Lobbying • Critic says lawmakers had little choice but to back guest-worker bill because of their faith.
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Amid a steady trickle of questions from LDS members and a swelling stream of political criticism of a state guest-worker law, the church is repeating its support of the Utah Compact, and it again described immigration laws enacted by Utah's governor and Legislature as "a responsible approach."
The statement, posted Tuesday on the church's official website, came in response to "three or four calls a day [from members] … asking for the [LDS] church's position on immigration," said spokesman Scott Trotter. "The information is meant to reiterate what we've already said multiple times, rather than serve as a new statement on the topic."
But it also came at a time of renewed debate among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the faith leadership's stance on immigration; the intensity of the church's lobbying effort during the recent legislative session; and questions of the legality and soundness of new Utah immigration laws.
Ron Mortensen, a Mormon who is opposed to any kind of amnesty for undocumented immigrants, believes the church statement was triggered by not a few, but many, calls to LDS Church headquarters and by the actions taken last weekend at the Salt Lake County Republican Party convention.
GOP convention delegates, a majority of whom are LDS members, approved a resolution calling for the repeal of Utah's new guest-worker law, HB116, "at the earliest possible occasion." The resolution, criticizing the law as unconstitutional and an enticement to illegal immigration, passed despite a plea from Gov. Gary Herbert against such action.
On Tuesday, Mortensen posted a pointed history of the Utah-based church's behind-the-scenes involvement in immigration reform on the Center for Immigration Studies website: www.cis.org/mormon-church-and-illegal-immigration.
In his history, Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, claimed that the LDS Church "specifically asked Sen. Curt Bramble to put together an omnibus immigration bill that reflected the church's interests."
Bramble, R-Provo, said in a Salt Lake Tribune interview Wednesday that, before the session began, Senate leaders asked him "to see if we could come up with an alternative to an Arizona enforcement-only approach. I was never asked by the church to run a piece of legislation."
LDS lobbyists did, Bramble said, "make it clear where the church stood on immigration."
Throughout the years, Mormon representatives have weighed in on bills about alcohol, the definition of marriage and even tax policy, but Bramble, who is an LDS member, said that in his 11 years in the Legislature, "It's fair to say they were at least as engaged on the issue of immigration as any other issue on Capitol Hill. Does that mean [their involvement] was the most ever? In my experience, yes. ... It is clear this is an issue of great interest to the church."
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Wednesday he didn't experience any pressure from LDS representatives.
The church "made it pretty clear, in subtle and unsubtle ways, that it supported a more moderate approach to dealing with immigration that recognized the complexity of human lives," said King, who is a Mormon. "They weren't telling legislators anything they hadn't been conveying to the public, even before the session."
The retired U.S. foreign-service officer claimed in his history that many LDS lawmakers personally opposed the guest-worker legislation but felt they had to support it because of their allegiance and deference to their church's leaders.
"A Utah state senator told a constituent that he was compelled to vote for [HB116], which he philosophically opposed, because that was what the [LDS] church wanted him to do," Mortensen writes. "When some legislators learned that their constituents had been told by public-affairs officials that the church was only providing information and not encouraging legislators to vote for illegal-alien-friendly bills, the legislators responded that that was 'an outright lie.' "
Without the presence of Mormon lobbyists, Mortensen says, "HB116 would have failed." He is most troubled by what he sees as an inconsistent message.
The church was claiming to be neutral on the bills, Mortensen says, "while at the same time supporting the development and passage of an omnibus immigration bill that included a Utah-specific guest-worker/amnesty provision for illegal aliens living and working in the state."
Last month, LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton attended the invitation-only ceremony in which Gov. Gary Herbert signed the guest-worker law and several other immigration bills.
The church's actions on the issue indicate that it has moved away from justice, or strict law enforcement, and into "mercy [compassion]," Mortensen says, "and gives the distinct impression that the [LDS Church] is moving to the left and closer to a social-justice position."
Mortensen said he hasn't lost his faith over this issue, nor is he anti-Mormon. He sent a copy of his paper to LDS President Thomas S. Monson, who sent a note saying he doesn't comment on publications, and four apostles, who never replied. Some Mormon opponents of the bills, Mortensen said, are withholding some contributions from the church because of its stance.
Brigham Young University political scientist Quin Monson says the language of the church's statements has evolved from July to now.
The statements aren't inconsistent, Monson said, but "the debate has sharpened and we have actual legislation that has passed, and the church has expressed its satisfaction. The church is trying to walk a broader path, based on its principles."
For its part, Trotter said the LDS Church "disagrees with Ron Mortensen's characterizations of the issue and events."
Its Tuesday statement left open the possibility of more in-depth commentary about the church's stance on immigration.
"The [LDS] church may speak further on this subject," the statement concluded, "if it is necessary to refute any misunderstandings or correct distortions of its views that have found their way into the discussion taking place on this important topic." firstname.lastname@example.org
The LDS Church statement
Read the statement at http://newsroom.lds.org/article/immigration-response?
A different view
Read Ron Mortensen's history of the LDS position on immigration at www.cis.org/mormon-church-and-illegal-immigration.