Saturday, May 18, 2024

Mormon Newspapers Criticized for Pro-immigrant Stance

Two Salt Lake City newspapers owned by the Mormon Church are taking up the issue of immigration and are being attached by conservative criticism over the issue.

The Mormon Church, officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known more for its conservative reputation, is spreading a sympathetic view of immigration through two of its newspapers, The Deseret News, and the Spanish-language El Observador.

“The church’s practice is to say, ‘Look, we’re not immigration agents. We care for the soul,’ ” Joseph A. Cannon, editor of The Deseret News, said.

Cannon, a former official for the Environmental Protection Agency under Ronald Reagan and chairman of the Utah Republican Party, has begun receiving e-mails and voicemails calling him a “liberal freak” over the immigration stories being penned in his newspaper.

“You have become a dangerous newspaper, one that I am on the verge of discontinuing,” wrote one outraged reader.

El Observador operates with a staff of three full-time reporters and typically devotes two or three articles in each edition to immigration-related topics.

Appealing to its conservative base through carefully selected themes and story lines is one way the church-owned Deseret Media, which runs the two newspapers, has tried to shift the debate.

Deseret Media’s chief executive, Mark H. Willes, made the decision last month to write an editorial that simultaneously ran on the front pages of The News and El Observador. The headline read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and was accompanied in print by an image of the Statue of Liberty with its famous inscription.

Deportation and the toll it takes on families is a major theme often appearing in El Observador, which now has 7,000 subscribers.

“The breaking up of families is horrific, so we want to highlight that,” Patricia Dark, editor of El Observador, said.  The issue of severing families is especially resonant among Mormons, whose faith teaches that the family bond should be eternally inviolate.

Through its pro-immigrant coverage in its newspapers, the Church is also appealing to the fastest growing minority group in the country, and a potential pool for newcomers to its ranks.

“Some of my Latino friends have said, ‘I’m going to leave the church over this,’ ” Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, a Latino outreach group, said. “My view is that this is an aggressive way for the L.D.S. church to very effectively use their media power to try to soften up the community. They’re sending a message to their members.”

Changing minds will be difficult says Cannon.  But, he hopes at the very least to challenge readers to reflect on immigration through the teachings of their religion.

“What are the two commandments? Love God and love your neighbor,” Cannon said. “These people are our neighbors — incontestably, by any definition, they are our neighbors.”

The New York Times