Mormon Church: Legalize Undocumented Residents, Forget Mass Expulsion

The Mormon church announced last week that it advocates a type of amnesty for illegal immigrants who "square themselves with the law and continue to work" in the United States.

The statement, published on the church's website, also takes aim at harsh anti-illegal-immigrant laws like those passed in Arizona and other states:

As those on all sides of the immigration debate in the United States have noted, this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned that any state legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God.

The message follows the church's apparent support of a position statement by some members on the subject of immigration called the Utah Compact.

The church makes the obvious point that trying to expel an estimated 12 million people would be horrendous, judging by previous mass expulsions throughout history, and implies such a move  probably would have racist overtones.

At the same time, the public letter says the church "discourages" members from entering countries illegally or overstaying legal travel visas.

In other words, the church stance is similar to the reality of U.S. immigration policy: Illegal migrants shouldn't come, but if they find a job and keep out of trouble, they can stay.

The politics of immigration in the Mormon-dominated state of Utah have been somewhat divided in recent months, with moderate conservatives backed by the church winning the day. A bill signed by the governor in March that takes effect in two years aims to set up a guest-worker program.

Meanwhile, the church has 16,000 missionaries spreading the word of Joseph Smith in Latin America, with 3,600 in Mexico alone, according to an article published last month in the Salt Lake Tribune. The safety of these church members has been a huge concern as news of right-wing rhetoric in Utah trickles south.

Our cynical side can't help but follow the money: The church's relatively lightweight stance (from the conservatives' viewpoint) paves the road for future, tithe-paying members. Critics note that the 1978 "revelation" that blacks could finally join the priesthood preceded the opening of a new temple in Brazil.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.