SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Mormon church leader says the faith is largely in line with President Barack Obama on what needs to be included in a comprehensive immigration bill.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' governing First Presidency, joined 13 other faith leaders at a private meeting on the issue with Obama on Friday.
Uchtdorf said Obama urged the church leaders to stand together and ensure the U.S. remains a place where immigrants can come in a lawful way and not live in fear. The president expressed support for a bill that would streamline the legal immigration system and provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
"He was talking about his principles and what he said was totally in line with our values," Uchtdorf told The Salt Lake Tribune.
His comments are the strongest signs yet that the church is sympathetic to an overhaul effort that many Mormon politicians, including Utah's congressional delegation, have rejected. The state's two Senate and four House members have opposed what they call amnesty for illegal immigrants.
But Uchtdorf says the government should respond with compassion to illegal immigrants who have a long history in the United States. He said the U.S. has encouraged people from other countries to come and work in the fields of California, Arizona and Texas, and some have lived here for 30 years.
"They are bishops in our church, but they never became legal residents because the system was not right for it and all of a sudden we are having changes even though they were more or less invited here to come because their work was needed," Uchtdorf said.
But he believes a different standard may apply for more recent immigrants who did not arrive legally.
"If someone is coming now to the U.S. or in the last couple of years they know they should come the legal way," he told The Tribune.
Uchtdorf called Obama's invitation a "great gesture" that he accepted only after talking with LDS President Thomas S. Monson and other members of the faith's Quorum of the Twelve.
A naturalized U.S. citizen, he told Obama of his own immigrant past Friday. He was twice a refugee of war before he left Germany to immigrate to the U.S. He did so legally but found the process cumbersome.
"We should make sure that those who decide to come and go through the legal process, they should be offered a way that is full of dignity and leads them eventually to a place where they feel at home," he said.
In 2010, the Mormon church supported the Utah Compact, which calls for a federal solution to the immigration issue and compassion for the country's illegal immigrants.
Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who helped form the compact and is a member of the National Immigration Policy board, said Uchtdorf's involvement is "really significant" because politicians listen to their faith leaders.
"We hope it will resonate with them," he said.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said his opposition to Obama's immigration plan does not put him out of line with the LDS church. He thinks Congress should pass smaller, less controversial measures on border security and the visa program now instead of trying for one major bill.
Like Utah's other members of Congress, Chaffetz opposes any pathway to citizenship that doesn't require immigrants to leave the country first, a requirement that Obama considers unreasonable.
Chaffetz has discussed the issue with L. Tom Perry and Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve. He said they both urged federal action on immigration but did not mention specific policies they would like to see.
"The only way we get to where the church wants to be is when we get Democrats and Republicans agreeing," he told The Tribune. "And when we do have common ground we should vote and pass that and move to the next step."