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Arizona Mormons divided on immigration

Published April 25, 2011 12:32 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Arizona LDS lawmaker Russell Pearce and other Mormons like to quote the LDS Church's 12th Article of Faith about the importance of "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law" to defend stringent immigration enforcement laws.

But such opponents of undocumented immigrants, says Phoenix commercial trial lawyer Daryl Williams, disregard other Mormon scriptures that urge followers to embrace laws, only when they are good.

After all, Williams says, most Mormons – even the law-and-order zealots – don't consider LDS Church founder Joseph Smith "a scofflaw" because he was "a fugitive escapee from a Missouri jail at the time of his martyrdom in Carthage, Illinois."

Williams has written a lengthy essay on the topic to explain his views, which is available here, and his speech is available on YouTube.

"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," Williams told about 100 LDS attendees at a recent gathering in Mesa, Ariz., according to a report in the Phoenix New Times. "I don't believe you can be a good Mormon and be a nativist."

The speech at an LDS "fireside," or small gathering, was initally publicized by a flier put on cars at LDS Church parking lots, but after Pearce's brother, Lester Pearce, complained, Williams asked his hosts to discontinue that, and they complied.

"My stake president, also, asked me if this was something I should be doing, to which I responded that it had to be done and someone had to stand up and do it and that he should not be asking me a question like that," Williams said in an email. "I sent him a copy of my essay and a copy of the flier."

Williams made it clear to his audience that he was speaking personally, not as a representative of the LDS Church. But he did draw on Mormon scriptures and teachings to build his views of morality, economics and the underpinnings of the U.S. government. He also cited the church's support of immigration reform legislation in Utah, which did not follow the Arizona model.

"I happen to believe we are all children of our Father in Heaven. I have often wondered if God is pleased with political lines between countries that separate His children," Williams says in his essay. "Will it make a difference to the Lord if we build a fence? "

Williams sent state Senate President Russell Pearce a copy of his essay, asking for a meeting, the New Times reported. Pearce never replied."I am disgusted by Russell Pearce," he told the New Times as the event was breaking up. "That's why I'm here tonight."When asked why Arizona hasn't followed the Utah model, Williams said that 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.'"