Michael De Groote, deseret news
SANDY — As an immigration law attorney, Cynthia Lange still feels an affinity with the LDS Church's 12th Article of Faith she memorized as a child: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
"And I really felt strongly about this," she told a crowd on Friday at the 2011 conference of FAIR, the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy.
She and her co-presenter, attorney Patrick Shen, have had plenty of experience enforcing immigration law by deporting people — including some members of their faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They explored the volatile subject of immigration policy and answering the question, as Lange put it, "How is the church asking Mormons to be different?"
"We have to deal with the 12th Article of Faith," said Lange, who has 26 years' experience in immigration Law and who now represents businesses in establishing global immigration programs. "This is probably one of the biggest things that sticks in LDS people's craw."
The 12th Article of Faith is a list of basic beliefs of the LDS Church and is part of the Mormon scriptures. Its teaching, "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law," doesn't seem to leave much room for undocumented workers.
"We often hear … 'Illegal means illegal. What part of illegal don't you understand?'" said Shen, who has 12 years' experience with the U.S. Government in immigration and served as policy chief for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and headed the Office of Special Counsel for Unfair Immigration Related Employment Practices. "But breaking the law is one thing. Seeing the need to make better laws to make the country better is another thing. It is not an all or nothing proposition."
And it is toward encouraging better, moral laws that the LDS Church has directed its attention.
"There is a lot of emotion on all sides of the discussion," Lange said. "Even in the LDS Church there has been a division and a dissonance we haven't seen."
To illustrate the types of feelings people have about immigration, Lange pointed to a government report on immigration: The Dillingham Commission. The commission's report said new immigrants were immigrating for different reasons than earlier immigrants. The commission found the newer immigrant "comes with the intention of profiting" only to go back to their old country. It found they do not assimilate and don't learn English. The report's findings encouraged a clampdown on immigration. The commission's report wasn't very new, however. It was made in 1911 — a century ago. "You'll find every argument in here," Lange said. "It was the same feelings back then, but it was for eastern and northern Europeans."
If the feelings are not new, at least the controversy is contemporary and the LDS Church has issued several statements on immigration policy.
In a June 2011 statement, the church said, "As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation, and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas."
Lange said, however, this policy isn't being used by the church to judge worthiness.
"The church has continued to baptize people regardless of their legal status in the country," Lange said. Immigration status is not a question in pre-baptism interviews. It is not a question in an interview to determine if a church member can attend an LDS temple. It also does not prevent a member from serving as a missionary — although it may effect where the person can go. "I know some people may struggle with some of this," Lange said.
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