Thursday, April 30, 2009

LDS Missionary Jose Calzadillas Arrested By Customs And Border Patrol Agents At Cincinnati Airport On April 8th, 2009 For Immigration Violation

An April 8th incident involving a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cincinnati has triggered a fresh round of sharp debate within the LDS community over the disposition of illegal immigrants.

Jose Calzadillas, an LDS missionary completing two years of service in Ohio, was arrested by Customs and Border Patrol agents at Cincinnati Airport on April 8th, 2009. The 24-year-old was initially detained in Kentucky's Boone County Jail until April 13th, when he was transferred to Chicago. He had a custody hearing on April 22nd in front of Judge Carlos Cuevas of the Chicago Immigration Court. He was released, and has another court appearance there on August 27th.

According to information earlier posted on Voice Of Deseret, Calzadillas was not an illegal immigrant in the classic sense of the term. He had a passport, but he had allowed his visa to expire. He was initially denied ministerial visits by Church authorities upon his detention, but this was later relaxed. Calzadillas' parents are allegedly illegal immigrants themselves.

Complicating the issue is the fact that the LDS Church takes an ambiguous "don't-ask, don't tell" position on membership for undocumented member. And it supported a 2005 federal law amendment, pushed by Utah Senator Bob Bennett, that gives churches legal immunity for having undocumented immigrants do volunteer service, including serving missions. In a recent interview, LDS Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland pointed out that "We're not agents of the immigration service and we don't pretend to be, and we also won't break the law."

But church leaders have taken no overall stance on federal immigration law. "The church does not have an official position on immigration policy, but encourages compassion in dealing with the complexities of immigration issues," said spokesman Michael Purdy. "The blessings of the church are available to anyone who qualifies for membership and accepts the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church will continue to focus on the spiritual well-being of its members while complying with the law. Immigration status is an issue left to each individual and the corresponding government authorities."

But some LDS members are starting to question their faith as the church continues to recognize undocumented immigrants as worthy of baptism, temple entrance and missionary work while one of the faith's founding principles is to obey all laws, said Eli Cawley, chairman of the Utah Minuteman Project. "The risk that the church runs by supporting illegal aliens is the risk of alienating their own white membership," Cawley said. A Salt Lake Tribune "unscientific" poll, accessible HERE, tends to show support for Cawley's position; out of 1,479 votes, 62.33 percent disagree with the church's practice of sending undocumented immigrants on missions, 26.77 percent agree, and 10.88 percent expressed no opinion.

This question triggered a rather contentious debate on Milennial Star. Those on the side of "compliance" cited the 12th Article of Faith, and its counsel to honor, uphold, and sustain the law. In contrast, those on the side of "compassion" don't generally defend their positions logically, but stoop to emotion-laden diatribes and name-calling to intimidate the other side.

In general, there's probably no need for Church authorities to check residency status of members during ordinary worthiness interviews. But when interviewing prospective missionaries, this issue is too complicated to ignore. If Church authorities are allowing illegal immigrants to accept missionary service and exposing them to possible arrest, they incur a responsibility for such people. The problem needs to be corrected.

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