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Raising the Bar for Illegal ImmigrantsApril 27th, 2009

What happens when undocumented aliens serve LDS missions? (Hint: Sometimes they get arrested)
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by Jacob Hodgen


Last week an LDS missionary was ready to return home. He had just finished serving a two year mission in Oklahoma and was headed towards the Cincinnati airport. However, instead of a traditional greeting with flowers and balloons, he was met by police and was arrested.

The missionary was an illegal immigrant to the United States.

Michael Purdy, a spokesman for the LDS church, claims the arrest was made due to his, "lacking necessary documentation to board his flight home." The LDS church eventually decided to send the boy's uncle to pick him up and transport him back to his home in the Salt Lake Valley.

This unusual event has sparked a shock wave throughout Utah as both members and non-members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints struggle to decide how to deal with the practice of undocumented immigrants being sent on missions. The Salt Lake Tribune made several peculiar comments on the issue which ignited a strong reaction from the public, including stating that, "LDS Church leaders have had evolving policies on how to keep undocumented missionaries safe." They quote Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle in the LDS church and member of the Missionary Executive Council, who released the following statement:

"There's been an ongoing discussion of this for 15 years. These kind of incidents, or anything like it, would continue that discussion. We're always trying to do, always and forever, exactly what's legal, and in the spirit of that, be fair to everyone on the religious side, on the spiritual side, to have the spiritual benefits of [serving a mission]. They go knowing themselves that they're at risk, and nothing in our mission call changes that. They know that, and we know that, and we work within those parameters to have them be constructive, honorable, faithful, spiritual, religious emissaries for that period of service."

Many Utahns are not pleased by the admission from the LDS church that this has been going on for some time, and the political timing could not be worse for local immigration rights activists as post-Tea Party conservatives continue to grow in numbers and passion about border control and immigration reform.

Jon from Sandy tells Utah Stories, "It's obvious from listening to the comments by Church officials that the Church has no respect for the law in this manner. Their concern is how to keep their illegal missionaries from becoming arrested not how to keep their policies in tune with the laws of Utah and The United States Of America. I find their actions very much offensive."

One blogger on a Mormon-themed forum is worried that the LDS church may be opening itself up to legal action and posted a link to the following U.S. code, which states in title 8, chapter 12, subchapter II, part VIII, under the heading "bringing in and harboring certain aliens," that there are criminal penalties for the following offenses:


(ii) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports, or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States by means of transportation or otherwise, in furtherance of such violation of law;
(iii) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation

Interestingly enough, it seems that members of the LDS faith are most concerned and vocal about what they feel is a paradox of policy. One man writes, "I'm a Canadian LDS member. I had no idea my church was sending illegal immigrants on missions! That is insane! How can someone even get a temple recommend when the answer to 'Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen' must be a resounding NO? They are in clear and flagrant violation of the law! I have tremendous sympathy for people who come to any developed nation seeking a better life, and am not opposed (in principle) to some kind of amnesty or other way of working things out. But you don't just break the law as it's written because you don't like it."

There is now way to tell how many undocumented aliens are currently serving missions in the United States, but this event bodes ill for many of them. As states across the country begin to crack down and start enforcing immigration laws, you can count on the fact that this will not be the last time this topic makes the news. One LDS blogger sums up the concerns of many Utahns in the following statement:

"I thought the church 'raised the bar' for missionary qualifications a few years ago. How is it possible for an illegal alien to be missionary worthy when they are an adult and knowingly in violation of multiple laws? If they had worked prior to the mission they are most likely guilty of one or more felonies related to identity fraud. Shouldn't missionaries be expected to live all of the Gospel principles including being honest and obeying the laws of the land? I wonder if this will lead to a backlash from citizen members who were deemed unworthy for missionary work for a minor indiscretion, yet an illegal alien who has committed two or three felonies is welcome to serve?"

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