Immigration Issue Divides Arizona Mormons

Latino Mormons spoke out this week against Arizona’s controversial new immigration law SB 1070.

Local leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are reporting that missionaries are having “doors slammed in their faces” by Latinos who identify the law with its author, Mormon state senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa).

One Latino Mormon who is now in deportation proceedings told the Arizona Republic this week, “I want the Church to put a stop to him.”

Six percent of the population of Arizona is Mormon. This includes not only Anglos in historic LDS settlements like Mesa, Snowflake, and Thatcher, but also strong contingents of Latino and Native American Mormons.

Pearce has publicly cited one of the “Thirteen Articles of Faith,” a Mormon creed authored by Joseph Smith in 1842, as justification for SB 1070: article twelve states “we believe… in honoring, sustaining, and obeying the law.”

But Latino Mormons object to the law as contradictory to fundamental principles of Christian charity, compassion, tolerance, and kindness.

Anglo Mormons who work with Spanish-speaking Mormon congregations have also gone on record against SB 1070. In a widely circulated letter addressed to Governor Jan Brewer, Mesa resident William Richardson, a multi-generational Mormon and self-identified “conservative” who serves as the ecclesiastical leader of a Spanish-speaking congregation, decried SB 1070 for its inhumanity to the children of immigrant parents, its impracticality and unfairness, and its meanspiritedness.

The LDS Church’s official stance on immigration holds that immigration policy is “the province of government” but urges “compassion and careful reflection” in matters affecting immigrants and their families.

The debate over immigration reveals a divide between Mormons who look to the faith’s future as a global church and those who hold to deep-seated ethnic Anglo-Mormon identity and view political conservatism as a defining feature of LDS cultural and religious orthodoxy.

It is estimated that of the Church’s 13 million members worldwide, more than 4.5 million members are Spanish-speaking. Spanish-speaking LDS congregations in the US have grown by an estimated 90 percent in the last decade. The majority of Mormon converts in the US now come from Latino communities. And there are just about as many Mormons who live in Mexico and Central America as there are in the state of Utah.

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