Over the weekend the Salt Lake Tribune reported on an LDS missionary returning home from his mission was detained in the Cincinnati Airport for lack of documentation. The young man apparently was an undocumented alien, and his arrest has sparked new discussion about how the LDS Church deals with immigration issues.
Until 2005 this particular situation did not occur in the U.S. because religious organizations would be criminally liable for allowing undocumented workers to perform volunteer service (such as missionary service). Young men and women were not eligible for missionary service in the U.S. unless they had legal status; otherwise they would have to return to their countries of origin and apply from there. However, the law was changed by a bill amendment sponsored by Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah), and the LDS Church stopped disqualifying missionary applicants based on immigration status.
With the arrest of the missionary earlier this month, those arrangements will likely change. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stepped up enforcement in recent years, including bus stations and airports. The Mormon Church’s travel department has always had to deal with immigration issues, since the approximately 50,000 LDS missionaries serve in many countries worldwide. Due to the varied and often inconsistent manner in which immigration law is handled in other countries, Mormon missionaries have on occasion been arrested in other countries due to visa issues. However, this is the first time that a Mormon missionary has been arrested in the U.S. in recent memory.
Last month we had a similar discussion about whether there there was a conflict created by baptizing illegal residents in U.S. And just as in that situation, different people are of different opinions as to what should be done with illegal immigrants who want to do full-time missionary service. By Common Consent has a post about the arrest and a lengthy comment thread. Not all of the comments are particularly informed, but they at least give an idea of the range of opinions.
I don’t see this as a particular tough problem for the LDS Church. If it’s not illegal to send undocumented aliens on missions, I don’t think the Mormon Church has done anything wrong. An alien out of status in the U.S. is at no more risk serving as a missionary as he or she would be going to school or working a job. The major issue is with the undocumented alien, not the Church. However, if ICE starts targeting Mormon missionaries, that may change. I think the LDS Church may soon reconsider the situation of these young missionaries, since it doesn’t want to be in a position where its young volunteers are harmed by volunteer service.
Photo credit: versageek.