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. Tisha

    I'm disturbed that members of Congress are quoting the Bible during a serious debate and illegal immigration. Religion and politics should be seperate. Sacred text should not be used to attempt to pass a law or make an argument in politics.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  2. Minister of Mow

    Wasn't there a wall around Jerusalem? Who built the wall? When the wall fell, what became of the Jewish Nation? The proponents of comprehensive immigration reform (that is political speak for amnesty) are not practicing biblical principle but political expedience. They need voters that lack any American values and don't have time to brainwash another generation with socialist garbage before the next election cycle through the public education system.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  3. John

    OK, few points.
    One: the Biblical stance on an issue is, or at least should be, irrelevant in determining its legal standing.
    Two: Want an easy solution to illegal immigrations? Here. I have one:

    If they are in this country illegally, but are employed, paying taxes, supporting their family, contributing to the community (basically acting the part of a good citizen, even though they aren't), then hand them a fine (a few grand) and put them in line on the path to citizenship. If they are here illegally but making no significant contribution, not paying taxes, leeching off our social welfare systems, or working non-stop and shipping all the money they make back to Mexico... then you line them up at the borders and kick them out.

    While this process is ongoing, secure the borders. ALL of them. Mexican, Canadian, oceanic, every single one. As bad as our border security is down south, our port security makes it look like Fort Knox.

    Basically... for once in the past 10 years or so can we please just deal with the issue itself and knock off the posturing, the demagoguery, and the irrelevant religious prattle?

    July 15, 2010 at 8:50 am |
    • Tisha

      Great idea. Now if only the members of Congress could think of something like this instead of quoting the Bible to make a point. They need to actually get something done instead of arguing with one another.

      July 15, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  4. Naturalized Citizen

    Be very careful of the United States Catholic church's agenda. Their primary motivation hasn't anything to do with human rights or the letter of the law. It's primary concerm is augmenting their religion's population within the United States. Actual American citizens are fleeing the church in record numbers due to the archaic positions the Vatican stood by and the pathetic handling of the molestation charges around the world. Latin America is the last bastion of "seen and not heard" Catholics who blindly obey the church and teh church would like nothing more than to increase their population at the polls in an effort to revive their own importance in the political landscape. I would discount any input on the immigration topic from the American Catholic church as it has an agenda in which individual human rights is far from the primary reason of their involvement.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  5. Wake Up

    “The only foundation for . . . a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.” 

    – Dr. Benjamin Rush – Signer of the Declaration of Independence

    July 15, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  6. Wake Up

    "We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come." "He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of this country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man....The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people.”

    Samuel Adams – As the Declaration of Independence was being signed – July 4, 1776

    July 15, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  7. Wake Up

    God Bless America, Land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her Thru the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, To the oceans, white with foam God bless America, My home sweet home.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:38 am |
    • Really though?

      So a song now forms a basis for setting policy?

      God help us all.

      /Irony intended

      July 15, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  8. Chris

    These people are actually reading things from levitcus? Along side of other insane passages. People really are a joke.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:31 am |
  9. Not Sleeping

    Lincoln's first law partner, John T. Stuart, said of him: "He was an avowed and open infidel, and sometimes bordered on atheism. He went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I have ever heard."

    July 15, 2010 at 8:30 am |
    • Wake Up

      Not Sleeping ...there is always a doubting Thomas...Thomas Payne.....Thomas Jefferson...Thomas Edison...etc....

      The Truth is still the Truth.

      July 15, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  10. Jerry

    Al, concerning the historical integrity of the Bible, you are incorrect that no one that lived in Jesus' time wrote anything in the Bible. The books of Matthew, Mark and John along with 1st and 2nd John were written by the disciples of Jesus, part of the 12 that followed him. The book of James was written by Jesus' brother. The Bible is a historically accurate writing and in context to the times it was written in.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  11. Trailer Park Allah

    what an amazing use of Congress' time! Bible does not equal law. Illegal immigrants are, well, illegal. The end.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  12. Ironic

    It's very ironic that the same left wingers who push separation of church and state to the limits are the same one advocating policy based on religious beliefs. Hmmm...

    July 15, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  13. DoubleD

    Ha Ha Ha ! Reading the comments I see that now republicans are cherry picking the Bible. Use it when it fits their needs disregard it when it helps others and goes against their personal beliefs. They demand keeping the 10 commandments posted in governement buildings, want religion taught in schools, but ignor it when it helps people they hate, like immirgrants.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:25 am |
    • Chris

      Wait what? What does political preference have to do with an insane belief? Theres most likely just as many on the other side.

      July 15, 2010 at 8:32 am |
    • John

      Interesting that you forget the quotes dems made. How convinient for you. No amnesty, Illegal is illegal. Get out!

      July 15, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  14. truthfulster

    We're told they work on farms and do the jobs that no American will do. They also collect a welfare check that my income helps pay because all these illegals are below the poverty line They get FREE medical care just by going to the emergency room and on top of all that they can go to the Salvation Army and plead poverty. What a life, where are their responsibilities and worries. Their only worry is being sent back and the citizens of this country can go to the devil.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  15. MD

    Apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology, apology.

    Here, have my money, land and freedom. I didn't really want it anyway.

    America's a train on the path to derail into a 3rd world country. Keep spending more in benefits than we collect in taxes. I'm sure inviting a large number of poor Mexicans to stay with us would improve that problem. Will they show the same respect for us once they've taken over our country? Will they care about our beliefs, traditions, or aspirations? All signs point toward no.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  16. Anon

    I can't even believe the debate in this article. According to the Dems statements regarding allowing everyone into the country based on humanitarian reasons, no one should have to follow any laws if it makes life more difficult for them. It seems a bit insincere and ironic considering the legislation Dems have pushed through lately seeking to regulate all areas of American life.

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

    “Let us enter on this important business under the idea that we are Christians on whom the eyes of the world are now turned… [L]et us earnestly call and beseech Him, for Christ’s sake, to preside in our councils. . . . We can only depend on the all powerful influence of the Spirit of God, Whose Divine aid and assistance it becomes us as a Christian people most devoutly to implore. Therefore I move that some minister of the Gospel be requested to attend this Congress every morning . . . in order to open the meeting with prayer.”

    Elias Boudinot


    July 15, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  18. truth

    If anyone, ANYONE, is truly serious about controlling our borders we have to stop focusing on individual immigrants. Instead we need the strongest enforcement possible of existing labor laws. You won't have to jail very many CEO's and business owners (yes, I'm talking about farmers as well) before there will be no reason for anyone to come here. Yes, we will all pay higher prices for almost everything, but that is the price of "border security".

    The LAST people we should be listening to is organized religion. In order for religion to thrive it depends on a dirt-poor, uneducated masses of sheep who become dependent on religion for any semblance of hope. This is the true reason they (organized religion) want "open borders" but no enforcement of labor laws.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  19. Wake Up

    Josiah Bartlett called on the people of New Hampshire . . ." to confess before God their aggravated transgressions and to implore His pardon and forgiveness through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ . . . [t]hat the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be made known to all nations, pure and undefiled religion universally prevail, and the earth be fill with the glory of the Lord."

    Josiah Bartlett


    July 15, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  20. Kingfischer

    You gotta be kidding me? What happened to separation between church and state? Most members of Congress dont have a clue about the health care bill now I'm suppose to believe they can decipher the word of God? OUR COUNTRY IS DOOMED!

    July 15, 2010 at 8:19 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.