MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Mitt Romney's run for president has stoked interest in a lot of things, not least of which is his faith. He's Mormon, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And in Arizona, two fellow Mormons and Republicans, Congressman Jeff Flake and businessman Wil Cardon, are vying for a U.S. Senate seat.
All three have said they'll be tough on immigration, a stance popular with most conservatives, but as my co-host Audie Cornish discovered this week in Arizona, it's not necessarily popular with their fellow Mormons.
AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: While Mormons in Arizona have been closely identified with conservative politics, the immigration debate has exposed a rare divide on the issue. The original sponsor of the state's SB 1070 immigration law, former state Senate president Russell Pearce is Mormon. But it was also Mormon voters who helped oust him from office in a historic recall election, among them, a descendant of Mormon pioneers who, back in the day, crossed the plains with Brigham Young to Utah.
DARYL WILLIAMS: And so I am as dyed in the wool true blue Mormon as you can get.
CORNISH: Daryl Williams is an attorney in Phoenix. He's also a senior member of the church here in Maricopa County. He found himself drawn into the immigration debate around the time SB 1070 became law.
WILLIAMS: I had been solicited by several to join the minutemen down at the border, go down there and sort of be your own posse to protect the border. One, 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.
CORNISH: Williams could not and does not speak for the church, but on his own, he presented his essay at town forums all over 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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which does not endorse political parties or stances, backed the so-called Utah Compact, a pact among business leaders, politicians and others in that state that encouraged a more welcoming approach on immigration.
WILLIAMS: It is very significant that they weighed in. It is not a casual event.
CORNISH: And then, Williams says, when Utah passed several pieces of legislation seen as moderate on immigration, church officials, including the presiding bishop, were present for the signing of those bills.
WILLIAMS: 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. 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.
CORNISH: And the debate is also being influenced by the reality of changing demographics.
EVELYN OYUKI MORGAN: (Foreign language spoken)
CORNISH: In a modest home just north of Phoenix, Evelyn Oyuki Morgan asks God to bless her family members wherever they may be.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Amen.
CORNISH: And then it's time for enchiladas. Oyuki's husband, Paul, tries to get his two daughters, Isabella and Amaya, to eat.
PAUL MORGAN: (Foreign language spoken)
CORNISH: Paul Morgan is American raised here in Arizona. He met Oyuki more than a decade ago while he was on his two-year mission to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. He already belonged to the Mormon faith, had gone with his grandparents to church in their tiny truck stop of a town.
MORGAN: I was at church and saw her and kind of knew it. And the bad thing was is I still had a really long time left to finish my two-year mission so I told the mission president, I said, I think it would be good if you ship me far away from Campeche. And so they shipped me far away from her area for the remainder of my two years. When I got done, I called her up, said, remember me?
MORGAN: (Foreign language spoken)
MORGAN: You remembered me. That was good.
CORNISH: They dated long distance and then decided to get married, decided to go through all the proper channels, eventually getting her a fiance visa. It took a year and many documents, fingerprints, even blood work, not to mention money. She's now a permanent resident. Paul comes from a very conservative family and he says marrying into another culture was a bit of a surprise, even to himself.
MORGAN: My entire life I had dated blondes, and I always said I was going to marry a blonde. At no point in my life did I ever think I was going to marry a Latina, did I ever think my two little daughters would be speaking Spanish to me.
CORNISH: Nor probably did he think he'd end up belonging to a Spanish-speaking congregation, worshipping alongside undocumented faithful.
MORGAN: If you went to churches on Sunday, we'd be on the minority of the ones that actually did legal immigration. A lot of the people that we go to church with don't have papers. And a lot of them, to be able to work, will use stolen Social Security cards or borrowed Social Security cards. You know, they'll have a cousin that is legal and they'll have a cousin come apply for a job, and once he gets the job, then the cousin turns around and walks away, and then they go in and start working.
It's a very common functioning way that a lot of them go through life.
CORNISH: So on the one hand, you have your congregation, but on the other hand, you have members of your family and I guess probably other Mormons, too, who also were supporters of SB 1070.
MORGAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was surprising. Buddies who I grew up with that just thought it was the greatest thing. One of my buddies actually came from a very wealthy family. There's a amusement park not too far from here that his dad owns. And for years and years and years, his dad had had Latino employees making the businesses work, and here he's saying, well, this is great. Let's get rid of the illegals.
I was thinking, man, the reason your family is wealthy was a lot of those illegals working for your dad. Open your eyes a little bit. But yeah, it became a huge topic. My family kind of got the idea that you didn't want to bring up the topic with me. I am not political, but this is one of the few things that all of a sudden was hitting very close to home.
For people like me, if you have gone out of the country and lived in poverty conditions with other people, another culture for two years, you really learn to love them. And that's - there's no way anybody's ever going to take that away from you.
CORNISH: So even though people - and you, you've described Mormons as essentially being very conservative, it sounds like on this issue, it's a lot more complex at least in this state.
MORGAN: Most issues inside the Mormon church, it's going to be very one-sided. Now, if you brought up abortion and said, OK, everybody, close your eyes and vote yay or nay, it would just be overwhelmingly to one side. With the immigration issue, it's not the same. It's not one-sided like all the other issues.
CORNISH: How does this complicate things for you going into this fall and voting in the presidential elections, say? Because Mitt Romney, obviously...
MORGAN: Doesn't feel the same as Obama on this topic, you know? And Obama just pushed through his version of the Dream Act. I mean, I know it's not the Dream Act, but similar enough that you could call it that. Inside our Latino community - and why else do you wait till now to do it, this close to re-election? But it worked. I mean, it was just a breath of fresh air for a lot of our friends and family 'cause a lot of them have kids that can't really get a good job because their parents brought them here and their parents don't have a good birth certificate for them. And then all of a sudden, there's an opportunity for them and so that was like really good news. I mean, it was - and we talked about it at church.
CORNISH: I mean, how do you feel you're going to vote come this fall?
MORGAN: Oh, you're asking a guy who grew up in a Mormon church who he's going to vote for when, for the first time ever, a Mormon's right at the forefront of actually becoming president. So I mean, that's just, you know, like I said, I hate politics.
CORNISH: 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 here in Arizona. In Phoenix, I'm Audie Cornish.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.