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Utah religious leaders warned Monday that the Legislature's proposed immigration bills — especially Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement-only measure — would create a climate of fear that divides communities.

About a dozen faith leaders, led by the Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, assembled on the Capitol grounds as the 2011 Legislature got under way.

The clerics acknowledged that the immigration system is broken, but argued it is the nation's problem to fix, not the state's.

Klemz read from a letter addressed to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and leaders of both the Utah House and Senate. It was signed by about 30 religious figures, including the state's Catholic and Episcopalian bishops and the Lutheran bishop over the Rocky Mountain region.

"Instead of creating heightened immigration enforcement laws," the letter said, "we ask that you join us in addressing the United States Congress and the administration to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform."

It is crucial for churches and society to recognize the gifts and struggles of all immigrants, said the Rev. Steve Goodier, representing Utah's United Methodists. "We seek equality for all … as all are part of the global family."

Nancy Appleby applauded the state's emphasis on family, but noted that many immigrant families hide in fear.

"Let us not add to the anxiety of these families," said Appleby, of the Episcopal Diocese's peace and justice commission. "As a state and as a people, we are better than that."

Catholic lobbyist Dee Rowland urged legislators to bring immigrants out of the shadows.

"Let's resist the effort to demonize these people," Rowland said. "They are not so much breaking the law [these are civil, not legal violations] as the law is breaking them."

Utah's predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was not represented at Monday's news conference.

But Mormon authorities have endorsed the Utah Compact, which calls for, among other steps, a federal fix to immigration reform and urges state leaders to avoid policies that would unnecessarily separate families.