Holly Richardson: Utah could join the other 49 states with Islamaphobic politicians — unless you step in

If you’ve ever wanted to “be the change,” here is your chance. Call the senators’ offices.

Ron Mortensen, a co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration and a retired U.S. foreign service officer, has published a critical account of LDS Church involvement in the issue of illegal immigration. File Photo

The irony is thick. The very week that The New York Times published an opinion piece on “What Islamophobic Politicians Can Learn From Mormons,” Donald Trump nominated an immigration hardliner, Utahn Ron Mortensen, to oversee refugees and migration. As the Times piece points out, since 2015, 49 states have had Republican officials publicly attacking Islam. The one standout was Utah. Now, one Utahn with strong anti-immigrant positions could ascend to a position of prominence.

Mortensen has a long and vocal history of opposing immigration, especially undocumented immigrants. He has been writing anti-immigrant opinion pieces for more than a decade. He has castigated the LDS Church many times for its pro-family approach to immigration. In January, the LDS Church urged Congress to take action to prevent the deportation of “Dreamers,” or children who were brought to the United States without documentation. Mortensen criticized the church’s stance, saying that most “Dreamers” were committing multiple felonies.

In 2013, he called President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and other LDS leaders either naive or mean-spirited when Uchtdorf said President Barack Obama’s outline for immigration reform “matches the values of the Mormon faith” and included the shared values of compassion, family cohesion, respect for law and common sense.

The immigration “think tank” he belongs to proudly claims to be the nation’s only one “devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States.” It says right in its tagline that it is for low immigration, whether documented or not. It concludes that “current, high levels of immigration are making it harder to achieve such important national objectives as better public schools, a cleaner environment, homeland security, and a living wage.” It’s also been labeled a hate group for its anti-immigrant bent.

Mortensen asserts that Utah has “lost its moral compass” because Utah as a whole welcomes immigrants into our communities and sides with the tenets of the Utah Compact.

Mortensen and his ilk aside, Utah has a long history of supporting refugees. After all, Mormons were once in that same position, fleeing religious persecution and looking for a place of peace and safety. We of all people should know better.

When the current administration celebrates the separation of families at the border, marking them not with yellow stars but with yellow bracelets, when the White House chief of staff says kids can be “put into foster care or whatever” and then federal agencies lose almost 1,500 children, it’s no surprise that a hardliner is nominated to oversee migration and refugees.

Surprise or not, this move is outrageous. It is akin to appointing David Duke to oversee race relations or Karl Marx to oversee the free market.

In Utah alone, we have almost 250,000 immigrants, paying $1.4 billion in taxes, and holding a combined $4.7 billion of spending power. There are 12,002 immigrant entrepreneurs and 31,224 employees at immigrant-owned firms. But it goes so much further than the economic benefits that might come from welcoming immigrants. It’s basic humanity.

These are our neighbors. Our friends. They want a better life for their children. They are people like us. The ones arriving here as refugees are fleeing unimaginable conditions in places like Syria and Myanmar, Somalia and Sudan and many other countries around the world. They are willing to live in squalor in refugee camps because they want to keep their families safe.

Mortensen will need to be confirmed by the United States Senate. Both Utah senators can and should block this nomination. Senior Sen. Orrin Hatch has been a staunch supporter of ”Dreamers” and of the Utah Compact. Sen. Mike Lee did not vote for Donald Trump in part, he said, because he saw Trump’s travel ban on refugees from Muslim countries as an inappropriate “religious test.”

If you’ve ever wanted to “be the change,” here is your chance. Call the senators’ offices. Get your friends and neighbors to call their offices. Tell them Utah values are not represented by a man who dehumanizes and “otherizes” people who were born in a country different than his own. We are better than this.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, is heartsick at the thought of an anti-immigrant hardliner being “in charge” of refugees and other migrants.