Tuesday, May 18, 2010

LDS Church Taking Criticism Over New Arizona Immigration Enforcement Law Because Its Sponsor, State Senator Russell Pearce, Is A Mormon

The chief sponsor of Arizona's immigration enforcement law, originally SB 1070 but now replaced by the more moderate SB 2261, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as a result, the LDS Church is drawing some criticism and proselytization efforts are being hampered, according to a May 18th, 2010 article in the Arizona Republic.

Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), who drafted the original SB 1070, is a member of the LDS Church. The new immigration law has been severely misrepresented and criticized by so-called "immigrants rights" groups and progressives on the hard left. The combination of these two factors means that some prospective Latino converts have changed their minds about joining the Church, and LDS missionaries now find more doors slammed in their faces.

Jose Corral, a 45-year-old fourth-grade teacher and legal permanent resident from Mexico, met with Mormon missionaries at his home in Laveen to read the Book of Mormon and prepare for his baptism. Corral, a Catholic and the father of two preteen daughters, was especially drawn to the church's commitment to family values. But once he found out that Senator Pearce was a Church member, he told the missionaries to stop coming because he considers the law to be anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic, even though the law does not target any particular race or ethnic group. And Kenneth Patrick Smith, a Mesa lawyer and president of the Valencia Branch, a Spanish-speaking LDS congregation in Mesa, said missionaries from his church have had doors slammed in their faces since Arizona's new law was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April.

While Senator Pearce has never claimed to speak for the LDS Church on immigration, he frequently cites the Twelfth Article of Faith, which reads "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law", as part of his philosophical justification for tougher immigration enforcement. Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City, reiterated 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.

A non-doctrinal statement by Elder Marlin K. Jensen, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, given at an Interfaith Dialogue on Immigration in 2008 is frequently seized upon as reflective of official Church thinking, though. Elder Jensen said “Immigration questions are questions dealing with God’s children...I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted, and urge those responsible for enactment of Utah’s immigration policy to measure twice before they cut.” Elder Jensen further stated that "The church's view of someone in undocumented status is akin, in a way, to a civil trespass...There is nothing inherent or wrong about that status."

Interesting. I wonder what would happen if upon returning to his home some evening, Elder Jensen were to find squatters in his own home. Would he give them a ticket for "civil trespass"? Unlikely - he'd probably call the cops. Being an illegal immigrant is clearly a status offense, just like a curfew violation is for a teenager. But it it still an offense. We must be merciful - but mercy can not be allowed to rob justice.

Another LDS blog addressing this issue is Millennial Star. Millennial Star makes the point that "supporters of this law, no matter how well-intentioned, completely underestimate how much the Latin community opposes this law and how discriminatory they believe it is towards them. Hispanics truly feel this law makes them second-class citizens, constantly under suspicion because of their ethnicity". But just because much of the Latin community is paranoid, does it mean we need to cater to that paranoia? The language of the law clearly does not target any particular race or ethnicity. If Latinos are disproportionately targeted, it is because illegal immigrants are disproportionately Latino due to Mexico's proximity to the United States. If China shared a border with the U.S., illegal immigrants would be disproportionately Chinese instead.

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