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

    “[T]hanks be given unto Almighty God therefore, and knowing that it is appointed for all men once to die and after that the judgment [Hebrews 9:27] . . . principally, I give and recommend my soul into the hands of Almighty God who gave it and my body to the earth to be buried in a decent and Christian like manner . . . to receive the same again at the general resurrection by the mighty power of God.”

    John Hart


    July 15, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  2. moondoggie

    Did I wake up this morning in Iran? What are our government officials doing discussing Bible in relation to our laws? And all from a specific Christian perspective. Scary!

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

    “It becomes a people publicly to acknowledge the over-ruling hand of Divine Providence and their dependence upon the Supreme Being as their Creator and Merciful Preserver . . . and with becoming humility and sincere repentance to supplicate the pardon that we may obtain forgiveness through the merits and mediation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    Samuel Huntington


    July 15, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  4. Saxo Grammaticus

    What's happened to separation of church and state here? Would these Bible-spouting politicians tolerate even for one minute a colleague quoting the Koran to support a position?

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

    The Star Spangled Banner
    Oh say can you see? By the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight's last gleaming. Whose broad stripes and bright stars….

    O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand Between their loved home and the war's desolation!Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: "In God is our trust." And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    Francis Scott Key

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

    "I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society. One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is a part of the Common Law ... There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying its foundations."

    – Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, Harvard Speech, 1829

    July 15, 2010 at 8:15 am |
    • kapukane

      While I believe in a God or Universal Intelligence or Creator.........You must realize that Christianity is a man made myth. Educate yourselves on the origins of your religion. The bible is the most error filled, forged, and corrupted book in history.

      July 15, 2010 at 8:25 am |
  7. Wake Up

    God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.

    – Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson Memorial

    July 15, 2010 at 8:15 am |
  8. truthfulster

    With all the influx of illegal aliens this country of ours is being dragged down to Mexicos level. Why should we let ALL of these foreigners stay, wouldn't we be blessed by God if one quarter stayed. I'd agree to a quarter but not the whole. WE CAN"T KEEP BEING THE CAREGIVER TO THE WORLD, we need to go back to just letting in a predetermined amount of immigrants in and no more. DAMN REAGAN for starting this whole mess and I'm a republican.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  9. Wake Up

    Holiness to the Lord (Exodus 28:26, 30:30, Isaiah 23:18, Zechariah 14:20)

    – Washington Monument

    Search the Scriptures (John 5:39)

    – Washington Monument 

    The memory of the just is blessed (Proverbs 10:7)

    – Washington Monument 

    May Heaven to this Union continue its beneficence

     – Washington Monument

    In God We Trust

     – Washington Monument

    July 15, 2010 at 8:14 am |
    • moondoggie

      This may be so, but the interpretation of these passages is up to each individual. Here we have "leaders" applying their vision of religion and God to the lives of everyone. And I for one am not interested in being led by their vision!

      July 15, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  10. kapukane

    It frightens the me to my very core that members of congress are citing biblical passages. Truly scary, disturbing and bizarre.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:13 am |
    • moondoggie

      I agree with you totally. They should be removed for violation of Church and State!

      July 15, 2010 at 8:23 am |
    • Wake Up

      Did they not take their oaths on Bibles?

      July 15, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  11. warsteiner

    Enough with the bible passages we can debate that all day there are as many for as against. The bottom line is we dont give mexican's what they want because they cry loud enough. Tired of listening to this stupid arguement they dont come here legally they are criminals and should be treated as such. We dont need to feel guilty because we want to see an ID card. They have a beautiful country with potential why doesnt Spain help them I will tell you they as a people are not interested in growing a good country like we did they want to move here instead of working to make a better future for their kids

    July 15, 2010 at 8:13 am |
  12. Wake Up

    “The Bible is a book in comparison with which all others are of minor importance, and which in all my perplexities and distresses has never failed to give me light and strength.”

    Robert E. Lee

    July 15, 2010 at 8:12 am |
  13. Wake Up

    “Believe me, sir, never a night goes by, be I ever so tired, but I read the Word of God before I go to bed.”

    Douglas MacArthur

    July 15, 2010 at 8:11 am |
  14. danny

    good to see our tax dollars being put to good use....

    July 15, 2010 at 8:11 am |
  15. Wake Up

    "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is their duty – as well as privilege and interest – of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

    The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts."

    Jay, First Chief-Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

    July 15, 2010 at 8:10 am |
  16. Wake Up

    “There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains
    are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston!
    The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry,
    Peace, Peace– but there is no peace [Jer. 6:14]. The war is
    actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will
    bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are
    already in the field! Why stand we here idle [Matt. 20:6]? What
    is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so
    dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of
    chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what
    course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give
    me death!”

    Patrick Henry – March 23 1775

    July 15, 2010 at 8:09 am |
  17. Wake Up

    "The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."

    – John F. Kennedy 35th President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 8:08 am |
  18. Tony

    Doesn't seem that the bible holds the answer. Maybe they should look to see if the quran has any guidance on this. Maybe Congress can have a prayer breakfast and see if they receive divine guidance before lunch. I'm quite optimistic that this will be resolved very soon, and to everyone's satisfaction.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:08 am |
  19. Wake Up

    "The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth."

    – George Mason, 1776 Father of the Bill of Rights

    July 15, 2010 at 8:07 am |
  20. Wake Up

    "The fundamental basis of this Nation's law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul."
    – Harry S. Truman"This Nation was established by men who believed in God. ... You will see the evidence of this deep religious faith on every hand.'

    – Harry S. Truman 33rd President of the United States

    July 15, 2010 at 8:07 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.