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. Anthony

    Who cares about the Bible? Maybe the reason we can't solve anything is because stupid people look to a work of fiction written thousands of years ago by murderous, racist, misogynist men with secret (or not so secret) agendas. This is 2010. Are we going to do "the earth is flat" all over again?

    July 15, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  2. Wake Up

    wow! If our calendar is based on a myth, then that would explain why were so disorganized...

    July 15, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  3. ARob

    "Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."

    –Thomas Jefferson

    July 15, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  4. Ben

    @Linda – Our political system was based on Greek and Roman political thought. Christian religious beliefs were not quite a factor in the thought process of our Founding Fathers.

    While many of them were Christians, most had beliefs that were far more tolerant and open-minded than the version of Christianity that we have today. Christian thought did not found this country, otherwise why would the founders need to include provisions for religious tolerance? Why would they explicitly state that there should be a separation of church and state?

    The reason why many politicians are Christian is that the United States is a predominantly Christian country, and sadly, people will vote people into office based on their religious beliefs.

    It absolutely terrifies me when our leaders begin to throw Bible verses around – especially out of context – to justify their agenda. Rather than being able to debate the issues on a secular level, they have to hide behind Bible verses cherry picked to agree with their ideas. This is incredibly disingenuous, and in my opinion represents something more sinister, which is twisting the Word of God into something that it might not necessarily be.

    Finally, many of the celebrated THINKERS and PHILOSOPHERS in human history were not Christian. There's an entire history of mankind that existed before Christianity. The idea of Democracy and Republicanism, which affects our life every day, came from pagan thinkers in Greece. Incredibly advances in mathematics came from Muslims. Buddhism came from the East. Einstein was a Jew. Stephen Hawking is agnostic. Do you really expect people to think that the only contributions to the human race came from Christians?

    Before you dismiss and demean people you want to label as agnostic, perhaps you should address your own lack of education.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  5. Scott

    When will people realize that God is a mountain and there are many ways up that mountain. Christianity is incorrect...all religions are incorrect. We cannot and should not debate the undebatable and the unknowable. Everything said about God is mere conjecture. We truly are overwhelmed with our own hubris if we imagine we can even begin to comprehend anything about the Almighty.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:45 am |
    • Mike

      By claiming that all religon is incorrect, you are claiming you know what is correct. It is only comparing something against the correct that makes it incorrect.

      So the big question Scott is what is correct?

      July 15, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • Scott

      All religion is incorrect...it was and is a creation of man. Man is imperfect...therefore religion is imperfect. There are factions of each relgion that are correct...there are factions of each religion that are incorrect. That said; there is no religion that is completely perfect and as humans...we cannot understand the way of the Almighty...we can only do the best we can. Live and love one another. Hatred and intolerance must be done away with...and that goes for Christianity, Islam...whatever...please learn to love one another...that is my simple plea.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:06 am |
    • Mike

      But once you fail at doing the best you can, for you only need to fail once and, therefore can not ever do the best you could from that point on. Then the need for a savior arrives to pick us up and restore us to God(Almighty) because we could never do the best we can. And now you have Christianity which is not from man but from God John 1:1-14

      July 15, 2010 at 10:17 am |
    • Scott

      And this is exactly this issue I have...one cannot argue with the unenlightened. Alas...perhaps someday the dream of all living in a world of tolerance and acceptance will come when we leave behind our tethers to books written by unenlightened men...sadly it is not and will not be this day. I leave the last word to you Mike. Good day and bless you.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • Mike

      So the issue you have is that you can not have an arguement against that stands up. Tolerance and Acceptance of what? Your beliefs? Would you then argue your beliefs because you believe them? The only difference between you and I are that you call me intolerant and your self enlightened. But when queried can not describe what the enlightenment looks like

      July 15, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  6. Roscoe

    For all you "humanitarians" out there. Illegal immigrants are putting US Citizens out of work, putting US companies out of business, and putting the US economy further in the hole. I know first hand because I am a victim. My company paid high union labor rates and we are out of business now because we can't compete with illegal labor. Punish employers? Good luck with that. The underground economy is only getting bigger along with the illegal labor force.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  7. wow!

    It is 2010. Why does a myth that was written 2000 years ago to control / apease the masses still have relavance in government today? People are free to believe and worship as they may in their own time, but keep this fiction / ignorant thought out of government. This is a humanities / judicial issue, not a religious issue! How about we stop giving tax breaks to corporations like the catholic church, and instead of finacially supporting fairy tales and molestation, give that money to support higher education so that this non-sense will eventually stop!

    July 15, 2010 at 9:42 am |
    • Brad

      The moral relativity of our culture is imploding. The Bible represents over 4000 years of human thought and experience. People who think that the Bible is only old myth haven't read enough of it to have formed an opinion about the Book.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:51 am |
    • wow!

      Or...people who believe word for word of what it says have not read enough of "other" books to form their own opinion about life and the world around them. Open your eyes and keep your brain-washing rhetoric out of govenment !

      July 15, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  8. Wraith

    You're kidding me... Discussing bible verse while crafting the laws of our nation... I'm a rather firm believer on the seperation of church and state, on *all* levels, and I just find this offensive.

    I'd also like to put it on record that the Easter Bunny is firmly opposed to immigration reform, believing things are fine the way they are. The Toothfairy, on the other hand believes we need to stem the tide of illegals flooding into the country. Santa Claus remains torn on the issue.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:40 am |
    • Truth

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

      The Holy Bible - An EXCELLENT source.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • Wraith

      While the bible (most aspects) may provide a decent moral guideline for life (one I wish more Christians would adhere to), it is not appropriate for the government to go into interpretation. Make the laws of a democracy, not the laws of a theocracy.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  9. Conky

    Theology,...filling the void of valid arguments since 6000 B.C. Give me a secular fascist over a theist buffoon any day.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  10. Sean

    It makes me sick to hear these people quoting Bible(or any other religious work) passages as though it is precedent for the way our nation should be governed. It irks me enough that I wish we could start a new country, where government and religion were not allowed to influence one another....

    July 15, 2010 at 9:38 am |
    • Mike

      Then were will your beliefs come from? What would this country look like?

      July 15, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  11. Lawrence

    Wow a bible verse on immigration? But there is another bible verse to help our poor neighbors, luke 10:25-37, The Good Samaritan teaches us to kind to strangers. Exodus 22:21, "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." Leviticus 19:34 "The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."
    So, go back to Sunday School and stop misquoting the bible.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:37 am |
    • Mr love

      Exodus 22:21" You shall not wrong or oppress a RESIDENT alien,for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." Being a resident alien is lawful, being an illegal alien is not. The bible also demands we obey the law of the land, especially since wer'e reminded that the soldier doesn't carry his sword in vain.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  12. Wake Up

    If it were not for books...from what have we learned....MTV?

    July 15, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  13. Wake Up

    How ignorant we have become as a people....

    July 15, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  14. michael

    Get you g damned religion out of my life. In America we have freedom of religion and we also have freedom FROM religion. If these people of God are so concerned with human dignity, perhaps they should address the dignity of tax paying citizens who resent having their hard earned money channeled to people who do not respect our autonmy, our culture and our inherent right to dictate who can enter our borders.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:33 am |
    • Mike

      Your violating your own beliefs of "Freedom of Religon" by telling me what I should do with the truths I believe in.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  15. Mike

    To AL,
    Your just wrong the first christian came after the meeting in antioch Acts 11:26. Jesus did write in the sand. Peter, Natthew Mark all wrote along with James his brother. There were 500+ still alive that witness the resurrection at the time of the writings. Do some research so you don't mislead others.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  16. Wake Up

    Is this the Year of our Lord 2010?

    July 15, 2010 at 9:32 am |
    • Really though?

      Actually it is the 2010 year of the Common Era.


      July 15, 2010 at 10:33 am |
    • Really though?

      Also, I could just as easily say that it is the Year of our Ford 102.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  17. Wake Up

    Is CHRIST MASS – Jesus's birthday?

    July 15, 2010 at 9:32 am |
    • Mike

      No but what does that have to do with anything.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  18. Sevinthseal

    If we're seeking guidance from a book about talking animals and magic tricks then we have FAR more serious problems than immigration.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  19. Wake Up

    Why do they take their oaths on Bibles?

    July 15, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  20. Jason

    Whatever happened to no religion in government? i swear...this country cannot afford to have Christians or any other religious denomination trying to impose their craziness on society. If you want to believe in invisible men do so from the insane asylum like everyone else.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • Truth

      The founding Fathers of this nation prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the name of Jesus Christ for help in defeating the British and now you say you don't need him.

      July 15, 2010 at 9:33 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
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.