Why Not to Invite Human Rights Violators to Ward Parties
It is the tradition of my ward to invite Sheriff Joe Arpaio to the yearly Fourth of July breakfast. For those who don’t know, Joe Arpaio has been dubbed “America’s toughest sheriff.” He has instituted such policies as making inmates wear pink underwear, eat rancid and green bologne and live in outdoor tents during the hottest part of the Arizona summer. Due to his “tough” approach, he has cost the Arizona taxpayer upwards of $40 million dollars in legal fees and damages. He also has had the honor of making Amnesty International’s list of human rights violators. He has become a controversial and prominent figure in the immigration debate, conducting raids on primarily hispanic neighborhoods, markets, and day laborer corners, all the time making no secret of practicing racial profiling. Sheriff Joe has garnered a lot of ill will in the Hispanic community because of his anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric and policies. Whether or not you think he has the right to enforce immigration laws in such a brutal manner is irrrelevant; at issue here is the fact that the Hispanic community is fearful of him. I have the opportunity to work with a lot of Hispanic women, both documented and undocumented, who are victims of domestic violence. They almost uniformally express reticence to call on law enforcement to help them because they fear that they will be further harrassed, torn from their children, arrested, and then deported. For many of these women they would rather risk staying with their abusive husband than get help from the police. On my way home from work last summer, I personally saw one of Sherriff Joe’s red, white and blue convertibles pull over a hispanic couple for some minor traffic infraction. The couple were dragged out by two sheriff deputies, slammed against the side of their car, zip tied like animals and forced to lay down on the burning pavement. The most disturbing aspect of this scene was that the woman was visably pregnant and they still treated her with excessive brutality. I watched the entire incident; no drugs or weapons were pulled out of that car–their major offense was driving while being Hispanic.
As you can imagine, I was less than thrilled to hear that Joe Arpaio was to be the guest of honor once again at my ward’s July 4th activity. I spent hours thinking about the shirts and signs I would make with pithy phrases condemning Sheriff Joe’s policies. Personally, I can’t think of anything cuter than my Monster and baby Valkyrie proclaiming from their clothing that all humans have rights. mr. mraynes opted instead for us to bypass the event entirely by taking a family trip to Tucson.
The Church has established guidelines that shun political involvement for good reason–they don’t want to make anybody feel ostracized or unwelcome in our Sunday meetings. It frustrates me that my family had to go to another city because I could not stand to be in this man’s presence. But what I find most offensive is that we have many Hispanic members in our ward. Did anybody think of them when planning this activity? Did they consider that maybe our Hispanic brothers and sisters would feel uncomfortable coming to a church function where they might be asked to show proof of their documentation? I know that my political opinions fall to the left of most of the ward members but I raise these concerns because I have the best interest of our community at heart; I want my ward and Mormonism in general to be a safe and open place where all feel welcome. I would hope all the members of the ward would share that concern.
While inviting Joe Arpaio to a church activity does not explicitly endorse his policies, it does implicitly condone them. What is most interesting to me is that our own guidelines on this issue are so far removed from Joe Arpaio’s radical stance. Officially, the LDS Church has taken no position on any particular measure on the federal or state level, but as a Church we continue to baptize undocumented citizens, send them on missions and put them in positions of leadership. General authorities have compared coming into this country illegally to breaking the speed limit. When Utah was considering a slate of bills aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, LDS leaders issued a sincere plea to lawmakers to consider the issue with humanity and compassion. In fact, Marlin K. Jensen spoke at an Interfaith Dialogue on Immigration at Westminster College last year and urged Utah’s lawmakers to “take a step back.” He specifically said, “Immigration questions are questions dealing with God’s children, I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted[.]”
I understand that those who planned this function were only trying to bring added notoriety and excitement. But like it or not, people like Joe Arpaio are controversial political figures and they should not be invited to a church activity. Including such a polarizing politician is a tacet endorsement of his law enforcement style. I hope in the future that when it comes to complicated issues such as immigration policy, members of the church take to heart the advice of our general authorities to be more thoughtful, charitable and compassionate.