August 19, 2010 by The Mormon Worker
In the recent legislative committee meeting, Representative Stephen Sandstrom introduced a new immigration bill that mimics the bill recently introduced in Arizona. The bill is meant to crack down on illegal immigration and deport larger numbers of illegal immigrants. Witnesses speaking in support of Representative Sandstrom’s bill at a special legislative meeting characterized illegal immigrants in Utah as violent criminals, drug dealers, and even as potential terrorists. They stated that illegal immigrants are “invading” our society and contributing to the collapse of the “rule of law,” and that such immigrants are a threat to our very “way of life.”
As Mormons, it is important for us to reject this false characterization of our immigrant brothers and sisters, and to reject this new bill. Let me explain why. First, the idea that illegal immigrants pose a threat to our communities is simply false. For example, Time Magazine reported that, “while the number of illegal immigrants in the country doubled between 1994 and 2005, violent crime declined by nearly 35% and property crimes by 26% over the same period.” In fact, Representative Sandstrom’s proposed bill could make our community less safe, by making illegal immigrants too scared to report crimes, because contacting the police may lead to them being deported. This is why Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank opposes this kind of immigration legislation.
Second, illegal immigrants come to here to escape conditions of desperate poverty, and want to work hard to make a better life for themselves. Instead of waiting for hand outs, they work hard to be self-sufficient and take care of their families. The sermon of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon reminds us that helping families escape poverty and become self-sufficient is a big part of what Mormonism is all about.
Third, many illegal immigrants in Utah are members of the Mormon Church. They hold temple recommends, and serve as bishops and Relief Society Presidents; they serve missions and fulfill callings. It is ironic that Representative Sandstrom, who is a Mormon, is introducing legislation that will lead to the deportation of many of our hard-working, faithful Mormon brother and sisters.
His legislation will also divide many Mormon families, because oftentimes illegal immigrants are married to US citizens, or have children who are US citizens. If a father is deported for example, his wife and children are often left to fend for themselves.
Kenneth Patrick Smith, a Mesa lawyer and president of the Valencia Branch, a Spanish-speaking LDS congregation in Arizona, talked about this problem: “I deal with the aftermath of what happens when someone gets deported in the middle of the night or doesn’t come home from work. I’m left to help with families and deal with the crying kids and their wives. It’s devastating on these families when the dad doesn’t come home.”
Dividing families in this way seems contrary to the “Proclamation on the Family,” issued by the First Presidency, which states that, “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
Fourth, the way we treat immigrants, both legal and illegal, will have a big effect on missionary work and how others view the Mormon Church. The recently enacted immigration bill in Arizona (which is basically the same as the bill brother Sandstrom is trying to bring to Utah and was introduced by Russell Pearce, a Mormon and Arizona legislator) is already damaging the Church.
The Arizona Republic published an article in May entitled “Arizona immigration law fallout harms LDS Church outreach.” It told the story of Jose Corral, who “was seriously considering joining the LDS Church” after meeting with the missionaries for weeks, and was impressed by the LDS emphasis on family values. However, after discovering that the new immigration law was sponsored by a Mormon, he told the missionaries to stop coming. He stated that, “I decided I did not want to expose my kids to a religion that has members that hate other people because they are different.”
Will others see our Church as promoting hatred and racism, and therefore turn the missionaries away, if such a bill passes in Utah? Or will they see that we are compassionate and loving people if Representative Sandstrom’s bill is defeated? It is up to us to decide.
Finally, it is important for us to remember that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may well have been an illegal immigrant. Mary and Joseph were forced to flee to Egypt to escape being murdered by King Herod. May we remember Jesus, and his call for having love and compassion for our neighbors, when considering the issue of illegal immigration in our country.