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A new poll indicates that a little less than half of Mormons in the state agree with the Utah Compact, despite the church leaders support of the document that seeks to keep local police from enforcing federal immigration laws.
The Salt Lake Tribune poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, says 48 percent of LDS members support the Utah Compact, while 39 percent oppose it.
Those numbers virtually mirrored the statewide results, with 49 percent supporting it and 39 percent opposing it.
The question posed to those surveyed noted that the LDS Church is among supporters of the compact.
What the results suggest, according to BYU sociology professor Charlie Morgan, is that, sometimes, issues transcend the church's ability to influence opinions.
"It's surprising, and then it's not surprising, because if you remember when it came out, Representative [Stephen] Sandstrom said the church's statement didn't change his opinion," Morgan said. "He said there are some things in the compact he supports and some things he doesn't. Sometimes, on these hot-button issues, people go with how they feel, regardless of the church stance."
Sandstrom, R-Orem, is a member of the LDS Church and is the author of an enforcement-only bill that is based on Arizona's law requiring local police to enforce federal immigration laws.
The Utah Compact was unveiled at the state Capitol in November, and it has been signed by more than 3,000 people online to date. It focuses on five points, including leaving immigration reform to the federal government; recognizing the impact illegal immigration has on families, society and the economy; and keeping local law enforcement out of the equation.
Church officials wouldn't comment on the poll results Thursday and instead referred back to their statement in support of the Utah Compact.
Rex Ashdown, a World War II veteran who lives in Ogden, said he is very active in the LDS Church and yet, the compact doesn't entirely reflect his views on the issue.
He said he's fine with local police checking the legal status of the undocumented, but he also sees the value of those people here illegally who work hard and contribute to society.
"Those that are here illegally and are not contributing, move them out," Ashdown said. "But if they are contributing, they ought to be able to apply and stay."
His conflicted view is reflected in the poll numbers indicating that 56 percent of Utahns support the ability of those living without legal status to have the opportunity to stay and apply for citizenship.
The poll suggested that, among men, women, Republicans, Democrats, independents, LDS and non-LDS, there is broad support for that proposal with Democrats having the highest support at 67 percent.
The results were virtually unchanged from a Tribune poll last October, though support for the concept declined 10 percentage points among political independents from 63 percent to 53 percent.
Ramona Lopez, a retired registered nurse who lives in Midvale, was born and raised in Utah and said her grandparents obtained citizenship that way coming here from Mexico and later applying for legal status. She said her grandmother ended up as a social worker and her grandfather worked for Kennecott Utah Copper for more than 40 years.
"They came here to work and make a better life, and while here, they had a chance to apply for citizenship and they did become citizens," Lopez said. "They became very productive members of society."
Lopez said if people are here and contributing, they should be given the same chance that her grandparents had.
But Ron Mortensen, president of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said those who support allowing people who are here illegally to obtain citizenship ignore the lawbreaking that is occurring.
He said those here without documents steal Social Security numbers of children to obtain jobs.
He said identity theft and document fraud are a part of the equation that people don't consider when agreeing with letting undocumented people obtain citizenship after living and working here illegally.
"That message hasn't gotten out," he said. "But I think if people realized they were committing major felonies, I don't think they'd be supporting them being here and getting on a pathway to citizenship."
But Morgan said across-the-board support for allowing those here illegally to apply for citizenship could be reflective of the recent news about the failure of the Dream Act, which would've allowed children brought to the United States to become citizens by having a clean record, going to college, or joining the military.
He said that even though the bill failed, the stories of those children may have humanized the issue and emphasized that they're not just undocumented workers, but families that made hard choices.
"I think it showed people the problem is far more complex than just sending them all back," Morgan said. "Some of these kids came when they were just a year old."
Mason-Dixon conducted the poll Monday through Wednesday, and a total of 625 registered Utah voters were interviewed by telephone.
The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Utah Compact
Among the five principles are:
"Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries not Utah and other countries."
"Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code."
"Strong families are the foundation of successful communities. We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families."
"Utah's immigration policies must reaffirm our global reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly state."
"The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors. Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill."