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.
On the last item, the church even lobbied Congress in 2005 to pass what Shen called the "Mormon Exception" to immigration laws — a provision that says a religious organization would not be in violation of immigration laws if an undocumented alien is a volunteer minister or missionary for that organization.
How are Mormons supposed to judge fellow Mormons who are illegal aliens?
"They are often strong, spiritual members. And we don't know how God will judge them," Lange said. "But we do know that the church has asked us, as members, to view them as our brothers and sisters."
Lange quoted from the church's June statement. " The bedrock moral issue … is how we treat each other as children of God."
And this is where some LDS Church members haul out the 12th Article of Faith and treat it as a solitary religious principle.
"I've spent a lot of time with people who are very resentful of what the church is asking them to do," Lange said. "They feel that people who are here in an undocumented status are illegal, and it is like asking us to have compassion for a criminal. Let me just tell you, we are supposed to have compassion for criminals. Did we forget what the scripture said about … visiting those in prison? It is not an implication that you only visit the innocent people in prison. Think of all the law breakers that Jesus reached out to."
Lange said she wasn't trying to characterize undocumented people in any way, but if a person thinks they are criminals, he or she should treat them as Jesus taught.
"I think the church has tried to stay as neutral as possible," Lange said. "I think the church is saying, 'We're not going to tell you the solution. We're telling you how we would like you to approach the discussion about the solution.'"
Lange quoted the three basic principles the LDS Church set out for a "responsible approach" to immigration law:
1. The commandment to "love thy neighbor."
2. The importance of keeping families intact.
3. The federal government's obligation to secure its borders.174 comments on this story
Lange said the church is not asking the government to not enforce immigration law, but is asking for a balanced approach to new laws. And an approach from Mormons that includes more of Christ's teachings than just the 12th Article of Faith. "Do you think that even if someone has broken the law," Lange said, "that we could still love them and look at a way for them to right the wrong that they may have done?"
LDS Church statements on immigration