Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s stance against immigration reform contrasts with the position of his Mormon denomination, which seeks Latino converts both inside and outside the United States, and has been in the forefront of promoting reform.
What to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States has for years been one of the biggest challenges facing the country, and once again comes to the fore as a campaign issue.
For the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the fourth-largest denomination in the United States, the “bedrock moral issue ... is how we treat each other as children of God.”
But in every debate when the subject of immigration comes up, the ex-governor of Massachusetts brands as “amnesty” any reform that would legalize the undocumented.
Romney opposes undocumented students being allowed to pay in-state tuition at publicly supported universities, and is against the DREAM Act that would allow them to obtain permanent residence by serving in the military or by going to college.
Only in the last few weeks has he hinted that he could support their legalization but only if they join the Armed Forces.
Romney also associates with people who promote laws tightening the net around foreigners living in the shadows.
Last month he said he felt “very proud” to get the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, promotor of laws against the undocumented.
Romney seeks to ingratiate himself with the most conservative wing of the Republican Party as the surest path to the presidential nomination, but risks losing the support of Latinos, who will play a decisive role in the race.
His positions are diametrically opposed to those of the LDS church, which believes the problem of illegal immigration should be settled by the federal government, and calls on members to be compassionate toward all immigrants.
“In furtherance of needed immigration reform in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law,” the church says on its Web site.
Raids and the consequent separation of immigrant families “weakens families and damages society,” it says.
In 2011, the Mormon church played a key role in the approval of a guest-worker program in Utah, where it also supported the Utah Compact, which asks for “humanitarian” treatment of immigrants and condemns the deportation policies several states have adopted.
On the political map of the U.S., Utah is undeniably Republican, but it’s also a state where 80 percent of its lawmakers are Mormons, and where the LDS church promotes pro-immigrant policies.
Latin America has the greatest Mormon growth rate in the world - Mexico alone has 12 temples and more than 1 million members.
In the United States, Latinos make up the fastest growing sector among Mormons. In the last 10 years, the number of Spanish-speaking LDS congregations increased from 377 to 760.
It’s understandable that Mormons are concerned about the position Romney is taking, considering that as governor of Massachusetts he supported a version of immigration reform, and as a leader of the church he aided immigrants from Asia and Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s.
LDS elders would do well to open talks with Romney to tell him that his position could lose him votes in November and complicate the church’s relations with Latinos.
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