Statements erroneously claiming the LDS Church supported proposals to restrict illegal aliens from getting a state driver's license could be the final straw for bills that have already received cool receptions from lawmakers.
The statements were apparently made by a board member of Utahns for Immigration Reform (UFIRE) after a Monday legislative committee meeting and again during a Tuesday phone conversation, UFIRE co-founder Matt Throckmorton said.
During the two conversations, the board member, who "is no longer associated with the organization," referred to doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to insinuate church support for the bills.
"He was very much at liberty with the position of the church, when the church had not taken a formal position," Throckmorton said Thursday.
Throckmorton said the person quoted one of the church's Articles of Faith that says church members believe in "honoring, obeying and sustaining the law."
The comments prompted LDS Church leaders to issue a statement saying they have not taken a position on HB109. They also said they are investigating an unidentified number of complaints about the statements.
"The church is investigating complaints that Utahns for Immigration Reform enforcement are citing church teachings as apparent justification for their political purposes," LDS Church spokesman George Monsivais said, reading from a prepared statement at a Thursday morning press conference. "The church repeats its oft-stated caution to members that they should never infer that the church endorses their personal political positions."
UFIRE has been very active in pushing HB109 and SB242, both of which would prohibit the use of the individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), which is issued by the Internal Revenue Service to foreign citizens who do not qualify for a Social Security number. The ITIN is issued regardless of whether the person is legally in the United States, and, according the IRS Web site, is only supposed to be used for paying taxes on income earned in the country.
SB242 was never approved by the Senate Transportation Committee and will probably not reach the Senate floor. HB109 is currently stalled in the House Rules Committee, despite having received a positive endorsement from the House Transportation Committee Monday.
Although some Rules Committee members said privately it was doubtful the bill would get to the floor this session, sponsoring Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, said that he had been assured by members that it would move today.
Thursday night, at the monthly Hispanic/Latino community meeting at Salt Lake's Centro Civico Mexicano, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told a crowd of more than 300 people that while his job is to enforce the law, he does have personal concerns about HB109 because of some public safety issues. He said it would be better to issue licenses and track immigrants than to deny them that.
"Hispanics have always been here," he said. "They are a valuable asset."
Judy Hamaker-Mann, director of the Utah Driver License Division, was also on hand but declined to give an opinion on the bill. She told those present to "voice your concerns to legislators." During a Thursday news conference to dispel "myths" about his bill, Thompson emphasized that his purpose for sponsoring the legislation was simply to make sure that people who are breaking immigration laws are not given incentives to continue breaking the law.
"This is about wanting to institute the American tradition of following the law," he said. "But it has become a forum for those who don't follow the law to accuse those who do follow the law of being racist. I resent that."
Mexican community leaders, however, characterized the bill as bad for Utah's relations, especially economically.
"I am very concerned that the relationship between Utah and Mexico will be damaged if HB109 succeeds. This bill promotes hatred against the Mexican people," said Mexican consul Patricia Deluera during a Thursday morning news conference with LDS Church officials.
Gov. Olene Walker's chief economist, Neil Ashdown, said the relationship between Utah and Mexico is a vibrant part of the state's economy."The Latino population has contributed significantly to the Utah economy, and it benefits the state, the U.S. and Mexico to have a close relationship," Ashdown said.
Contributing: Lynn Arave