Yesterday, on Univision’s Sunday political show, Al Punto, host Maria Elena Salinas asked state Sen. Russell Pearce (R-AZ) and sponsor of SB-1070 about his immigration views and how they relate to his faith as a member of the Mormon church. For much of the interview, Pearce refused to talk about religion and would not say whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should reject or denounce its undocumented immigrant members. However, Pearce rejected the Mormon church’s teaching of compassion and helping those in need and stated that he would support sanctioning or criminalizing fellow Mormons who “deliberately” aid undocumented immigrants:
[Translated from Spanish]
PEARCE: We [Mormons] believe in the rule of law, All I’m gonna say our church teaches the rule of law, absolutely.
SALINAS: It also teaches compassion, no?
PEARCE: Which compassion, what about the child molesters, should we have compassion for them too?
SALINAS: That’s what the church says, that we should not turn…
PEARCE: Hang on, hang on. We should have compassion with child molesters, burglars, rapists, right? They still go to jail. The laws are going to be enforced. You break the law, there are consequences. Don’t have compassion for people who break the law. There are consequences. We are a nation of laws.[...]
SALINAS: Should the Mormon church be criminalized or sanctioned for helping undocumented immigrants?
PEARCE: If they do it deliberately, treat them as you would treat any other person. I do not support law breakers.
SALINAS: Even if they are Mormons?
PEARCE: I don’t care what church they’re part of. Illegal is illegal. The law is the law.
Watch it [in Spanish]:
Pearce also insisted that undocumented immigrants make up a very small minority of the Mormon Church. While the actual number of undocumented Mormons isn’t really known, it is clear that Mormon Church doesn’t turn people away because of their immigration status. Meanwhile, the church’s international growth has been directly connected to its recruitment of Latinos at home and Latin Americans abroad. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often said to be the fastest growing religion in Latin America with 5.2 million members and 5,500 chapels. The number of Spanish-speaking Mormon congregations nationwide in the U.S. has grown by 90 percent in the past decade, up to more than 700. For the most part, these new members come from populations that abhor Arizona’s immigration law. Latin American governments have blasted SB-1070 as “racist” and an overwhelming majority of Latinos in the U.S. oppose it and believe it will lead to racial profiling.
Meanwhile, Latinos of Mormon faith are demanding answers from their church. More specifically, they are asking the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to take a position on the immigration issue. While other socially conservative denominations, including the Southern Baptists and Catholics, have come out strongly supporting a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, the Mormon church has remained notably neutral. Mormon Latinos have responded by launching a letter-writing campaign to Latter Day Saints Church President Thomas S. Monson, asking him to define the church’s official position on immigration. “This is affecting our families,” Tony Yapias, who launched the campaign, stated. “Where’s the church in this? The longer they stay quiet, the more political it gets, the more divisive.”
The Mormon church has come under even more pressure in the wake of the disturbing release of the names of 1,300 suspected undocumented immigrants by citizen vigilantes in Utah. In response, the church released a statement simply calling for “careful reflection and civil discourse when addressing immigration issues.” While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lags in defining a position, Pearce is becoming its default poster boy. The Arizona Republic reported that his association with SB-1070 has “tarnished the Mormon Church’s image among many Latinos.” And while he didn’t want to talk to Salinas about religion, he has said in the past that his anti-immigration efforts have been guided by the Mormon Church’s 13 Articles of Faith, which includes obeying the law.
While there is no evidence that the Mormon church has actively aided undocumented immigrants in need, other denominations, most famously the Methodist church, have provided assistance and refuge to undocumented immigrants who seek their help.