Latino Mormons speaking out against Romney
By Russell Contreras
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Associated Press - When Honduran-born Antonella Cecilia Packard converted to the Mormon Faith 20 years ago, she said it was like "coming home."
The Catholic-educated Packard, who grew up in "the middle of Mayan ruins," appreciated the faith's strong sense of family and conservative values. She also saw her own history in the Book of Mormon with stories of migrations, tragedies and triumphs of a people many Mormons believe are the ancestors of some present-day Latinos.
But two decades after her conversion
while a college student at
As Romney continues to seek the Republican presidential nomination while rarely discussing his faith, a growing number of vocal Hispanic Mormons say they intend to use Mormon teachings as a reason to convince others not to vote for him. They have held firesides (equivalent to a tent revival) on immigration, protested outside of Romney campaign events and have traveled across state lines to help defeat other Mormon politicians with similar harsh immigration stances.
"Yes, we are happy that we have a
Mormon running for president," said Packard, a
While stressing the Mormon faith's
historic connection to converting immigrants, Latino Mormons
point directly to immigration stories in the Book of Mormon
and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' recent
statements against policies targeting immigrants. They also
view Romney's stance against proposals giving illegal
immigrants a path to citizenship as hypocritical since
Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, who had five
wives and 30 children, sought refuge in
"We view immigration as a God event,"
said Ignacio Garcia, a history professor at
Those stories in the Book of Mormon,
Garcia said, give Hispanic Mormons a powerful religious
argument to use, especially since most believe they are
descendants of the Lamanites, an indigenous group in the
In addition, Garcia said the recent
political moves by Hispanic Mormons are gaining attention
because Hispanics are the fastest growing group among the
LDS faith in the
The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints does not keep ethnic data on its 6 million
or so members. But according to a 2011 national survey of
The church says the number of Spanish-speaking units has grown from 403 in 2001 to nearly 800 last year.
Garcia said it is estimated that nearly 70 percent of Latino Mormons are illegal immigrants. He said the church has responded by hiring members whose sole jobs are to transport some Latino missionaries from state to state because they can't fly due to their immigration status.
And last year, at least two Spanish-speaking LDS branch presidents were arrested and deported, highlighting the plight of immigrants within the faith.
Packard said those high profile deportations and the influx of new Hispanic members within the church helped with the recent passage of immigration bills in Utah that included an enforcement law modeled on Arizona's but balanced by a program that allows illegal immigrants to work and pay taxes in Utah if they register with the state.
Packard said she also was motivated to
Pablo Felix, a Spanish-speaking bishop of the Liahona Second Ward in Mesa, Ariz., was reluctant to criticize Romney but said the immigration stories in the Book of Mormon are powerful and one of the many factors that draw Latinos to the church and act on behalf of the faith.
Felix said he cannot be sure about his congregation, but he suspects some 60 to 70 percent of the members could be here illegally.
But Hispanic Mormons may have limited
Follow Russell Contreras on twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras.
First published February 20, 2012 -
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