Doctrinal divide confronts Mormons on immigration

Salt Lake City, USA - Here in Utah, the push toward tougher immigration laws has become increasingly tangled in Mormon doctrine as divided Latter-day Saints defend their politics by pointing to conflicting interpretations of what Jesus would do.

Would God, one side asks, demand strict obedience to the law — and penalties to those who transgress it — as suggested in Mormonism’s Doctrine and Covenants 58:21? “Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.”

Or would he, the other side counters, look beyond border violations and extend a hand toward the nation’s undocumented population under principles preached in Matthew 25:40? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

The “What Would Jesus Do” question isn’t easily answered in a scripture-laden debate that has pitted biblical passages from Exodus to Ephesians against one another and placed the parable of the good Samaritan on the opposite side of the ideological debate from an anecdote delivered by LDS President Thomas S. Monson about Saints behind the Iron Curtain.

So where does the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really stand?

Utah’s dominant religion hasn’t taken a definitive position on the question. Instead, church leaders have called for “compassion” and encouraged “careful reflection and civil discourse” when debating immigration reform. LDS Church leaders would not elaborate for this story.

In the absence of an official voice from the Mormon hierarchy, doctrinal defenses are forming on their own to justify — or decry — a proposed Utah law that would clamp down on illegal immigration.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, has unveiled a bill that reflects the controversial crackdown in Arizona — initiated by a fellow Mormon, state Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.

Sandstrom’s bill would tackle illegal immigration from several angles. Among the highest-profile provisions: It would require police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for a traffic violation or detained for a crime if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally.

It also would make it a felony to encourage undocumented immigrants to come to Utah, expand the criminal prohibitions against transporting illegal immigrants, allow residents to bring legal action against a government agency that “limits” enforcement of federal immigration laws, and require a legal-status check before someone can receive certain public service and licenses.

Sandstrom views his legislation as consistent with LDS doctrine — specifically with the church’s continued emphasis on Latter-day Saints obeying the law.

The church’s family proclamation, for example, urges parents to teach their children to “observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.”

Sandstrom’s most frequent argument arises from the church’s 12th article of faith, which states that Mormons “believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.”

“No matter how much you tout how bad of a violation it is, you are here illegally,” Sandstrom says. “That is a violation of law.”