Meet the New LDS Face of Immigration Politics

Call it a changing of the guard in Mormon politics on immigration: goodbye Russell Pearce, the LDS Arizona state senator who authored that state’s controversial SB 1070, and hello Raul Labrador, a Republican congressman from Idaho’s first congressional district who has played an influential role in the development of the bipartisan immigration reform bill scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday.

In an editorial last week in the Idaho Statesman, the Puerto Rican-born Labrador, who is LDS, cited his experience practicing immigration law for fifteen years as a key factor in support for sensible, comprehensive reform that focuses on border security, creates guest worker programs, and “normalizes” the status of the undocumented.

But Labrador has almost certainly been the beneficiary as well of political cover provided by the Utah Compact—a self-described “common sense” approach to immigration reform signed by state leaders in 2010 and hailed by the New York Times as a model—and one of its key institutional backers, the LDS Church. 

The LDS Church helped influence the compact design and announced its support in a formal statement issued in November 2010, citing particular concern for “love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws.”

Pearce represents an ethnocentric red-state Rocky Mountain Mormonism unreconciled to its own global future; Labrador represents that pragmatic, global-corporate future. For better, and for worse.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.