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July 14th, 2010
02:11 PM ET

Congress debates biblical stance on immigration

Congress tackled the role of religion and ethics in the politically explosive immigration debate Wednesday as biblical passages and church doctrines were invoked during a heated discussion of various reform proposals.

The argument exposed a sharp philosophical divide on an issue that has taken center stage in the wake of Arizona's passage of a controversial law designed to crack down on illegal immigration.

"We are so far apart philosophically," one Democratic congresswoman said, that it's hard to see how a middle ground can be found.

The debate occurred during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing featuring Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention; Bishop Gerald Kicanas from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University law school; and James Edwards Jr., a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

"Immigration is ultimately a humanitarian issue since it impacts the basic rights and dignity of millions of persons and their families," Kicanas said. "As such, it has moral implications, especially how it impacts the basic survival and decency of life experienced by human beings like us. ... Our current immigration system fails to meet the moral test of protecting the basic rights and dignity of the human person."

Kicanas, who is bishop of the Catholic archdiocese in Tucson, Arizona, noted that thousands of men, women and children have died in the desert over the past decade trying to cross from Mexico into the United States.

The current law has to be changed, he said. "Because of a broken system, immigrant families are being separated. Migrant workers are subject to
exploitation by unscrupulous employers, and those attempting to find work by
coming north are being abused and taken advantage of by human smugglers."

Most illegal migrants are coming "not for nefarious purposes," but to reconnect with family members or find work, he asserted. "Church teaching acknowledges and upholds the right of a nation to control its borders. (But) it is our view that the best way to secure our southern border is through (comprehensive) immigration reform."

But Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, repeatedly cited passages from the Bible in support of a stronger crackdown on illegal immigration.

"The Bible contains numerous passages that support the rule of law," he asserted. "The scriptures clearly indicate that God charges civil authorities
with preserving order, protecting citizens and punishing wrongdoers."

Smith cited, among other things, Romans 13: "Let every person be subject to governing authorities."

He also noted a passage from Leviticus: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong." This, he contended, does not imply that "foreigners should disregard civil laws to enter (the country) or that we should overlook it when they do."

Addressing a passage from Matthew 25 about caring for "the least of these my brothers," Smith contended that it "advocates individual acts of kindness (but) does not mandate a public policy."

"Americans need not repent for wanting to uphold the rule of law and provide jobs for legal workers," he said. "A truly Christian moral approach would be not to acquiesce to illegal immigration, but to work to end it."

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, argued that the government is fundamentally "a reflection of who we are," and that there should therefore be little distinction between individual and governmental roles.

"Focus on (the undocumented) families" at the center of the debate, he said. "Let's focus on the human beings."

Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King, however, complained that for many reform advocates the only "biblically acceptable option ... seems to be open borders."

"I didn't realize that the Bible barred the enforcement of immigration laws and neither did I realize that it erased borders, demanded pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants, or ... forbid the leaders of a nation from caring most about the well-being of its own citizens."

King noted approvingly that "in the land of the Bible the leaders of today's Israel (have) built border fences to protect their citizens from terrorists or illegal job seekers alike."

There is a "greater and more immediate" moral obligation to take care of
U.S. citizens first, he said.

Land asserted that while "we have a crisis," it is not insurmountable.

"I believe that Congress can and should devise a plan to bring (illegal immigrants) out of the shadows. The more protracted the delay in action the more severe the problem will become." Arizona's law is a "symptom" and a "cry for help ... because the federal government has not done its duty" to control the border.

"Some people would argue that it's immoral to enforce our nation's laws," he argued. "I don't think it's fair and I don't think it's right." But once the border is secured, "I believe we have to have a six- to nine-month grace period for people who are here in an undocumented status to come forward, to register, to agree to pay fines, to pay back taxes, to undergo a background check, to learn to read, write (and) speak English, to pass a test that they've done so, and (to) go to the back of the line so that they are not being rewarded."

Turning to conservative critics of the current reform effort, Land said that he does "not believe that you can strain the English language into saying that is amnesty."

CNN's Alan Silverleib and the CNN Wire Staff contributed to this report

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Politics

soundoff (624 Responses)
  1. Robert

    GELNDA YOU ARE OUT OF TOUCH.
    The problem is that people do not read statistics they just go for what right wings or extremist like Rush Limbaugh or O'Really say on FOX.
    The reality is different go and google how immigrants wether legal or illegal contribute to the growth of this country. I was against illegal immigration but I changed thanks to research of accurate information.
    I am a catholic and believe in forgiveness. Removing 11 millios of immigrants won't solve the jobs losses.......non of those unemplyeed will work on the fields.
    From the 100% of our land, only 5% has been used here in this country. Ignorance makes people post angry messages and also racist....I believe the law should be enforced but also those laws are to old and need to be revised accordingly. We are in the 21st century and demand is higher than over 100 years ago.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Mike

      So then the ends justify the means. You can be an illegal immigrant as long as you can contribute. Can I steal money from a bank if I contribute to a "good" cause?

      July 15, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • Robert

      Or left wing and extremists....but no matter what side, it is clear that the government is not protecting the USA borders and enforcing the laws on the books. Why sue Arizona who is attempting to enforce those laws when 'sanctuary cities' – who are willfully and blatantly violating those same laws are not cited? Legal immigrants contributed greatly to the growth of this Country. However I do not believe that can be said about the majority of illegal aliens currently residing in the USA. That is what needs to change – and not necessarily the laws themselves. Enforce the laws for one year – then take another look.

      July 15, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  2. eden

    Oh the hypocrisy!! Are we suppose to believe that in an era where there is no 'wright or wrong', marital infidelity is as common as the copper penny, morals are more flexible then the best teen gymnast, when it's bad to be a pedophile only if you get caught, are we suppose to accept that what the Bible says is to be upheld as the moral standard?!?!?!? Hahahahah!!!!
    It's, however, nothing new folks, history is littered with the twisting of its contents to serve personal and political gain. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if it were used to start up another war. And guess who would, once again, be to blame in the end???!! The One who is only recognised legally in insurance claims for the correspondent company to cop out of their responsibilities-God! Shocker!!

    July 15, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  3. Robert

    Indeed,
    it is really sad to read how all these. There are a few exceptions. I am in favor of immigration reform. The system is broken. This country needs labor workers in order to keep fruit and vegetables in our tables without affecting our pockets. No americans so far will voluteer to do that.
    On the other hand, how can this people can apply for a visa to come legally when the fees to apply for a visa in Mexico is over 120.00 dollars. They make an average of 3 dollars a day to feed a family of four. Not only that, the emabarry will judge by the way they look and will deny a visa.
    If they go thru the process, good luck seasons come and go and the immigration takes forever to give them e response.
    This is the "so called" richest country in the world but the laws were made when only 100 year came to the USA over 100 years ago.
    Don't you guys think is time to upgrate the system accordingly?
    On the other hand, someone mentioned the cartels, Mexico is dealing with this issue thanks to the bunch of drugieswe have here.
    Mexico is spending a lots of money fighting the cartels when someone here is looking for ilegal drugs. If all the drug users stop buying illegal drugs, then we will solve the Mexican government's problem. They will use that money to create more jobs and people will stay there.
    I know a lots of illegal immigrants and 99.9% are nice, hard workers and they are afraid to use government help.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  4. Cut down on the reasons for illegal immigration

    Stop the benefits that entice illegal immigration:
    Being born here does not grant automatic citizenship – your parents must also be in the country as legal residents. (Visitors, illegals and such are not enticed to give birth here so their children can be citizens)
    Heavily penalize any business or person hiring someone not legally authorized to work in this country.
    Pretty simple – reduce the reasons to be here and you reduce the number that will be here. Even capitalists should understand supply and demand in this area.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  5. Jamie

    This is in response to those who believe our country was not based on christian principles.
    Those who say that our country was not founded on Christian principles are probably more closed minded than they believe. If one would look for themselves at the inaugural letters of some of our founding fathers and the journals of those at the first continental congress, one would see that Christian principles are very important. We don’t hear about these religious statements and letters because they are purposefully not put in our textbooks. We do read in our textbooks lots about Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, the two most liberal men in the group. Coincidence? I think not.
    George Washington said in his farewell address “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports”
    John Jay wrote in a letter to John Murray that "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."
    At the first continental congress in 1774, Rev. Duche’ was asked to lead the meeting in prayer:
    Duche' read Psalm 35 he then read a prayer:
    "Be Thou present, O God of Wisdom, and direct the counsel of this Honorable Assembly; enable them to settle all things on the best and surest foundation; that the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that Order, Harmony, and Peace may be effectually restored, and that Truth and Justice, Religion and Piety, prevail and flourish among the people."
    Duche' went on to ask God to preserve the delegates' health and vigor of mind, and to grant them "temporal Blessings" and "everlasting Glory in the world to come."
    Rev. Duche' closed his prayer this way: "All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Saviour, Amen."

    July 15, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  6. Robert

    I just wish the Bible would also have told them to just enforce the laws already on the books – for one year – and then come back for further debate. Secure the borders, deport illegal immigrants. And for those that insist on citing the Statute of Liberty -- well, thousands and thousands of immigrants came to America. They came here LEGALLY! They assimilated and became Americans. Not German American, Italian American or anything else but Americans. So if a person comes here legally – they are not a Mexican American – legally, they are an American of Mexican decent. Don't like that? Then do not come here to become an American.

    July 15, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  7. Adam B.

    How about we leave religion out of government for once?

    July 15, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Mike

      And how do you do such a thing? Are you advocating that we should allow stealing and murder (found in "religon")?

      How do you separate your beliefs and your life?

      July 15, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  8. Actual American

    What the (bleep) is wrong with them? Citing Scripture in Congress to make their arguments?

    July 15, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • Adam B.

      Thank you!

      July 15, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  9. Scott

    I can't belive in this day and age that members of congress are still debating what it says in the bible. Anyway, the god of the bible is pretty clear that he doesn't recognize the rights of nations becuase they conflict with his own agenda. Besides that, any book that has rules about the treatment of slaves and subjection of women should not be used a as moral guide for anything.

    July 15, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  10. Jim Forbes

    We are in big trouble if Congress tries to reconcile secular law with the Bible.

    July 15, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  11. Hans

    The problem with the immigration issue is the corruption in Mexico. If the Mexicans can eliminate corruption and create a viable economy there, then the people of Mexico will be more content in staying in Mexico. Opening our borders will also increase the instability of Mexico. If we attract their skilled laborers to come here then the human resources available to Mexico will decrease, creating greater issues for Mexico, and probably more corruption. Our borders should be closed off, and we need to help Mexico stabilize social and economic corruption. We help them by revising our foriegn policy with mexico.

    July 15, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  12. David

    I doesn't bother me in the least that our congressmen and women are discussing Biblical perspectives of immigration. What bothers me, is that these folks seem to be taking the responsibility for OUR laws on THEIR shoulders. Isn't this a nation "Of the People, by the People, and for the People?" Sure, Congress should debate the issues, and absolutely they should discuss their viewpoints upon whatever basis they consider to be the truth. But, on issues such as this, I think your and my perspectives – be they Biblical or not – should carry as much weight as theirs. Let the People vote!

    July 15, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  13. Glenda

    Why is EVERYONE who is pro amnesty and pro illegal immigration into America not also denouncing Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America for THEIR anti immigration policies? WHY is everyone focusing on making Americans share their wealth with people who don't really appreciate it and NOT focusing on the Mexican government for not protecting their own citizens and making their own country a safe, secure and desirable country in which to live instead of one their own people want to leave? Mexico has more inhumane laws for people who break their laws than America does...maybe that is why people want to come here, so where are the Human Rights people in Mexico screaming for justice on behalf of Mexican citizens in their own country? Mexico is an oil rich country, and America buys some of its oil from them; we also send jobs down there; many American companies go down there and provide jobs of Mexico's citizens...paying them the low wages of Mexico; that is another reason people want to come to America. In case no one has noticed, multi-thousands of legal Americans are out of jobs right now, so why is it our government's position to allow illegal immigrants from Mexico to come here and take American jobs? If there is still work here that legal Americans don't want or won't do, perhaps it is because the pay is still less that enough to live on. Illegal Immigrants can go back home to Mexico and spend that money there and essentially have a much higher paying job because the low wages they made here double in exchange rate back home. No, the battle is totally being waged against Americans...I do believe in a conspiracy to stir us all this devisiveness over illegal immigration in order to accomplish the goal of our government, and that of all the other governments of this world, to bring down America's dollar and go to a world system of electronic money where everyone will have to bow to the government to get jobs which means food and life to all people. The people of every nation will then be under the bootheel of some one world dictator. Is that what Mexican's really want?

    July 15, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  14. Chris Henry

    Mexico and the other Latin American countries' governments should be held accountable for why their citizens want to flee to the USA. Mexico has HALF the population of the USA, is the 9th largest oil producer and 5th largest oil exporter, has the world's richest man but it's policy on it's poor is "go North". When will our government grow a spine and stand up to these corrupt dirty countries? No, that's right, they want the Latino vote here. Talk about racism- these Latino Americans are the most racist ever, all they care about is getting more of their illegal family here to take benefits.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  15. ImAnAmerican

    I believe Article 19 refers to ‘freedom of speech’. That ‘freedom’ doesn’t include yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. We should take the basic premise of what the author(s) of Article 19 were implying. The same can be said for Emma Lazarus’s poem with a line that says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor …’. I don’t believe the intent was to let anyone who wanted to enter this country to be allowed in. There needs to be parameters set, or this country will soon be in the shape of those countries where people are fleeing from. Those parameters should include legal passage. The word ‘illegal’ (i.e. NOT legal), should resonate within us. When immigrants came from Ireland, Italy, Poland, etc., they needed to pass through Ellis Island. They needed to acclimate themselves to the way we conducted ourselves. They learned to do things the American way. There was no policy of ‘hand outs’. Simply put, you worked or didn’t eat. If this policy, both written and understood, was good enough for the immigrants back then, why then today, does it no longer apply?

    July 15, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  16. dougsheets

    What about the whole separation from church and state thing? I don't really care if/what you believe, but DO NOT ever allow those beliefs to be forced onto myself and others and to determine how a country should govern itself. One only need to look at Iran to see how a theocracy works, and I do not think anyone in their right mind would like to live in a nation governed in the same way.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  17. waitasec

    This is disgusting. Our founding fathers did not want one religion to rule over the other and TODAY congress debated over the BIBLE
    I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation UNDER GOD indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

    Those two words, “under god” changed the meaning of the entire pledge in 1954 by the Knights of Columbus (a catholic organization). Before it said, “We belong to the United States because of what it stands for, ONE NATION UNDIVIDED WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. Not for the MAJORITY but for EVERYONE, with liberty and justice for ALL. However, since these two words were added to our allegiance we now find ourselves as a DIVIDED nation by the injustice of our freedoms being infringed upon by the majority; the religious right. Why else would our politicians debate on national TV about their belief in the god of the bible? The religious right not only carries the weight for political advantage but are also infringing on our freedoms. This must stop.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  18. Mike

    What ever happened to separation of church and state ????? These biblical references keep us divided as a nation from moving forward on all social issues. Wake up and smell the rice....... it's over for us .

    July 15, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  19. Mike

    REally!!?? A congressman quoting Leviticus! How about a few other good Leviticus quotes; if your child is being unruley, take them to the gates of the city and stone them to death! Or, touching an 'unclean animal' is forbidden, like a pig. So anyone touching the leather of a pig, say a football, is forbidden!
    Seriously, he picks Leviticus to quote!

    July 15, 2010 at 10:41 am |
    • waitasec

      The art of cherry picking...DENIAL

      July 15, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  20. Melissa

    I thought censorship was illegal, especially when said posts only point out how this violates separation of church and state.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:40 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.