Russell Pearce-Style Nativism on Blast at LDS-Style "Fireside" on Immigration

Renowned commercial trial attorney Daryl M. Williams has no problem telling you exactly where he stands on the subject of illegal immigration and how it intersects with his faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During the summation of his recent hour-long lecture on the topic before a crowd of about 100 at a meeting hall in Mesa, he was both passionate and emphatic.

"I don't believe you can be a good Mormon and hate illegal immigrants and want to deport them and break up families and leave children without their parents here," he told attendees. "I don't believe you can be a good Mormon and be a nativist."

Williams' address and question-and-answer session had been billed by its hostess -- DeeDee Blase of the Hispanic-Republican advocacy group Somos Republicans -- as an LDS-style "fireside." That's a kind of Mormon religious gathering, often held in the evening.

Many of the participants were Mesa residents and LDS faithful. You can watch a full video of Williams' presentation, here.

A member of his LDS stake's High Council, who is both fluent in Spanish and studied in the history of immigration law, Williams takes a free-market approach to the issue of immigration. This view, which includes a respect for secure borders, is discussed at length in an essay of his, titled simply, "Illegal Immigration," which Williams hewed fairly close to in his fireside address. (Read Williams' essay, here.)

Williams said he wrote the essay to address the oft-repeated refrain, "What part of illegal don't you understand?"

Quoting widely, from Thomas Paine and Milton Friedman to Sigmund Freud and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley, author of Let Them In, The Case for Open Borders, Williams surveyed the progression of U.S. immigration law since the country's  founding, observing that its intent was often to exclude those races or nationalities deemed undesirable. He also noted the influence of nativist prejudices on immigration law and policies.

Referring to himself politically as "right of Genghis Khan," Williams contended that the market should dictate the flow of immigrants onto American soil. He also pointed out that our immigration laws are not criminal in the traditional sense that there is no intent to injure involved, or an "evil mind," which lawyers refer to as mens rea

(Indeed, mere illegal presence in the U.S. is a civil violation, though there are criminal penalties associated with unlawful entry and human smuggling, obviously.)

I particularly appreciated one historical analogy Williams brought up in relation to attempts to halt the flow of immigrants into this country: That of King Cnut of England, Denmark, Norway, etc. Legend says Cnut set up his throne by the sea and commanded the tide to halt, so that it would not wet the royal tootsies. Of course, the waters did not comply.

But the most revolutionary concept Williams presented that evening -- that is, revolutionary for Mesa, Arizona -- was the fact that both LDS doctrine and the Mormon Church itself, argue for a compassionate approach to immigration reform.

The LDS church has publicly supported the Utah Compact, a call from business, political, and religious leaders for common sense immigration statutes that do not separate families. And on March 15, when Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed four bills into law offering a comprehensive approach to immigration, including a state guest worker program, David Burton, the LDS Church's Presiding Bishop, attended the historic event.

"Our presence here testifies to the fact that we are appreciative of what has happened in the Legislature this session," Burton told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We feel the Legislature has done an incredible job on a very complex issue."

Williams believes the LDS Church had a hand in the success of what Governor Herbert has called "The Utah Solution" to immigration. Indeed, it's worth noting that 80 percent of Utah's legislature is LDS.

The attorney, whose law offices are in Phoenix, went so far as to back up the morality of his stance with scripture. In addition to citing Biblical passages, he took up the challenge of one of the LDS Church's Articles of Faith, which some Mormons use to bolster a harsh, black-and-white view of illegal immigration.

"We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law," reads the passage.

But what seems cut and dry is in fact mitigated by a passage from the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants:

"We believe that the commission of crime should be according to the nature of the offense...according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men...and for the public peace and tranquility all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment." (Bolding is Williams'.)

Offenders against "good laws" need to be brought to judgment, but what if the laws are bad, wondered Williams? Moreover, does crossing the Sonoran Desert to seek work demonstrate a "tendency to evil"? Williams thinks not.

Not everyone in the crowd agreed with Williams. One man, identified by some as a leader of the local Tea Party, rose, calling Williams' statements "shallow" and "pathetic." Another lady also stood in opposition. But these voices were rebutted by others who spoke of how they had struggled with their fear of Mexican immigrants, ultimately realizing they were their brothers and sisters.

Interestingly, Williams sent state Senate President Russell Pearce a copy of his essay, asking  for a meeting. Pearce never replied.

"I am disgusted by Russell Pearce," he told me as the event was breaking up. "That's why I'm here tonight."

I asked him why we can't have an Arizona Compact backed by Mormons here, since the LDS Church had supported Utah's version.

"Let me  tell you why," he explained. "The problem is East Valley Mormons, who are sort of like sheep. They get behind a guy like Russell Pearce and they go, `You know, it must be the right thing.' 

"That part in [the Mormon scriptures] about `obeying, honoring and sustaining the law'? They stop right there. They never go to that section where it says `good laws,' because, let me tell you, there's nothing more rebellious than a faithful Mormon when it comes to a bad law."

Williams' fireside was controversial, to say the least. There had been complaints about the church's name being used on fliers promoting the event. Even Williams' stake president didn't want him involved.

"My stake president called me up to tell me not to do this," he related. "I told my stake president to take a hike."

I'm glad Williams did, though he doesn't strike me as the kind of fellow who ever cottons to being told to shut up.

Both Williams and DeeDee Blase are to be congratulated on the meeting. This sort of thing needs to  happen more often in Mesa and the rest of Arizona. Otherwise, this state will never turn the corner on our nasty, divisive immigration debate.

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