Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Second LDS Branch President Uncovered As An Illegal Immigrant; Manuel Antonio Carias-Odonez Deported To Guatemala

In the publicity associated with the departure of one former LDS branch president, Felix Joaquin Callejas-Hernandez, who was uncovered as an illegal immigrant, the Deseret News has reported that a second former LDS branch president was also revealed to be an illegal immigrant and deported. Manuel Antonio Carias-Odonez, who served as the president of the South Cache Spanish-speaking branch, was deported to his native Guatemala on June 13th, 2011. He had been detained in the Weber County Jail on an immigration hold since May 20th, and was turned over to federal immigration officials on June 9th.

Carias-Ordonez temporarily leaves behind a wife, Aracely, and three children aged 18, 14 and 8. Aracely and the three kids will remain in Utah for now, but she's committed to keeping her family together. That means they will have to leave the United States for an uncertain future in country that is unfamiliar to them. Her husband was trained as a physician and she as a teacher so they should be able to make a living. Carias-Odonez himself was underemployed while living in the United States.

Scott Trotter, senior media relations manager for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reacted. He said, "This case reminds us all of the need to address immigration reform. As we have stated, we believe any solution should include the following three principles: The commandment to 'Love thy neighbor;' the importance of keeping families intact; and the federal government’s obligation to secure its border."

Trotter's reaction comes on the heels of a new Church statement on immigration issued on June 10th. In that statement, the Church discouraged its members from entering any country without legal documentation and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas, condemned any policy which would lead to mass expulsion, and expressed support for an approach where illegal immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship. In summary, the LDS Church supports a balanced and civil approach to the immigration problem which is fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.

On the same day, the LDS Church issued a shorter statement in which they reaffirmed that undocumented status should not by itself prevent an otherwise worthy Church member from entering the temple or being ordained to the priesthood. It also counseled Church members to avoid making judgments about fellow members in their congregations. Both statements have triggered some unofficial LDS reaction on the Bloggernacle, notably at Times & Seasons and Keepapitchinin

Politically, the Church statement has triggered debate amongst mostly-Mormon Utah politicos, who are discussing the status of HB116, a guest-worker bill which currently is in violation of federal law. Keri Witte, who is leading the charge for a resolution calling for repeal of HB116, argues that the bill is not in harmony with church teachings of being honest and obeying the laws of the land. She also claims the church would not support anything that would create amnesty, something Witte claims HB116 does.

In contrast, Jeremy Roberts, who is leading the charge against a resolution calling for repeal of HB116, is trying to convey the message that even though the law allows an immigrant to have a guest worker permit in the state, it contains tough provisions that would deter an illegal immigrant with a criminal background from entering the state and trying to obtain a guest worker permit. It does not give citizenship nor protect people with a guest worker permit from federal prosecution. Roberts points to the church's statements on immigration, its support of the Utah compact and its presence at the signing of HB116 as evidence that the church supports it.

The non-binding resolution to repeal HB116, which has already passed in the Utah, Salt Lake and Washington County Republican conventions, will be presented Republican State Organizing Convention on Saturday June 18th.

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