Immigration spurs a rare split among Arizona mormons

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Mitt Romney is the most famous Mormon running for office this fall. But he's far from the only one.

In Arizona, two other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Rep. Jeff Flake and businessman Wil Cardon — are vying for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

All three candidates have said they'll be tough on immigration. And while Mormons in Arizona have been closely identified with conservative politics, the immigration debate has exposed a rare divide on the issue.

Shared Faith, Different Political Views

The original sponsor of the state's tough immigration law, former state Senate President Russell Pearce, is Mormon, too.

But it was also Mormon voters who helped oust Pearce in a historic recall election. Among them is Daryl Williams, a Phoenix attorney who is also a senior member of the church in Maricopa County.

He found himself drawn into the immigration debate around the time SB 1070 became law.

"I had been solicited by several to join the Minutemen ... sort of be your own posse to protect the border," says Williams, who adds that he disagreed with their views on immigration. "I didn't see there was a problem with the border, and that solicitation to be a Minuteman by some people in my family, by the way, induced me to prepare and do research on an essay, which I wrote on immigration. And I thought it was just inconsistent with what was good for the state economically and certainly inconsistent with the principles of the Mormon faith."

Williams presented his essay at town forums across Arizona. The church took notice, and at one point a church official raised concerns about his activism.

But then something happened in neighboring Utah that affected the debate in Arizona. The Mormon church, which usually does not endorse political parties or stances, backed the so-called Utah Compact, a pact among business leaders, politicians and others that encouraged a more welcoming approach on immigration.

"It is very significant that they weighed in," Williams says. "It is not a casual event."

When Utah passed several pieces of legislation seen as moderate on immigration, Williams says, church officials were present for the bill-signing.

"That caused a real furor among many members of the church who thought that that was an abandonment of the belief to obey, honor and sustain the law," says Williams. "Well, the church's policy as I see it is not to obey, honor and sustain just any law, but to obey, honor and sustain good laws."

Bilingual Families Of Faith

The debate is also being influenced by the reality of changing demographics.

In a modest home just north of Phoenix, Evelyn Oyuki Morgan says a prayer in Spanish, asking God to bless her family members wherever they may be — and then it's time for enchiladas

Her husband, Paul, was raised in Arizona. He met Oyuki more than a decade ago while he was on his two-year mission to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. She was already a member of the church in her grandparents' tiny truck stop of a town.

"I was at church and saw her," he says. "And the bad thing was I still had a really long time left to finish my two-year mission. And so I told the mission president, 'I think it would be good if you ship me far away.' "

So they did. "And when I got done," he says, "I called her up. 'Remember me?' She remembered me. That was good."

They dated long distance and then decided to get married. Getting Oyuki a fiancee visa took a year — and many documents, fingerprints, even blood work, not to mention money. She's now a permanent resident.

Paul Morgan comes from a very conservative family, and he says marrying into another culture was a bit of shock.

"My entire life I had dated blondes," he says. "And I always had said I was going to marry a blonde. At no point did I ever think I'd marry a Latina, did I ever think that my two little daughters would be speaking Spanish to me."

Nor did he think he'd end up belonging to a Spanish-speaking congregation, worshipping alongside undocumented immigrants.

"A lot of the people that we go to church with don't have papers," he says, "and a lot of them to be able to work will use stolen Social Security cards or borrowed Social Security cards."

While Morgan calls President Obama's decision to defer deportations for young undocumented immigrants "a breath of fresh air," he is also excited to see Romney running for president.

So how will he vote in November?

"You're asking a guy who grew up in the Mormon church who he's going to vote for, [and] for the first time ever, a Mormon's right at the forefront of actually becoming president. ... Like I said, I hate politics."

But if all politics is personal, it's Paul Morgan, Daryl Williams and many other Mormons who have very much affected the tenor of immigration debate in Arizona.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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