The Utah Compact and the New York Times

On December 4, 2010, the New York Times published an editorial praising the Utah Compact, a statement of five principals concerning the states immigration discussion. The Compact was signed by several current and former elected officials, including current the Mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County as well as former Governor Olene Walker, showing support across party lines. The most peculiar addition of support comes from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which did not sign the Compact, but did release a statement in support of it.

What the New York Times failed to indicate, however, was the current state of the immigration debate in the State of Utah, and its causes.

On August 18, 2010, Representative Stephen Sandstrom of Orem submitted his already controversial Arizona-style immigration bill to legislative committee. In the months leading up to the bills submission, draft copies had already created quite a stir among Utahns. While the final draft did make some alterations to its original iteration, such as stipulating that law officials could not arbitrarily ask for proof of citizenship without an initial unrelated cause, much of Sandstroms original bill remained intact. In other words, much of the so-called Arizona-style influence remained.

The day that the bill was submitted to the legislature, Sandstrom encountered groups of supporters and protestors at the state capitol. The event became something of a yelling match, and a clear indication that there were two very vocal sides to the immigration issue.

In July of this year, KSL and Dan Jones & Associates conducted a poll concerning the many facets of the state immigration issue. Among the clearest statistics, 61% of those polled believed that immigration was a serious issue for the state. 65% believed that illegal immigrants should be deported, regardless of how theyve lived since coming to Utah and the United States. Amongst the strong support for legislation such as the bill drafted by Rep. Sandstrom, pollsters noted that many of the people they polled spoke with sweeping generalizations about immigrants, illegal or not, as a problem for Utah. In addition to these sentiments, many people did express concern about bias towards Hispanics, breaking apart families, and how the nation would perceive Utahns in all this.

But none of this has been mentioned in the New York Times editorial. As far as the editorial is concerned, Utah seems to be Arizonas friendly neighbor to the north, with little debate concerning illegal immigration.

Because the editorial has completely omitted not only the continuing immigration discussion within Utah, as well as the source of that discussion, the editorial also makes no mention of the LDS Churchs true influence on this topic.

The LDS Church issued a statement in support of the Utah Compact, citing the need for elected officials to create laws that properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws. The Church is opposed to the forced separation of families, and notes that such separation damages society.

On some occasions, the LDS Church strays from the popular sentiment of Utahs elected officials, 80% of which are estimated to be members of the church and publicly maintain LDS-based beliefs. For many people in Utah, Rep. Sandstroms immigration bill was a reflection of conservative, Mormon-inspired beliefs. And when the LDS Church indicated that it was in support of a responsible approach toward immigration reform, it strayed from the sentiments of many of the conservative LDS Utahns who were in support of the Arizona-style bill. What the New York Times editorial doesnt show is the unusual circumstance of the LDS Church siding in opposition to the overwhelmingly Mormon legislations support of Republican views on immigration.

In fact, all is not as the New York Times sees it, which states people of good sense and good will band together to say no [to partisan extremism and government]. Following the announcement of the Utah Compact, one KSL/Dan Jones & Associates poll showed that 64% of Utahns agree with the Compact, while the same poll showed that 42% believed that the LDS Churchs statement made no difference to them. That means that a large number of people are unaffected by the LDS Churchs less conservative view on immigration reform. This is a rare case where conservatism wins over religious influence, which is hard to find in a state that often associates being Republican with being Mormon.

While I was elated to read the New York Times editorial on this issue, and glad to see the LDS Church siding with civility and compassion rather than popular Utah conservative sentiment for a change, Im afraid that this view of the Utah Compact does nothing to calm the many sides of this discussion. The editorial brings light to a more hopeful, compassionate, and moderate voice among the many involved in this debate. But the editorial also does nothing to show that there is an active debate in Utah. Nor does it demonstrate the opinion that the majority of Utahns appear to hold, the juxtaposition of the LDS Churchs support of the Utah Compact, or the source of everything the bill proposed by Representative Stephen Sandstrom.

Perhaps the New York Times will have the chance to comment on the results of Utahs immigration bill in January, when the Utah legislature will convene and consider the Utah immigration bill. Utahns both legal and illegal will be waiting to see if the Utah Compact, its supporters, and the LDS Church have some effect on the final results.

Original editorial:
NY Times Editorial: The Utah Compact
Related articles:
Deseret News: Latin leaders praise new immigration compact, wonder about impact
Deseret News: Official text of Utah Compact declaration on immigration reform
KSL: The Dream Divided: Illegal immigration poll draws emotional response
Some general information:
Fox 13 on Sandstrom

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5 Responses

  1. Hellmut says:

    Thanks for the background, Epalmatier. I am glad that the brethren are taking a principled stand on immigration.

  2. Alan says:

    Thanks for this, epalmatier. What I see going on here is the upper echelon of the Church approaches the topic of immigration in the same way an international corporation would (in which people are people, all “worthy of the Gospel”), whereas the average Utahn lives and works in the everyday situation of limited jobs, limited affordable housing, language barriers, limits to education, etc. The top-income earning Republicans in the US have been quietly pro-immigrant for many years because of the ways in which labor and capital flow transnationally. Another way of saying this is that is that if you’re a CEO of an international corporation (such as LDS, inc.), you really don’t care if your workers are American or not — until they go after your job, which well, in the Mormon community, people must be “called” to “serve.” Meanwhile, the workers engage in all sorts of anti-immigrant behavior.

    The workers see it as a question of “protecting the borders,” while the top income earners have been working beyond the borders for years. And then Republicans want tax breaks for the wealthy, before they fund unemployment? It’s so unfortunate how low-income Republicans vote against their own interests, as they assume they’ll be rich someday by just “working hard.” *sigh*

    Anyway, I think that you’re right that is “a rare case where conservatism wins over religious influence,” but I also think that when you say “religious influence” in Mormonism that you’re looking at a particular transnational worldview that is not as present in other American conservative faiths. This transnational thinking is not shared by the majority of Mormons. For every Spanish-speaking missionary, you have ten Mormons who demand English-only education in their Utah community.

    I recently read a research paper where the writer talked about the Church’s support of the LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances in terms of the flow of capital, too: a religious marketplace where the Church ultimately wants to fit in. Certainly, I think that an economic analysis goes a long way to explain the Church stance on immigration, as well. But when a person is used to seeing the Church as a global whole (such as from the leaders’ perspectives), this has undoubtedly lead to their “pro-immigrant” spiritual beliefs (a consequence of having been in conversation with immigrants and foreign nationals on a day-to-day basis) — in the same way that the Church will respond to the HRC because of the way money is linked to control over discourse.

  3. The Plaintiff says:

    LDS Corp. trying to fit in is and understatement Alan. They are bound by the law; so, it’s only suitable that they write the law in a way that favors their agenda. This way they are doing the binding all the way around (take the prop 8 thing for example).

    LDS Corp. has a team of marketers that work around the clock to make sure they “appear” as normal or mainstream as possible. My aunt worked in the Church Office Building for many years and has relayed stories about how LDS Corp. operates more business like than some businesses. It is just another Toyota or BP; when something goes south they play damage control.

    Siding or not siding with this bill…that’s for them to decide how they look according to the polls.

  4. Hellmut says:

    Well, it’s the caricature of a corporation. The Church is neither particularly rational nor efficient.

    To some degree, top down management and the resulting waste are a feature of big corporations but in the Church those shortcomings seem to be exaggerated beyond the usual levels.

  5. Chino Blanco says:

    Protecting an increasingly important revenue stream is completely rational. And if a by-product of that self-interest happens to be the addition of a powerful institutional voice in support of comprehensive immigration reform, woo hoo!

    That said, I echo the OP’s hope that this next Utah legislative session might qualify for a closer reading from the national media than usual … whether from the New York Times or Comedy Central.

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