Mitt Romney, the preferred Republican candidate by many, is taking a very hard line on immigration even as the primaries heads towards states that are heavily populated by immigrants, especially Hispanics. Curiously enough, Romney-a Mormon by creed and Tea Partier by politics-seems to have gone against his church by aligning his suggested immigration policies with the Tea Party camp. The Mormon Church was instrumental last year in passing controversial legislation in Utah that would provide “guest worker” permits to allow illegal immigrants with jobs to remain in the United States. The church also supported the “Utah Compact,” a human declaration calling for human treatment of immigrants and condemning deportation policies that separate families, which has been adopted by quite a few states. While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is usually reluctant to meddle in politics, it was a decisive force in the signing of a bill that favored some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work, helping shift the debate in immigration in a Republican state where more than 80% of legislators are Mormons. Being that they support an accommodating approach to immigrants, Mormons in Utah say they have been disturbed to see Mr. Romney align himself with his party’s anti-immigration rhetoric. As you know full well through reading our blogs, Mr. Romney has dismissed as “amnesty” any proposal to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and has said he would veto the Dream Act (a law that would offer legal status to young undocumented immigrants who earn a college degree or serve in the military.) In contrast, the Mormon Church has said that any immigration reform “must balance the principles of loving one’s neighbor and keeping families intact with the imperative to secure the nation’s borders and enforce its laws.” The Church is, however, unwilling to reach out to Mr. Romney, stating that their church’s position on matters of this nature is a neutral one, and underscoring the freedom “elected officials who are Latter-day Saints [have in making] their own decisions” even if it stands against the church’s position. Mormon immigration advocates who know Mr. Romney personally said they did not know where his heart was on the issue. They noted that when he served as a Mormon bishop and area leader in Boston in the 1980s and ’90s, he ministered to struggling immigrants from Asia and Latin America. But they said they understood that to get the nomination, Mr. Romney has to appeal to the Republican Party’s right wing. Mark Shurtleff, the Utah attorney general and Mormon who helped draft the Utah Compact, who also endorsed Mr. Romney, said: “I wish I could sit down with him and explain. I would tell him there are very good law enforcement and public safety reasons to support the Utah Compact, besides that it’s right.” Newt Gingrich, the chief opposing Republican candidate, has struck a softer tone on immigration, supporting parts of the Dream Act proposition and advocating broad immigration reform, including citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. However, like Mr. Romney, he too is not entirely in step with his own Roman Catholic Church. Ironically enough for immigrant advocates whose beliefs are well represented within the Church of Latter-day Saints, the fact that Mitt Romney is Mormon is quite possibly the greatest troubling aspect behind him given that the nation is widely unfamiliar with the Mormon religion and, historically, every president of the United States has been a Christian. In spite of this, it is clear that the Mormon Church has many motives for its immigration stance: it is eager to be perceived positively by Hispanics in the United States, and in Mexico and Latin America, where it is making new converts; it identifies with the immigrant experience, having fled persecution before settling in Utah; and it places a strong value on keeping families intact, in this life and the next. The editor of a church-affiliated newspaper in Utah, said, “Latter-day Saints, because of their history of persecution and forcefully being dispossessed of their livelihoods and properties, do have compassion and understanding for immigrants.” As such, it is our greatest hope that Mr. Romney heeds to his church’s call and begins seeing the immigration issue through a humanistic point of view instead of through the narrow line of vision his Tea Party is infamous for.
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