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LDS Church has duty to protect missionaries

Published May 7, 2011 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the angst continues to swirl within Utah Republican circles over the LDS Church's increasingly apparent support of the Legislature's package of immigration bills that includes a guest-worker provision, there is an elephant-in-the-room component that everyone seems to be missing.

The LDS Church has as big a stake in this debate as any institution or association. Therefore, despite those who cry foul over the church's support of more humanitarian solutions than an Arizona-style enforcement-only law, church officials and lobbyists not only had a right to get involved at the legislative level, it had an obligation to do so.

Approximately 16,000 LDS missionaries currently are serving in Latin America — about 3,600 in Mexico alone. The legislators who criticize the church's involvement claim that a large percentage of the immigrant Mormon converts living in Utah are here illegally. Their implication is that the LDS Church — to which most of these critics belong — is contributing to the problem of illegal immigration.



But the whole purpose of the missionary program is to fulfill the church's self-proclaimed charge since the time of Joseph Smith — to spread its gospel throughout the world.

When the church sends out thousands of young men and women each year to labor in that charge, it has an obligation to the missionaries and their families to do whatever it can to ensure the safety of those loyal soldiers.

Mexico already is a violent and dangerous country because of all the drug wars, and other parts of Latin America are risky as well.

The Mormon missionaries in those countries stick out like a sore thumb, and therefore make themselves vulnerable. They dress a certain way, they often get around on bicycles, they wear name tags and many go door-to-door to spread their messages to the local residents.

The LDS Church around the world, obviously, is seen as an American church. It's not too much of a stretch to assume that in neighboring countries like Mexico, it also is seen as essentially a Utah church.

So when a Mormon missionary is seen on the streets or in the neighborhoods in Mexico and other Latin American countries, he or she could easily be seen as representing the sentiment displayed in debates in the Legislature or public meetings toward Latin American immigrants living in Utah.

The anti-guest-worker folks are careful to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration, but the rhetoric often gets inflammatory and, in the eyes of those belonging to the same ethnic group most targeted by that rhetoric, racist.

"I'm Peruvian," said Tony Yapias, a longtime advocate for the Latino community in Utah. "Yet to many of these (strict-enforcement) folks, I'm Mexican. We're all Mexicans. We all look alike."

Yapias expressed a sentiment he says is shared by many legal immigrants from Latin America as the immigration debate becomes more fierce.

"I just got back from a visit to Peru," he told me last week. "There already is a negative view (toward Americans). They are concerned about the tone of the debate."

He says missionaries, because they are so visible, run the risk of being put in a dangerous situation because of "guilt by association."

The locals in the Latin American countries see the proposed tough laws as separating families, with little concern of the devastating impact, Yapias said.

"My son just got back from a mission in the Dominican Republican," he said. They (the missionaries) are not focused on the illegal immigration issue. They have a job to do. They are just trying to do their work. But people want to bring it up. They are angry. It's very disruptive."

Email Paul Rolly at prolly@sltrib.com —

 

 

 

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