Over the past year, Latinos of Mormon faith have been asking the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) 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.
One advocate decided to collect the signatures of over 130 people in a letter asking Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s government to suspend visas to Mormon missionaries. The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
Even so, Raul Lopez-Vargas, a former vice president of the community group Centro Civico, walked alone into the consulate’s busy lobby in Salt Lake City and hand-delivered the letter and several other documents.
Jose Umburto Gutierrez, the official who received the papers, said he would give them to his superiors. Lopez-Vargas said he already has sent a copy directly to Calderón.
The activist said he’s doing this to pressure LDS to sign the Utah Compact — a document signed by more than 3,300 people who favor a compassionate approach toward illegal immigration. The church has endorsed, but not signed, the compact.
The article notes that LDS “is heavily invested in Mexico, with 23 missions, more than a million members and a dozen temples.” Mexico allots more than 4,800 visas for missionaries. The church’s international growth has been directly connected to its recruitment of Latinos at home and Latin Americans abroad. The LDS 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.
To its credit, LDS recently released a statement which indicated that the Utah Compact “is consistent with important principles for which we stand.” Yet, as the Salt Lake Tribune notes, it has yet to formally sign on to the document. A spokesperson for LDS noted that withholding visas from LDS missionaries “would hurt Mexico more than the Utah-based church.” “The American missionaries who go to Mexico come back as that country’s greatest advocates,” he stated. While that may be true, it does not account for the fact that the church has failed to stake out a strong position in the immigration debate.
Meanwhile, while LDS has remained relatively silent on the issue, some members of the church have been more outspoken. State Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R-UT) is the sponsor of his state’s Arizona copycat law and a Mormon himself. He blasted Lopez-Vargas for asking the Mexican government to interfere in internal matters related to Utah. Russell Pearce — the sponsor of Arizona’s controversial immigration law — is a also devout Mormon who has cited the church’s command for obedience to the law as one of his primary motivations. The Arizona Republic has reported that his association with SB-1070 has “tarnished the Mormon Church’s image among many Latinos.”
While it’s relatively unlikely that Mexico will revoke visas to Mormon missionaries, LDS is certainly facing mounting pressure from its Latino members to take a definitive stance on immigration. In the end, not doing so may hurt LDS more than it hurts Latinos.