The American Civil Liberties Union is raising the suspicion that federal immigration agents posed as Mormon missionaries to try to nab undocumented immigrants.
The allegation was made by a California professor writing in a recent edition of The Nation magazine who quoted Marina Lowe, an ACLU staff attorney in Salt Lake City.
The article, posted online Dec. 17, asserted that ICE agents throughout the nation use all kinds of ruses, including posing as missionaries and insurance agents.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Virginia Kice on Monday said the allegation that agents pretend to be missionaries is "patently untrue."
Lowe told The Salt Lake Tribune that she had little to go on when a woman living along the Wasatch Front reported last spring that ICE agents may have posed as LDS missionaries.
The woman, who was suspicious of other visitors seeking her husband around the same time, said two people dressed like missionaries, but lacking black name badges commonly worn by Mormon emissaries, came to her door, Lowe said.
"It was purely her impression," Lowe said. "She was very suspicious."
The day after she confirmed for the visitors that her husband lived there, the article said, he was arrested by ICE agents.
Visitors seeking her husband previously about an insurance matter, however, left a phone number.
Lowe said that when she telephoned the number, the man who answered ultimately acknowledged he was an ICE agent.
"He said they use whatever tactics they can to get someone to talk to them," Lowe said.
The ACLU attorney said she was not able to probe the woman's suspicion about visitors dressed like missionaries because they left no contact information.
The report echoed similar anecdotes from the immigrant community in Utah County, she said. "It's hard to get to the bottom of [these stories]. People are very worried about coming forth with their story."
But Kice said the two top ICE officials in Utah deny their agents ever pose as missionaries.
"The thing that's troubling about this is it is causing significant anxiety in the Mormon community, which is appropriate," Kice said. "But it's patently and completely false."
LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah declined comment. "The church cannot comment on unsubstantiated allegations," she wrote Monday in an e-mail.
Aaron Tarin, an immigration attorney in West Jordan and a Mormon, was quoted in The Nation story.
"If this gets out," Tarin told the magazine, "it could have a catastrophic effect on missionaries' work in Utah, and it can really put missionaries in danger. Aliens could get hostile and offensive."
Tarin did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment.
The article by Jacqueline Stevens, a University of California at Santa Barbara professor in the law and society program, detailed instances in which ICE agents allegedly impersonated OSHA inspectors, insurance agents and religious workers.
"The effect," she wrote, "is to corrode trust in the government, neighbors -- and even Mormons."
Contacted by The Tribune , Stevens was dubious of ICE's denials. "How do we know it's not part of their ruse operation to lie about ruse operations?"
When Stevens was preparing her article, she asked ICE whether it is consistent with government policy for its agents to pose as religious workers. The e-mailed answer did not deny such ruses, but instead said tactics are effective to enhance officer safety.
"They told me it's consistent with their policy," Stevens said. "Why would I doubt it?"
To read The Nation article, go http://tinyurl.com/yhk85gf" Target="_BLANK">here.