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A faith divided: Opinions on illegal immigration vary among Utah's Mormons

Published: Sunday, Jan. 2 2011 11:53 a.m. MST

Utahs divide on the issue of illegal immigration is one of differing viewpoints, but is also one that shows the challenge of balancing religion with compassion and the rule of law.

In a Los Angeles Times story, journalist Nicholas Riccardi explores the role that Mormonism, Utahs predominant religion, plays in the states immigration debate.

For Utah Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, who was raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, obeying the law is a critical part of being both American and Mormon.

This country is the greatest nation on Earth because God had a hand in its formation, Sandstrom told the Los Angeles Times. A lot of that is because we obey the rule of law. Turning a blind eye to illegal immigration jeopardizes the rule of law.

For Tony Yapias, a convert to the LDS church, the issue of illegal immigration comes down to family, which is a major focus of LDS doctrines.

Every immigrant understands the pain and suffering of any family thats separated, Yapias said. What I dont understand is how Sandstrom doesnt get it — how two people of the same faith can be so far apart.

Throughout 2010, illegal immigration has been a hot-button issue in Utah, from the list of names released by two public employees in July to the introduction of Sandstroms immigration bill in August.

While a voter survey conducted in April showed that the majority of Utahns were in favor of creating a version of Arizonas controversial immigration law in Utah, criticism of such a move mounted.

In response to Sandstroms bill, which was modeled after Arizonas, Utah business, political and religious leaders introduced the Utah Compact, which outlined five principles to guide Utahs immigration discussion.

The LDS church has tried to find a balance between the teachings of the church, compassion and the law, calling the Utah Compact a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform in a statement.

However, the church also acknowledged that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders, and stated that all persons subject to a nations laws are accountable for their acts in relation to them.

The issue of religion and illegal immigration is one that extends beyond Utah. Lawmakers and activists in Arizona also grappled with similar divides, as discussed by Joel Campbell for Mormon Times.

As the immigration debate continues, it is clear that — just as differing opinions on illegal immigration can be found in homes, neighborhoods and political bodies across the U.S. — viewpoints within the LDS faith vary as well.

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