Mexican-American activist Raul Lopez-Vargas letter asking Mexican President Felipe Calderón to hold up LDS missionary visas to Mexico because of proposed illegal immigration enforcement legislation is being called a blatant blackmail attempt. If true, I have to wonder how he could possibly think it would work.
Lopez-Vargas sent his letter, signed by 39 people (or 100 or 130, depending on which source you read), late last week, and received a pro-forma response from Calderón’s staff yesterday. [See news reports here and here]. The sponsor of the proposed legislation, State Representative from Orem Stephen Sandstrom, called the letter “improper” and said “It’s unfortunate that someone would try to blackmail the LDS Church.” [FWIW, I'm not sure that this is more unfortunate than a Mormon state legislator ignoring the LDS Church's hints about immigration legislation.]
To be honest Lopez-Vargas’ move has me scratching my head a little. Does he really think this will change the situation in Utah? While I am no fan of Sandstrom’s bill and consider myself a supporter of immigrants in general, my first reaction to this move was one of mild offense: don’t blame my religion for the sincere, but misguided, actions of a minority of its members.
For the letter to actually have the apparently desired effect, first it needs to be credible. Would Calderón really cut off missionary visas over anti-immigration sentiment in Utah? Mexico has reacted to the similar Arizona law, participating in a lawsuit against the law and issuing travel advisories warning Mexicans against traveling there. In addition, fellow immigration activist Tony Yapias, while disavowing his tactics, claims that Lopez-Vargas does have ties in the Mexican government.
On the other hand, the LDS Church is not without ties in Mexico. One LDS Church member, Jeffrey Max Jones, has served as a Senator in the national legislature as a member of Calderón’s party. I’m sure there are other ties as well. In addition, the Church counts at least 250,000 active members in Mexico (1.2 million total), a large enough block to make most politicians pause and consider their actions carefully. Even if Mexico did chose to hold up missionary visas to Mexico, such a move would likely draw some kind of reaction from the U.S. government, if for no other reason than the presence of LDS Church members in the U.S. legislature and other areas of government.
Assuming that the above doesn’t keep the Mexican government from putting a hold on missionary visas, for Lopez-Vargas to be successful the LDS Church would still need to be convinced to put pressure on the Mormon legislators in Utah. Given the heavy-handed and public nature of the letter sent to Calderón, the LDS Church likely will not want to give in to this coercion, lest other Church opponents think that they can force the Church to do what they want by interrupting missionary work. Nor does it seem likely that the Church would want its decisions to appear to come from outside pressure instead of inspiration through the Church’s ordained hierarchy.
Even if the Church did take action along the lines of what this activist wants, what exactly would it be able to do? Signing the Utah Compact could be done, of course, but that alone is unlikely to help Lopez-Vargas reach his goal. It seems a stretch to suggest that the Church would take disciplinary action against legislators for failing to vote as the Church wanted. I suppose there are things that the Church could do, but is it really likely to take action when it apparently didn’t against members in California who fought against Proposition 8?
So, with the above logic, I’m not sure I understand Lopez-Vargas’ strategy.
It could be that his motivation comes from wanting the attention and support of another group besides the Church and Utah legislators. Perhaps he is looking to gain approval from the Latino community in Utah or the U.S. Since he is reported to have dual citizenship in Mexico and in the U.S., I suppose this might somehow give him notoriety among a segment of the population in Mexico. It might also give him notoriety with the left in the U.S. or with journalists or something. I’m afraid I don’t have enough information or knowledge of these other areas to judge.
Short of that knowledge, I suspect that this is simply a badly misguided decision—a belief that a heavy-handed attempt at blackmail might somehow prevent the passage of Sandstrom’s bill. If that is the case, then Lopez-Vargas has forgotten that heavy-handed attempts like this often backfire. At least, the Mormon majority in Utah likely thinks less of this activist than it did before—will he be able to function as an activist in Utah after this? At worst, many LDS Church members will atribute Lopez-Vargas’ actions towards the LDS Church as somehow similar to the feelings of most other non-LDS Latinos in Utah, and perhaps more will feel that Sandstrom’s bill is justified.
And that, I am convinced, would be bad for everyone involved.