Utah Republican Attorney General Rejects Arizona Law, Seeks Support Of Mormon Church

Last night, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) told On the Record host Greta Van Susteren that though he shares Arizona’s frustration with the broken immigration system, he does not support the state’s new immigration law, SB-1070. Shurtleff echoed many of the arguments often made by police chiefs who oppose SB-1070 on the basis that it will make communities less safe by using scarce resources to pursue people who aren’t a threat to public safety and hurt local law enforcement’s relationships with immigrant communities:

And as the chief law enforcement official in the state of Utah, and speaking on behalf of most law enforcement officers, we don’t want to be put in the position of doing the job for the feds. But we do have to have a role in security and public safety. […] And quite frankly, we need the cooperation of other undocumented aliens as confidential informants to work with us so that we can get rid of the worst of the worst. And something like Arizona makes it more difficult for us to do that job. So that’s the security part of this issue.

Watch it:

While many police chiefs and local citizens support his position, Shurtleff is largely bucking a large segment of the Republican party. State Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R-UT) is currently drafting a bill for the 2011 Utah legislative session that’s modeled after Arizona’s. “It is imperative that we pass similar legislation here in Utah,” Sandstrom said. “In the past, when we’ve seen tougher legislation in Arizona … a lot of illegal immigrants just move here.” Sandstrom plans on moving ahead with the legislation, despite the federal lawsuit that is currently challenging SB-1070. Utah is also the state where citizen vigilantes sent a witch-hunt list of 1,300 suspected undocumented immigrants, including social security numbers and pregnancy due dates to state authorities.


However, Shurtleff has been seeking the support of a powerful potential ally: the Mormon Church. While many leaders of other faiths have come out against the Arizona law, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has remained relatively neutral. “I think that would help stop an Arizona style law here, if they would definitely come out against the Arizona style law,” said Shurtleff in a separate interview. It appears fellow Mormon lawmakers have accused Shurtleff of defying his faith by standing against the Arizona law. “They consistently get on me saying if I’m not out there rounding up every illegal alien in the state, then I’m not obeying my own article of faith,” said Shurtleff.

Sandstrom appears confident that the Mormon Church will remain neutral on the issue, but he shouldn’t be so sure. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if 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 has grown by 90 percent in the past decade, up to more than 700. Meanwhile, the majority of Latinos in the U.S. bitterly oppose the Arizona law. In fact, Mormon Latinos launched 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.”

In some ways, some of the damage is already done. The sponsor of SB-1070, state Sen. Russell Pearce (R-AZ), is a devout Mormon. The Arizona Republic reported that his association with SB-1070 has “tarnished the Mormon Church’s image among many Latinos.” Pearce has repeatedly said his anti-immigration efforts have been guided by the Mormon Church’s 13 Articles of Faith, which includes obeying the law. In the past, the Mormon church has also faced criticism over the “racist doctrine” found in Mormon texts and the lack of a diverse leadership that reflects its heterogeneous membership.

While Shurtleff agrees with the federal government on immigration, his support stops there. He is part of the dozen other states who have filed a lawsuit challenging the health care reform package passed earlier this year.