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. Truth

    This is absolutely wonderful that the Holy Bible is being referred to in the political arena.

    Timothy 3:16 "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"

    July 15, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  2. Scott

    Just what we need. the taliban of jesus running our country.

    Between the Christians and the Muslims. all they offer is chains. religion and freedom can not coincide.
    As to the cult followers of both. :finger:

    July 15, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  3. Rick

    This all seems so backward... in modern society, using the Bible to justify or refute law is as amorphous and questionable as using alchemy or sorcery to explain the Internet. I'm waiting for someone in Congress to start placing votes by reading tea leaves.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • Truth

      Man's wisdom is foolishness compared to God's wisdom.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:30 am |
    • Jason

      Amen! (lol)

      July 15, 2010 at 9:30 am |
    • Jason

      My amen was for Rick. Truth, you're a moron.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  4. Turnipghost

    Seperation of Church and State.... Fail.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  5. Doug

    Matt: 5-44 "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, "

    Luke: 19-27 "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me."

    Jesus was even a hypocrite!

    July 15, 2010 at 9:23 am |
    • Mike

      Matt 5 is a command to love toward one another regardless how we feel about them.

      Luke, first is a parable, and at that a parable of the end of time when judgement comes those, who may not even be MY enemy, but reject God will cease to exist because "did not want me to reign over them"

      There is no hypocrocy, do not cherry pick scripture out of context.

      July 15, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  6. Cesar

    The Americans are also illegal aliens or immigrants that came to these country and took the Indians land with such a force that almost exterminate the Indian Race by putting them into concentration camps. We are a bunch of ignorant human beings that we don't know how to translate the bible and second we should not used the bible or God words with dirty politics. Religion don't go with politics both are two different fields. There is only one race HUMAN BEINGS and we all are illegal, because we come to these world for just a time and then we go, that makes all of us immigrants of the worlds and universe.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:22 am |
    • Naturalized Citizen

      It would appear to me that you have a more than passing interest in how the whole immigration "thing" winds up. Perhaps you can effect change in the countries that can not provide jobs to their own citizens, thus causing the ridiculous strain on the United States' infrastructure. Perhaps looking to the nations responsible for this crisis involves all of us looking south of the Rio Grande.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  7. A believer that has gone to school

    Hypocrites! Liberals want God and the bible out of everything, now they try to use it to prove a point? May God have mercy on their souls!

    July 15, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  8. Guest

    So what's the Bibal got to say about the new iphone 4 situation? Makes a much sense as the core element of this story.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  9. Katie

    WOW... why is this even being discussed? No religious text has ANY place in the government! If they want to get together at a Bible group and discuss the biblical implications of immigration law, then go for it! And our country was NOT founded on Christian principles, as evident by the fact that our forefathers specifically said there's a separation of church and state. Lots of non-Christian countries founded themselves on the same beliefs as us. Coincidence?

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

    Tisha – Congress should use the Bible that they have placed their faith in. see Public Law 97-280.

    "One nation Under God"

    July 15, 2010 at 9:09 am |
    • Tisha

      No the Bible should not be used. We have religious freedom in this country. The United States is made up of those who believe in God, multiple gods, or nothing at all. Using the Bible to debate such a serious issue is wrong. I'm a Christian but I believe that people have the right to not be a Christian and have my beliefs forced on them. If a politician cannot separate his personal beliefs with what is good for the nation as a whole, then he or she should not be in politics.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:26 am |
    • Scott

      one nation under god was brought about in the 1950's. I'm suprised you nuts aren't cutting heads off yet in your furver. Of course you religious folk live and breath by rewriting history. don'tcha?

      Here's one for you. Thou shall not touch little children.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  11. RG

    The biggest question is why don't these immigrants even attempt to enter legally? They risk their lives to enter illegally, and most of these people are not criminals. We mention "illegal immigrants to politically correct, but the fact of the matter is the largest percentage is of Mexican descent.
    Let's just make Mexico the 51st state, as their entire economy is a by-product of the US. Another asset they posses is that Mexican manufacturing is now cheaper than China, and the freight is a lot less too.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  12. Susan

    The question has to be: what do you do if they don't follow the new immigration laws? They are already breaking the law, so what makes you feel they will follow the law once the new immigration laws go into effect. You have the same problem, people who come here illegally and a government that does nothing about it.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:05 am |
  13. FB

    Lets get real here. First, yes people should be treated humanely as they are returned. But we don't need to close the borders. fix why they come here in the first place – jobs. So if these businesses a made not to hire illegals, there would be no reason to come here. Fine these business $10K per illegal and mandatory 2 years jail time for the business owner. They would think twice before hiring an illegal. for those who say they don't know their are illegal – that bull. they know, because they pay them in cash and they work for less then a true american would. Go after the real creators of this problem.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  14. slrtx

    Using the bible to set policy? I know! Let's see what Dilbert has to say about this! After all, I believe what he says over whatever the bible says.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  15. LeighAna

    Holy Zeus!! Read the writing of our founding fathers. Then again, I guess that's the problem, people would actually have to read. Oh no!! Then they might become elite. Neither Christianity nor any other religion belongs in our laws. There is quite a difference between Christianity and morality. I've found that one can pick up the Bible to argue anything at any time.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  16. richunix

    What in the hell does religion have to do with secular laws? First religion is a belief, it's not fact nor is it supported by any facts. Just nice stories and hear-says. I do however agree the laws need to change, because we can not continue with the current immigration laws.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  17. Wake Up

    John – One nation under God – irrelevant prattle?

    Reagan was prophetic...and so were the rest of the vast majority of our virtuous leaders....regardless of party affiliation.

    We ignore the foundation upon which our republic was set and wonder why it crumbles beneath us.

    Pray for our country.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:00 am |
    • Really though?

      The line 'one nation under God' was not part of the original Pledge of Allegiance. It holds no validity as an arguement about the basis on which this country was founded.

      I usually refrain from saying it when I recite the pledge, actually. And no, that does not make me a traitor.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  18. Roger

    I wonder if everyone would be so happy to quote scripture if it was from the Quoran or the Vedas.


    While I did not like the current law, it is clear. Illeagals should be sent home. If a new law is enacted which allows doe temporary visas or worker visa or citizenship, Im all for it, Until then let's leave religion out of it ans stick to the rule of law

    July 15, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  19. seaswept

    Yeah... let's bring the bible in to it. That'll get stuff done. (End sarcasm)

    July 15, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  20. Hypocrites

    Why not send every person here back to Europe, Asia and Africa, because your all illegal! Americans love illegal immigration when it serves their greed, Asians to build railroads, Africans to work plantations, and mexicans to work on large scale farms. Now though the economy turns south and history repeats itself, some racial minority is the problem. Well the problem is America's greed and huge debt, blame others is the name of the game in the U.S., well here is a quote, Jesus said you only need these two laws I will leave with you, and one said, "Lv 19:18 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”. American's tend to forget what Christ spoke. Who really cares,Rome fell, and today we are seeing the demise of the U.S. not because of immigration ( American's are blind) but because of their greed, their excess, and their hate!!! Praise God a world with a weak U.S. will be a more peaceful world!

    July 15, 2010 at 8:57 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.