Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Protestant leaders gathered Tuesday evening in a Lutheran Church to pray, preach, plead and lament the passage of an immigration bill. They even called for it to be repealed.
Their words cannot stop Senate Bill 81 from taking effect today, but they hoped to provide comfort and express solidarity with Utah's undocumented immigrants.
"SB81 is a symbol of the brokenness in our community," said the Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City who organized the interfaith service. "We lament in public because the love of God is always love of neighbor."
The bill has been touted as Utah's solution to the problem of illegal immigration, but that is a "myth," said Barbara Szweda, immigration attorney with the ACLU. "Only comprehensive federal reform can change the situation in Utah."
SB81 has created a "climate of fear in a state that has always welcomed the stranger," said Szweda, an Episcopalian. "We don't need the hate this law has spawned. We call on people of faith to seek to repeal it."
The melancholy sound of an oboe punctuated the sermons, while several speakers read biblical passages detailing God's love for the whole human family, the importance of hospitality to strangers and the importance of justice for the poor.
"Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every heart; that the barriers dividing us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatred cease; and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace," prayed Anita Catron, of All Saints Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.
Dee Rowland, of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, urged those in attendance to sign the "Interfaith Pledge on Immigration," which says, in part: "I will work towards just, workable and humane immigration reform."
For Klemz, immigration is a moral issue -- and a personal one.
In 2002, he married Norma Gonzalez, who had come to the United States from Mexico to care for her ailing father and stayed -- without permission.
He joined her in the bureaucratic black hole that was her effort to become a legal resident. The couple prepared a petition to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, now part of Homeland Security. The federal government wanted to know if theirs was a marriage of convenience or a real union. They assembled scores of photos showing their family life and hundreds of letters from friends attesting to the genuineness of their marriage.
Finally, last November, supporters filled the immigration courtroom as the couple faced their future.
"They put us on administrative hold and encouraged us to go to Juarez [Mexico] and get Norma a visa," Klemz said, "but they are not actively pursuing us."
Though not conclusive, it was a relief.
During Tuesday's service, Klemz said he was speaking for all those who live in the shadows for fear of retribution.
"God's words are the word of hope," he said. "We stand with them in the place of faith."
Tribune reporter Sheena McFarland contributed to this report.
Law enforcement » County sheriffs are required to "make a reasonable effort" to determine the legal status of anyone jailed for a felony or for driving under the influence. If a person is a foreign national, the sheriff must find out within 48 hours if that person entered the country legally. While the law allows city patrol officers to cross-deputize and essentially work as immigration agents, no Utah municipality has agreed to do so.
Supporters say the participation of city police could help curb illegal immigration. Opponents warn it would drive major crime victims and witnesses underground.
Religion » SB81 states that as long as undocumented immigrants have been members of a faith for at least a year, church leaders may appoint them ministers or missionaries and pay living, medical and other associated costs. "The [LDS] Church has not taken a position on SB81, nor do we believe that it affects in any way the ability of members to accept callings in their local congregations," spokesman Scott Trotter said.
Religion » SB81 states that as long as undocumented immigrants have been members of a faith for at least a year, church leaders may appoint them as ministers or missionaries and pay living, medical and other associated costs. "The [LDS] Church has not taken a position on SB81, nor do we believe that it affects in any way the ability of members to accept callings in their local congregations," spokesman Scott Trotter said.
Public benefits » SB81 affects few public benefits, and only people over age 18 can be denied certain benefits based on their lack of legal status. Most public health programs, including cancer screenings and WIC, are not affected. Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program continue to require proof of legal status.
Transporting or harboring » SB81 makes anyone transporting an undocumented immigrant more than 100 miles for "commercial advantage or private financial gain" or who "knowingly conceals, harbors or shelters from detection" an undocumented immigrant guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
Employment » Only companies contracting or subcontracting with a government employer must verify legal status in the United States -- and only for workers hired after July 1, 2009. SB81 does not apply to private employers.