José Corral was seriously considering joining the Mormon Church.
Then, Corral said, he found out that state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican from Mesa and sponsor of Arizona's tough new immigration law, is a member of the church. Corral said he told the missionaries to stop coming because he considers the law to be anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic.
The law, which makes it a state crime to be in the country without proper immigration papers, has tarnished the Mormon Church's image among many Latinos, a huge group the church is aggressively trying to attract.
Pearce, a devout Mormon, has been the driving force behind virtually every bill introduced in recent years aimed at clamping down on illegal immigrants. Mormon officials say Pearce does not speak for the church, which has not taken a stance on Arizona's law or the issue of immigration.
Still, it has put the church on the defensive.
"They say, 'Why would we want to hear anything from a religion that would do this to the Hispanic community?' " said [Bishop] Smith, who emphasized that he was speaking for himself, not the church. "It's a great disconnect because on one hand the missionaries are out there preaching brotherly love, kindness, charity, tolerance, faith, hope, etc., and then they see on TV a quote-unquote Mormon pushing this legislation that makes them not only . . . terrified but terrorized."
Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City, said in an e-mail that elected officials who are Mormons do not represent the position of the church. She said the church has also not taken a position on immigration, which is "clearly the province of government."
"However, Church leaders have urged compassion and careful reflection when addressing immigration issues affecting millions of people," she said in the e-mail.
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