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A public divide surfaced between Latino leaders Friday when several high-profile immigration activists criticized the LDS Church for not going far enough in supporting the Utah Compact a document designed to tamp down angry rhetoric on the issue.
Archie Archuleta, chairman of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, said the church made progress with its statement emphasizing families and humane treatment of undocumented immigrants while throwing the issue back to the federal government.
But Archuleta and Frank Cordova, president of Centro Civico Mexicano, believe LDS Church leadership should have signed the compact and said that all state immigration bills should be put on hold.
"You have to see it as a mountain. That mountain is the high ground of morality. And, so far, we've had some people that have reached that top and the LDS Church is taking steps to reach it," Archuleta said. "We see the moral high ground still has to be climbed by some groups."
Archuleta made the public comments Friday morning in the gym at Centro Civico.
When Archuleta said bills including Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement-only bill should be scrapped for the upcoming session, Cordova yelled "Yes" while clapping his hands.
"We'd like to see most of that put on hold a moratorium on any further immigration laws by the state until things are straightened out with the court cases in Arizona," Archuleta said. "And let's see what the new Congress will do."
But Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, said he thought the church's statement in support was "an answer to our prayers" and what he had been waiting for.
"I am satisfied," he said.
Mark Alvarez, an immigration lawyer, also said the church's statement was "clear" in its intent to drive the debate away from Arizona-style bills and to deal with the issue as a moral one.
But Paul Mero, director of the Sutherland Institute and signer of the compact, said the result of the compact and the church's statement effectively renders Sandstrom's bill "DOA" heading into the legislative session.
The Utah Compact has generated national interest as the state appears to be veering away from the direction Arizona took earlier this year when it passed its enforcement-only bill. It was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, but portions of it have been tangled up in court with constitutionality issues.
Signatories on the compact represent a broad group of religious, business and political leaders agreeing that the dialogue must be centered on its five principles: a need for federal solutions, not using local law enforcement for immigration enforcement, economic equality, living in a free society and keeping families together.
It is the principle of families that the LDS Church homed in on, with its statement reading in part: "Families are meant to be together. Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society."
Despite Archuleta's call, Sandstrom said he will push forward on his bill and there is no indication that any of the other bills being drafted are going to be halted either.
But the Utah Compact and the Mormon church's statement have moved the dialogue not only within the state, but nationally as well.
The Washington D.C.-led National Immigration Forum held a telephone conference call with major players involved with the Utah Compact and are pointing to the state as offering an alternative approach to Arizona.
Jeremiah Stettler contributed to this report.