presidential contest, immigration hard-liners have been pushing for tough new laws and policies.

While LDS Church leaders did not support or oppose any specific piece of legislation that may come up in the 2008 Legislature, which convenes Monday for its 45-day general session, Litvack said they did say: "Take a step back, remember that human beings are involved here. As faith leaders in our community they have a concern for all human beings.

"And I certainly appreciated that. I was glad they spoke out on this topic," Litvack said.

Litvack said church leaders and Democrats also talked about how presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was being treated in the press and by various groups and individuals as he runs for the Republican Party's nomination. Romney won the Michigan GOP primary last week and hopes to win the Nevada caucuses today.

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