Latter-day Saints have been speaking on both sides of the immigration debate, particularly as a new strict law takes effect in Arizona.
While some might wrongly assume that Mormons all think alike, this issue, like many others, shows Latter-day Saints have diverse opinions.
Most notably, the sponsor of the controversial Arizona law is LDS member Sen. Russell Pearce from Mesa.
Most media reports have been quick to note his faith. Here's part of a National Public Radio story about Pearce and a fellow LDS Arizona legislator:
"Opponents say Pearce is a racist — a charge he vehemently denies. A devout Mormon, he says he is simply committed to the church's command for obedience to the law.
Rep. Bill Konopnicki, another Mormon Republican state representative in Arizona, says that Pearce is sincere.
"'I think Rep. Pearce really genuinely believes what he's doing is the correct thing ... and it's hard to argue against that position,' he says.
He disagrees with his colleague's position, however. There's little evidence that illegal immigrants commit more crime than the rest of the population, he says, adding that the Mormon church calls for compassion toward the stranger."
(Here's an interesting read about the decade-long history of the
immigration bill from the Arizona Republic.)
Tony Yapias, an immigrant rights advocate and LDS member, has also be widely quoted about the effects of the Arizona law. Yapias told the Deseret News:
"I think it's just an extreme approach to enforcing immigration law. This is an issue that has to be dealt with at the federal level."
Yapias said he had no doubt race issues will be a part of how the new statute is enforced if it becomes law and it will have a negative impact regardless of a person's immigration status.
Linda Greenhouse, former Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times, notes how former BYU president and then-Solicitor General Rex E. Lee led the fight for both the Carter and Reagan administration to allow immigrant children to attend school. Although Greenhouse doesn't mention Lee's faith, his strong position is notable. Greenhouse writes:
"I'll offer a reflection on how, a generation ago, another of the country's periodic anti-immigrant spasms was handled by the Supreme Court. In 1975, Texas passed a law to deprive undocumented immigrant children of a free public education. Many thousands of children — a good number of whom were on the road to eventual citizenship under immigration laws that were notably less harsh back then — faced being thrown out of school and deprived of a future... I have no doubt that but for that ruling, public school systems all over the country would be checking papers and tossing away their undocumented students like so much playground litter. Blocked from that approach, local governments now try others."
Rep. Steve Sandstrom, R-Orem, who served an LDS mission in Venezuela, said he will carry a bill similar to Pearce's in Utah.
Sandstrom told the Deseret News he's started work on drafting a bill for the 2011 Utah legislative session that uses the Arizona statute as a model — a move he said is necessary to stanch the flow of illegal immigrants into the Beehive State. "It is imperative that we pass similar legislation here in Utah," Sandstrom said. "In the past, when we've seen tougher legislation in Arizona ... a lot of illegal immigrants just move here."
Utahns are apparently on the side of a law similar to the one in Arizona. A KSL-Deseret News poll shows that 65 percent (45 percent strongly favor) support such a law.
(See an interesting debate about a possible Utah version of the Arizona law on KSL's Sunday Edition with Bruce Lindsay.)
The church has taken no official stand on the immigration. In 2006, the church issued a statement in response to a "Lou Dobbs Tonight" and "Anderson Cooper 360" programs:
"On the Anderson Cooper 360 show of 23 May 2006, journalist Lou Dobbs claimed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was encouraging 'as many of Mexico's citizens as they possibly could attract to the state of Utah, irrespective of the cost to taxpayers.'
Earlier, on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs had a similar exchange with reporter Casey Wian.
"Such statements are completely without foundation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has over a million members in Mexico. It does not encourage them to move to Utah or anywhere else.
"The Church, in fact, has made no comment so far on the immigration debate, recognizing that this complex question is now before Congress and is already being thoroughly aired in the public square."
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