And yet, divisions within the LDS community remain. Utah House Rep. Chris Herrod of Provo, a leader on anti-illegal immigration efforts in Utah, considers himself pro-immigration, noting that his wife is from Ukraine, his sister-in-law from Korea, and his business partner from Ethiopia.
Herrod points out that the Pew study addresses immigration per se, rather than illegal immigration, and says he has often been puzzled when debates on the two issues become muddled. "I believe in immigration," he says. "It's the melting pot that has made the country great. But lately we seem to be splitting into a bilingual and bicultural nation. We need to give equal chances to Africans, Asians, South Asians, and Eastern Europeans, and we need to get back to those core beliefs, where you adopt the language and blend the cultures."
Richard Davis, a political science professor at Brigham Young University, sees the Church position last summer as impacting dialog on this issue within Utah and among U.S. Mormons. "For years the drumbeat was all about illegal immigration and the need to enforce the law," he says. "The Church has nudged the agenda. Now it's more about how we treat people, however they got here."
Charles Morgan, a BYU sociologist who studies immigration, sees culture and Church positioning as mutually reinforcing. Morgan notes that the "closer the contact you have with a group, the more likely you are to have compassion and see them as equals." Like Davis, Morgan also sees the Church's positioning as significant: "The Church is projecting a positive image of immigrants, and I think this is resonating with the more devout Mormons."
Morgan points to Arizona, where a Mormon state senator from the heavily Mormon Mesa area, who was president of the Senate and had authored the state's controversial immigration policy, was replaced in November by another Mormon in a recall election. The new senator, Jerry Lewis, was encouraged to run by LDS members in the Mesa area who were concerned with what they saw as a harsh tone on illegal immigration.
Jason Labau, who researches Arizona political history at the University of Southern California, also sees recent Church policy and underlying cultural factors as reinforcing. "This is a much longer shift," he says, "and it stems from the missionary experience. Several friends I grew up with in Arizona are staunchly conservative, and the only issue we see eye to eye on is immigration. They served missions in Chile, Guatemala, and Mexico, and they see these people as equals who are looking for something better."