Monday, February 14, 2011

Immigrant Rights Advocate Tries to Suspend LDS Missionary Visas to Mexico

“The Lookout,” a Yahoo!News blog, reported today in a story by Liz Goodwin that “an immigrant rights advocate in Utah is trying to provoke the Mormon Church into taking a firmer stand against state-level immigration crackdowns by petitioning the Mexican government to suspend all Mormon missionary visas.” The report states that the advocate, Raul Lopez-Vargas, is circulating a petition, “which accuses the church of not caring about Mexican immigrants because they are mostly Catholic and won't convert to Mormonism.” Lopez-Vargas reportedly wants the Church to sign the Utah Compact, which states that immigration policy is the domain of federal, not state, authorities. Tony Yapias is quoted as saying that “he suspects the delay in visas for missionaries in Brazil ... may be related to the Mormon church’s silence on illegal immigration crackdowns in the United States.”

The people behind the petition do not understand the LDS Church’s position at all. They also are either ignorant of historical facts involving the Church, or misconstrue those facts.

To say that the LDS Chuch is "not caring about Mexican immigrants because they are mostly Catholic and won't convert to Mormonism" is utterly ludicrous. For one thing, Mexican Catholics convert to the LDS Church in great numbers—hence the great force of very busy LDS missionaries in Mexico. LDS missionaries have been baptizing great numbers of Mexican Catholics since at least as far back as the mid-1970s, when I began following such issues. There is nothing about either Mexican culture or a Catholic background that keeps people from converting to the LDS faith. (Although not a Mexican, I am a member of two ethnic groups that are historically Roman Catholic—the Polish and the Puerto Rican—and I converted from Catholicism to the LDS faith, in which I remain quite active; many US converts are former Catholics.)

For another thing, the LDS Church spends about US$ 80-100 million annually in sending aid to the needy, including many people who are not LDS and who live in countries where LDS missionaries are not even allowed to preach. This includes a great deal of disaster relief activities. The LDS Church cares a great deal about the welfare of people of whatever faith they might be; this is why the LDS Church expressed support for the principles of the Utah Compact mentioned in the article, although the Church has not signed that Compact.

What it comes down to is that the LDS Church is reticent to take a position here simply because immigration is largely a political and law enforcement issue. For many years, the LDS Church has stepped back from taking positions on almost any political issue that is not what it perceives to be also a moral issue.

This is another instance in which the LDS Church cannot get an even break from some of its critics. If the LDS Church takes a stance on an issue, then people say it's interfering in politics; if it maintains a neutral stance, as in this case, then people say it ought to be forced to take a stance, especially one that suits the critics.

Incidentally, as far as the delay of Brazilian visas for LDS missionaries is concerned, this goes way back. When I was an LDS missionary myself (Japan Okayama Mission), LDS missionaries headed to Brazil commonly had their visas delayed for months--and this was in 1978.

Advocates for immigrants and various immigration policies—and political policies generally—would do well to focus on reasoned debate, rather than attempt to get their way with power politics.

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Copyright 2011 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

[The image of the Salt Lake City LDS Temple was taken by Diliff in September 2004 and retouched by Entheta in August 2008. The image was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, which is a freely licensed media file repository.]

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