Excerpts of Mormons on opposite sides in immigration fight By Peggy Fletcher Stack, Salt Lake Tribune
Doctrinal duel: Members mine teachings to buttress their positions even as leaders stay silent.
No matter how much the LDS Church would like to remain neutral on the issue of illegal immigration, Mormon activists on opposite sides draw on their faith's doctrines or practices to buoy their positions.
Russell Pearce, the Arizona senator who proposed that state's tough anti-immigration law, is LDS and hails from Mesa, a stronghold of Mormonism.
According to Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, the Arizona lawmaker builds his case on the Utah-based church's 12th Article of Faith, which says Mormons believe in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law."
That also is a key belief for Sandstrom, a Mormon who has met with Pearce several times and hopes to introduce a similar bill in Utah.
"We are a country with the rule of law," said Sandstrom, who served an LDS mission in Venezuela. "That's the only way a country can prosper."
On the opposite side are Latter-day Saints who argue for a more complex and humane approach to immigration. They point to church teachings about taking care of one's family, being hospitable to the stranger and building the kingdom of God.
"I don't think the intent of the Article of Faith was to make us vigilantes and gatekeepers and create anti-immigrant rhetoric and climate," said Ignacio Garcia, a Brigham Young University history professor.
Those who come into this country illegally make hard choices, Garcia said. "It's a violation of the law, sure, but circumstances often force people to decide to break one law to obey the higher law."
The church takes a sort-of "don't ask, don't tell" approach to the immigration status of its own members. Some estimate that 50 percent to 75 percent of members in Utah's 100-plus Spanish-speaking congregations are undocumented. That includes many bishops, branch presidents, even stake presidents. The church sends missionaries among undocumented immigrants across the country, baptizing many of them without asking about their status. It also allows them to go to the temple and on missions.
"We're not agents of the immigration service, and we don't pretend to be," LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland told The Salt Lake Tribune last year, "and we also don't break the law."
In January 2008, Marlin Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, was assigned by LDS President Thomas S. Monson to urge Utah legislators to use "compassion" in their immigration legislation.
That didn't stop Utah's mostly LDS lawmakers from passing SB81, which took effect last July and tightened enforcement while limiting immigrants' access to some services.
Mormon conservatives seem to feel that not only is the United States being invaded by foreigners, but also their homes, their churches and their congregations, he said. "But the Latter-day Saint who sees the work of the church as becoming a global faith are not running around complaining about immigrants."