Utah faith leaders applaud Obama’s immigration move

First Published      Last Updated Nov 21 2014 05:15 pm

Religion » They still want Congress to enact permanent reforms.

The Rev. Steve Klemz of Salt Lake City's Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church was heartened Thursday by President Barack Obama's executive action on behalf of undocumented immigrants.

"I applaud the president for stabilizing the status of families and for taking an important step toward a more compassionate system," said Klemz, a longtime immigration-reform advocate. "I am especially pleased to hear that the order may extend deferred action to [millions of] parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents."

Klemz noted that "immigration detention facilities continue to open across the nation, and families are torn apart because of deportation."

His heart breaks, the pastor said, "for the millions of people who are living in constant fear and uncertainty because of their immigration status, as well as the thousands helplessly trapped in detention."

Bishop John C. Wester, leader of Utah's 300,000 Catholics, celebrated Obama's move as well, saying it was "high time something was done."

The "immigration narrative is broken, dehumanizing to immigrants," Wester said from Italy, where he is attending a Catholic conference on migration. "We need to broaden the story."

Instead of seeing immigrants only as lawbreakers, the bishop explained, "we need to recognize them as human beings who enhance our society and our process of integration."

But the Lutheran and Catholic clerics agreed that Obama's remedy is temporary.

"Obviously, Congress still needs to act to fix the whole system," Klemz said. "Extending deferred action would allow more families to stay together without fear of deportation. As a citizen, I believe that family unity is a core American value. As a person of faith, I believe that families belong together regardless of immigration status."

For his part, Wester hopes the White House's action will spur Congress to "do something instead of playing politics."

"We have people all over the country and in Utah," he said, "who are not getting medical treatments or other care because they are afraid of being deported."

When asked about Obama's move, LDS Church spokeswoman Jessica Moody did not directly respond, saying only that "the church has previously outlined the principles we feel should be part of the immigration discussion at mormonnewsroom.org."

On that official site, Utah's predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has voiced support for the so-called Utah Compact, widely embraced by faith leaders and calling for a federal solution with an eye toward compassion for undocumented immigrants.

"Public officials should create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society," the Mormon website says. "Such laws will properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion and the observance of just and enforceable laws."

In the spring, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the faith's governing First Presidency, met with Obama and other faith leaders. Outside the White House, the LDS leader expressed hope for a break to the partisan logjam preventing meaningful immigration reform.

"We certainly hope that a values-based, balanced approach to this reform is coming about and not being delayed by small things, which can be resolved by common consent and common sense," Uchtdorf told reporters in April. "And we hope that this time around the communities and the nation pull together and find a solution to this problem, which could be resolved in a Christian ... way."


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