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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. Elena

    WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
    Congress debating what the bible says about immigration????
    Who cares what the bible says. Or the Torah, or the yellow pages, or To Kill a Mockingbird, or Greek Mithology For Dummies. This is our Congress??? I am so disgusted.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  2. Daniel

    Why are my legislators debating a 2,000 to 4,000 year old fairy tale at all? Why can't we make moral, ethical and legal decisions without appealing to ridiculous superstitions about an all powerful imaginary friend who lives in the sky, and his amazing son, the rabbi who rose from the grave?

    July 14, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  3. Pete

    What a buffoon. Rep Smith is sitting there on the floor of the HOUSE, which is supposed to be religiously neutral, putting on display his own severe ignorance of not only Christian doctrine but also of the composition and intent of the Bible. How does someone ostensibly devote their whole life to being an evangelical minister, and remain so ignorant of the Bible that they begin ripping quotes from Romans and Leviticus as if they had ANYTHING AT ALL to do with US immigration policy. Smith is a deeply ignorant man, and he just made a fool of himself by putting on display his own personal and profession shortcomings in front of the whole country.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  4. Nursehope

    What a waste of valuable time!!!??? TX. Congressmoron Lamar Smith-R-TX needs to pull his cranium out of his lower most orifice. Why in the reality world would he base his opinion, and expect the informed masses to follow an obscure biblical passage which has NOTHING whatsoever to do with anything relevant? Is this the beacon of leadership the right wing chooses to blindly follow? Bible=mythology. Get a grip!

    July 14, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
    • ShannonInCT

      Lamar Smith has voted for hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for Big Agriculture. He is partially responsible for illegal immigration.

      July 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
    • Elena

      "Properly read, the bible is the most potent force for Atheism ever conceived." – Isaac Asimov

      July 14, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
  5. James

    *SIGH* Ok folks, here we go one more time; try to keep up. The system is not broken, its tedious and long. Illegal immigrants and the people that employ them have simply made the decision that the risk if being caught and prosecuted is less than the work/effort it takes to fill out the paperwork. Now we have so many people ignoring the law for so long, they've come to the conclusion that the law's the problem not them. And what's that law? Tell us your name, tell us why you're here and how long you'll be staying, and stand in line. That's it. And yes, I DO know what I'm talking about because that's the process my wife went through to come to the US as a student, the process that we went through to get her a Green Card, and the process that we are now going through to get her citizenship.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
  6. Pete

    What a bunch of buffoons. Glad to know we have religious nuts like this running our country based on their own religious texts. How ridiculous.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  7. Dawn

    The Republicans are quoting Leviticus!
    Leviticus says we should stone our unruly children, men without square beards, and people who wear mixed fibers.
    Republicans want to kill our children!

    July 14, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  8. postedbygeorge

    The Separation of Church and State indicates that the two middle eastern religions, Muslim and Christianity need to stay out of the policy making of the U.S. Government. The Constitution of the United States allows these two middle eastern religions to practise their beliefs as long as those beliefs do not infringe or undermine the Constitution and the intent of the Constitution. It may be time to require that in any Government "swearing In" ceremony the new employee needs to be sworn in with his or her hand over the Constitution of the United States and speaks a vow to place the Koran or Bible in second position and subject to the Constitution.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  9. Bob M.

    It seems to me that in all this talk about immigration reform and law enforcement, we have forgotten something that our ancestors who came here, for various reasons, knew. That is, that becoming a U.S. citizen is a privlege, not a right.

    No where is it stated in our country's founding documents that a person has the "right" to become a citizen. This is something that must be worked toward...legally; as most of our forebears did. They came here, learned the language, assimilated themselves into American culture, got jobs, paid taxes, etc.

    It angers me when I hear advocate groups talk about illegal immigrants as though they have an inherent right to be in this country and that the U.S. does not have the right to police it's own borders. This is insanity! Let's not forget, how can we trust illegal immigrants to become ciitzens and obey our laws, if by the very nature of their being here, they are violating our country's laws?

    No one who was born in this country had a choice. That decision was made by our parents. But to come to this country, usually is a choice. Therefore, if you are here illegally, it usually means that you've willingly committed a crime.

    Bottom line for me is that I don't have a problem with immigration. All or our families were immigrants at one point or another, but at least let's have it done legally, so it can help make us stronger as a nation, instead of pulling us apart.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  10. MarcNJ

    Let them come legally. My ancestors did. If you don't like the system, don't come into the country. It IS that simple.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
    • ShannonInCT

      The differences is that your ancestors didn't face any barriers to entry. That your ancestors didn't have to break any laws to immigrate hear is a matter of dumb luck.

      July 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
    • usafsam

      to quote Shannon "The differences is that your ancestors didn't face any barriers to entry. That your ancestors didn't have to break any laws to immigrate hear is a matter of dumb luck."

      My ancestors are Native Americans (Apache, Cherokee, Chippawa) and Europeans (French & Welsh Irish) who were here before this was even the USA. They did face barriers of language and environment while forging partnerships, trade, and a nation. They also had to fight a large army from Britain to make this nation sovereign and then continued to fight in succeding wars to keep the nation free.

      Some would suggest that the Europeans leave... well we are Americans not Europeans. How far back in history would people like to go? Should the Native Americans go back across the land bridge to Siberia? This is 2010, The USA is a modern nation of laws that must be abided by or prepare to suffer the consequences. If you committ a home invasion you are removed from where you committed the crime and placed in jail. So those that commit country invasion should be removed from wence they entered and be punished.

      July 15, 2010 at 3:12 am |
  11. myarsman

    The problem does not lie with the illegal immigrants. Instead, the problem lies squarely upon we Americans. We have created a work environment which caters to the unskilled, lower wage demands of these illegal immigrants. There is nothing wrong with our immigration laws as they currently stand. The problem is that many American businesses have broken these laws by hiring illegal immigrants to work. If we wish to solve this problem, then we must take these same businesses to task for breaking the law. By doing this, we will have significantly reduced the demand for these illegal immigrant workers, which would result in a significant drop in the level of illegals crossing over into our borders. The solution is simple, but unfortunately, the will of the American public is weak.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
    • Unit34AHunt

      Fail. "We" did not create this system. Politicians, including the last four presidents, saw benefits in promoting the system. Dems looking to develop a whole new market for identity politics, and Repugs currying favor with industries looking for wage deflation and ways to bust unions. Regrettably, Pres Obama is continuing in that tradition, and his admin has sued the state of Arizona to prevent further enaction of the 3-year-old Employer Sanctions Law that specifically targets employers of illegals by revoking their state-issued business licenses. So not only does Obama NOT want to defend the border, he also wants to enable businesses that hire illegals.

      July 14, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  12. Alec

    Given the quality of most remarks here, I can see why I'm inclined to side with the immigrants over the nativists.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  13. Joseph

    Amnesty will be the bowling ball that takes down the healthcare "house of cards". Provide insurance for another 11,000,000 people when we are unable to provide for our own? Provide millions of jobs when we are unable to find jobs for over 9% of Americans? We need to kindly escort these illegal individuals back to Mexico where their government can (and does) provide free health insurance, free education etc.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm |
    • Sara

      If you think the Mexican government provides all that, think again. Only in the cities do children have access to adequate education, and in rural areas people have nothing. They can't even make the smallest of livings now that the US corn industry/NAFTA have forced small farmers out of business. I'm almost positive the majority of illegal immigrants come from rural areas (though I don't have statistics to back me up, so someone feel free to dispute). As I keep saying, the solution to illegal immigration is not as simple as sending people back to Mexico. It's far more complicated, and simple deportation doesn't solve anything.

      July 14, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  14. Mickoulaus Kalamadakinopoulous

    What has happened to us? Remember "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
    How did these Kooky Krazy Kristians hijack Christianity? The fundamental elements are gone:

    34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

    Is America a Christian nation or not? I think not.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
    • Elena

      Whether the US is a christian nation or not is completely irrelevant. What our congressmen believe is completely irrelevant. What i personally believe is completely irrelevant. The separation of state and church must be upheld. This is absolutely ridiculous.

      July 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
    • usafsam

      MK that is from the Statue of Liberty a gift from the French not a USA Law like the US Constitution and Federal Mandates. And so long as those wishing to be part of this country use "the Door" to enter legally and become American in every sense of the word, then no matter where they are from, I welcome them. But illegals do not use the door and do not even bother knocking... the creep in through the back window and take what is not theirs.

      I am not opposed to giving to charity of my own accord and do so frequently, however, I should be able to refuse my monies (taxes) going to support those (welfare, etc.,.) I did not give permission to enter. We have ministries that travel the world digging wells and building & teaching schools, providing medical to persons that would not otherwise get any ever. There are countries worse off than our southern neighbors and we should not give favor to those here just because they crawled under a fence over those who would have to pay passage on a boat or plane to get here.

      We as a nation are maxed out on our credit and are borrowing against future generations. WE can not afford to feed every single hungry person in the world. What about give a man a fish feed him for the day teach him to fish feed him for a life time. It does other countries no good if we continue to give hand outs and not a hand up. Teach them to do well where they are so that they may improve their communities instead of thinking it OK to enslave them to welfare here.

      July 15, 2010 at 2:28 am |
    • usafsam

      That quote from the statue of liberty (a gift from the french) is not the LAW. If a person were to enter legally "thru the door", they would be welcome. Illegals don't bother with the door they sneak in through the window.

      I am all for being charitable but "give a man to fish feed him for a day, teach a man to fish feed him for a life time".
      There are other less fortunate countries than our southern neigbors and they should not be brushed aside to favor those who can walk in rather than catch a boat or plane. Charity may begin at home but we have the right to decide who will be the recipient... I for one do not want my $ going towards those who's first act in our nation is to break our laws.

      July 15, 2010 at 2:48 am |
    • Sara

      A quick note: while illegal immigrants do use services paid for by our taxes (public roads, schools, etc.), they certainly don't get social security or Medicaid benefits (if that's what you mean by welfare). I applied for medicaid benefits–there are some expensive medical services that insurance companies refuse to pay for–and it took a year for them to approve the service. No one who A) didn't speak English and B) didn't have a social security number would ever be able to apply for those services. I won't say the government doesn't give handouts (I know a few choice individuals who collect unemployment because they're too lazy to work), but illegal immigrants don't get welfare benefits by snapping their fingers.

      July 15, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  15. Average Dude

    Only a Repubtard to spin the word of the Bible against basic human rights.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
  16. Jonathan

    So if I get this right, none of the passages from the Bible that the Republicans quoted even support their argument? All they did was quote passages and then say, "Well, and this one doesn't apply either because...." What a joke.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  17. Audrey

    @ Mike – Why is that anyone who believes that God sent his one and only son, Jesus, to come and die for our sins becomes a "Jesus freak"? To me, that is very telling. It is telling me that in this world no one is free of persecution or judgement from others. It tells me that there are many people who claim to be intelligent humans beings and yet are ignorant enough to think that someone who is passionate about the love of their life becomes a "freak". It is also telling to me that in a period when Christians are freaks it is also the time in our lives we are dealing with multiple wars, economic crises, and natural and ecological disasters. Open your heart and mind and you may find that life as a Jesus freak may be a way to end many of the problems our world, on its own, has created.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  18. Annexian

    Illegal immigration is an "Economic" issue and I see the Controller's "Divide and Conquer" strategy is working quite well here.

    Get two groups fighting, rob and rule both.

    In this case, the Mexicans are used to lower wages for Americans. This provides profits for our rich elite and a "Pressure Valve" for theirs.

    We must demand on the local and state level that all employers are checked, randomly and frequently and at any tip, and any hiring illegals are fully prosecuted. Don't you get it? Like this recession? There are more illegals than "Unemployed", remove the illegals and there will be a lack of labor so strong even the sh-t jobs will do well. If employers don't attract employees, they lose profits or go out of business, and with a recession they can't raise prices that much. Or does the "Free Market" only matter when it works for the moment for some billionaire CEO?

    July 14, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
    • asrael

      I don't remember hearing anecdotal evidence from the many workers who lost their jobs in "light industry, construction, poultry and meat processing", which are the areas of concern for Unit34AHunt. If, as he states, these are the primary areas where "illegals" have rousted previously better paid Americans, shouldn't this be verifiable somehow...?

      July 14, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
    • usafsam

      Everytime I read of or hear of a raid on a factory, restaurant, hotel, meat packing plant or construction work sites I always hear of USA citizens lining up the same day applying for those jobs in such large numbers the personnel offices are overwhelmed. THese are jobs citizens will do and those who keep saying it ain't so need to get educated. As for farmers they have a means of filing paperwork to get unlimited numbers of LEGAL migrant farm workers so long as the farmer abides by the laws governing his use of the farm employees.

      July 15, 2010 at 2:09 am |
  19. postedbygeorge

    So called "illegal immigration" is just an other step in "Manifest Destiny". Keep up or get left behind.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
  20. ShannonInCT

    Fishfry, the United Agricultural Workers union has a program where any citizen who wants a job can go to work in the fields immediately. So far, 3 people have accepted the offer. I guess being unemployed is better than working your butt off for minimum wage.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:08 pm |
    • Unit34AHunt

      That offer is merely cheap political theatrics. The plain fact is that the jobs that illegals have taken aren't, for the most part, agricultural jobs. They are, for the most part, jobs in light industry, construction, poultry and meat processing. In the 1980s, those jobs paid wages that were substantially greater then than they now are. I'm talking about raw dollars, not inflation adjusted dollars. Anyone who thinks that having an unlimited artificially increased supply of unskilled labor does not cause wage deflation beneath what amounts to a 'livable wage' needs to do some homework.

      July 14, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
    • ShannonInCT

      The fact remains that out own laws have created this problem. If we didn't let lobbyists from Big Agribusiness write laws to give themselves huge sums of money to overproduce, the majority of Mexican illegals would be back home working in local industry. And yet the people who are most vehemently opposed to illegal immigrants are the first ones to vote for the Heartland politicians who have been bought off by Big Agribusiness, when those politicians proclaim their devotion to God.

      July 14, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
    • Jason

      So Shannon... are you supporting the removal of extended unemployment benefits and encouraging those people to instead work in the fields. If so you might have a good point. However I doubt that is what you are saying.

      July 15, 2010 at 1:19 am |
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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.