SALT LAKE CITY - A Latino activist, pressing the Mormon church to take a stronger stance against enforcement-only immigration bills, recently delivered to the Mexican Consulate here a letter asking that President Felipe Calderon's government suspend visas to Mormon missionaries. Raul Lopez-Vargas, a former vice president the community Centro Civico, hand-delivered the letter signed by more than 130 people.
Lopez-Vargas has urged the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to sign the Utah Compact, a document signed by more than 3,300 people who favor a compassionate approach toward illegal immigration. The church has endorsed, but not signed, the compact.
Lopez-Vargas, a former vice president of the community group Centro Civico, said he also sent the letter in response to state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement-only immigration bill, which cleared a committee in a 9-3 vote. That measure, asking local police to enforce immigration law, has been a hot-button issue. The Orem Republican, a Mormon, changed the language to no longer require that local police question the legal status under "reasonable suspicion" of people pulled over for misdemeanors.
"They are trying to pass bills that violate human rights," Lopez-Vargas said after delivering his letter.
Sandstrom, who is Mormon, has called the move to put missionaries in the middle of the immigration debate "unfortunate" and criticized the activist for asking the Mexican government to interfere in Utah's internal matters.
The global church is heavily invested in Mexico, with 23 missions, more than a million members and a dozen temples. Along with the United States and Brazil, Mexico brings in the faith's most new members every year.
John Pingee, a former LDS mission president in Mexico City, said he doubted the Mexican government would withhold visas from LDS missionaries because it would hurt Mexico more than the Utah-based church.
In the late 1990s, the church encountered trouble getting enough visas for its U.S. missionaries so a leader met with Mexican officials there and succeeded in increasing the number from about 1,200 to more than 4,800, Pingree said. That made it possible for his mission to have an equal number of Mexican and U.S. missionaries, he explained.
A consulate official who received the papers said he would give them to his superiors. Lopez-Vargas said he already has sent a copy directly to Calderón.