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. Wake Up

    The Bible] is the rock on which our Republic rests."

    Anderw Jackson 7th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 8:05 am |
  2. Wake Up

    “All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the BIBLE"

    -Noah Webster – Father of American Scholarship

    July 15, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  3. olddiver68

    all this discussion about what the bible say is out of place. this nationis founded on the princiable of seperation of church and state. i personally agree with the arizona law. i believe every person ove the age of 16 should have in his or her possenion a state or federal id card verfying that they are legal residents of this country. as i understand the law ,polce can ask anyone suspected of committing a crime to produce proper id . however no one should be harrased for walking down a street,just because they look hipanic.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:03 am |
  4. Wake Up

    "Without God there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience...without God there is a coarsening of the society; without God democracy will not and cannot long endure...If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under."

    – Ronald Reagan 40th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 8:01 am |
    • KH

      A quote by Reagan? His actions are part of the reason our country is in this mess. Amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants and look what happened.... MORE illegal immigrants!! I don't care what that idiot believed.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  5. Wake Up

    "Without God there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic, expression of Americanism. Thus, the founding fathers of America saw it, and thus with God's help, it will continue to be.”

    – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States of America

    July 15, 2010 at 8:00 am |
  6. Wake Up

    “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic. Where we have been the truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts, we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity.”

    Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:59 am |
  7. Wake Up

    “The whole inspiration of our civilization springs from the teachings of Christ and the lessons of the prophets. To read the Bible for these fundamentals is a necessity of American life.” 

    – Herbert Hoover – 31st President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:58 am |
  8. Wake Up

    “When you have read the Bible, you know it is the word of God, because it is the key to your heart, your own happiness, and your own duty.”

    – Woodrow Wilson 28th President of the United States (Nobel Peace Prize Winner)

    July 15, 2010 at 7:57 am |
  9. Wake Up

    "A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

    Theodore Roosevelt 26th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:56 am |
  10. Wake Up

    "All must admit that the reception of the teachings of Christ results in the purest patriotism, in the most scrupulous fidelity to public trust, and in the best type of citizenship."

    – Grover Cleveland 22nd and 24th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:56 am |
  11. Wake Up

    "Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet-anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your hearts and practice them in your lives. To the influence of this book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future. Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people."   

    Ulysses S. Grant 18th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:55 am |
  12. Wake Up

    "In regards to this great Book [the Bible], I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are found portrayed in it."   – Abraham Lincoln 16th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  13. Wake Up

    "It is no slight testimonial, both to the merit and worth of Christianity, that in all ages since its promulgation the great mass of those who have risen to eminence by their profound wisdom and integrity have recognized and reverenced Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of the living God."- John Quincy Adams 6th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:53 am |
  14. Wake Up

    "We have staked the whole future of our new nation, not upon the power of government; far from it. We have staked the future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.” – James Madison 4th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:52 am |
  15. Wake Up

    "A patriot without religion in my estimation is as great a paradox as an honest Man without the fear of God. Is it possible that he whom no moral obligations bind, can have any real Good Will towards Men? Can he be a patriot who, by an openly vicious conduct, is undermining the very bonds of Society?....The Scriptures tell us "righteousness exalteth a Nation.“
    Abigail Adams

    July 15, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  16. Wake Up

    “As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him.”
     – John Adams – 2nd President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 7:50 am |
    • Not Sleeping

      "As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?"
      -letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816 James Madison

      July 15, 2010 at 8:24 am |
    • Not Sleeping

      "God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world." John Adams – 2nd President of the United States

      July 15, 2010 at 8:28 am |
  17. Wake Up

    "Do not let any one claim to be a true American
    if they ever attempt to remove religion from politics."
    George Washington

    July 15, 2010 at 7:49 am |
    • Not Sleeping

      "Gouverneur Morris had often told me that General Washington believed no more of that system (Christianity) than did he himself."
      -Thomas Jefferson, in his private journal, Feb. 1800

      July 15, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  18. Wake Up

    “What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.”   – George Washington – President

    “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”   – George Washington – President

    July 15, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • Not Sleeping

      "Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth."
      – "Notes on Virginia" Thomas Jefferson

      July 15, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  19. Wake Up

    “I conceive we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world . . . that the confusions that are and have been among the nations may be overruled by the promoting and speedily bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace.” Samuel Adams

    July 15, 2010 at 7:47 am |
  20. Wake Up

    Wow Barry, Why do public officials and court witnesses take their oaths on Bibles? Those people we elect or trust in our justice system, must be ....as you say...crack pots???

    July 15, 2010 at 7:45 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.