Church reassures migrants

In a carefully worded statement released in English and Spanish, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Thursday sought to assure undocumented immigrants that the church is not backing efforts to limit their opportunities in Utah.

A church spokesman admonished a group of immigration reformers who have been lobbying the Utah Legislature to pass laws that would prohibit illegal immigrants from obtaining driver licenses and would require that they pay nonresident rates for college tuition.

"The church is investigating complaints that Utahns for Immigration Reform [UFIRE] are citing church teachings as apparent justification for their political positions," LDS Church spokesman George Monsivais said during a news conference at the Capitol. "The church repeats its oft-stated caution to members that they should never infer that the church endorses their personal political positions."

Matt Throckmorton, a former state representative who heads UFIRE, said he didn't want to involve the church in the disagreements but understands the position it took, especially because of an increasing Latino LDS membership.

"They have a unique relationship with them," he said.

Throckmorton, a Mormon who is running for Congress, said he supports the position of the church but does not support illegal immigration.

During a joint news conference with Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, Throckmorton announced that the group's co-founder, Russell Sias, was "booted out" of UFIRE for using LDS doctrine in urging the legislation.

Referring to the Church's Twelfth Article of Faith, which says Mormons must obey laws, Sias allegedly told members of a Latino legislative task force that "illegals" were violating an important tenet of church teachings and therefore should not be allowed to go into LDS temples or hold church positions such as the priesthood. Sias has repeatedly denied making the statements, and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Throckmorton said of the controversy: "I apologize for the heartache it caused individuals . . . I hope that puts that to rest."

But Throckmorton and Thompson, who is sponsoring legislation UFIRE supports, held fast to the position restricting undocumented immigrants.

"What this has become is a forum for those who don't want to obey the law," said Thompson.

He said those supporting the legislation should not be labeled racist, adding that he said he supports legal immigration.

Earlier in the day, the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City held its own news conference, where the LDS Church's Monsivais said the church wasn't taking a position on Thompson's bill that would prohibit the use of a Mexican government-issued identification -- known as the Matricula card -- in Utah.

Mexican Consulate officials said the actions of UFIRE have been promoting hatred against Mexicans in the state. Consulate officials also said the LDS Church has been helpful and supportive.

"They're seeing this in a humanitarian manner, they know the worth of the Mexican people," said Consul Patricia Deluera. "It's clear that they don't support [the legislation against the Matricula card]."

The controversy had tension boiling in the Capitol rotunda.

Thompson said he was being threatened by a representative of the Mexican government and called security, adding that the man "should be removed from this country."

Near the rotunda, LDS member Tony Yapias, who is Peruvian American and director of the State Office of Hispanic Affairs, argued passionately with UFIRE member Alex Segura. Segura said he is Mexican from the United States.

"All I want is your Mexicans to obey the law," Segura said to Yapias.

"My, Mexicans?" Yapias said. "You're a Mexican."