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. Joel

    Using the bible to debate is a scary thing indeed. This country is NOT a theocracy nor should it ever be. Theocracies do not work as we see in the middle east. I am just very frightened for this country that there are so many people that want to take this path. Just as scary is how so many people do not realize that our government is secular.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  2. chris jones

    to garett, the self proclaimed " highly intelligent one" . This country's regression is due to self proclaimed know it alls like you who convinced the truly weak people that there is no God, there is no need for God and that they should follow " intelligent" people like you in your belief that all morals etc are relative to the times . If you knew anything you'ld see that our nations laws, tho not perfect, are often based on biblical principals. Just because they are not always perfectly adhered to doesn"t mean they or God should be trashed from our lives.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  3. DD

    Exactly. My family followed all the rules. It took 2 years in a refugee camp, but we followed the rules, and got here legally just fine, and are now citizens. NO sympathy for those who break the law.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:09 am |
    • Melissa

      Did you happen to notice that they deleted my post and moved yours to an individual post? Could it be because I talked against Christianity and they are playing favorites? Hmmm, methinks so.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  4. Wake Up

    We hold these Truth’s to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:09 am |
    • GCarlin

      Funny...they didn't say which "Creator"...

      July 15, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  5. Wake Up

    "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

     – Benjamin Franklin

    July 15, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  6. DD

    If THAT kind of debate isn't blatant religious pandering, I'll EAT a bible! C'mon!!!

    The laws for handling immigrants are already IN PLACE. ENFORCE them!!!

    July 15, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  7. Linda

    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.

    Really??? Sounds like socialism to me..............

    July 15, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  8. Wake Up

    Amanda – it was never intended to be separate – nor will it ever be.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  9. Wake Up

    While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free, Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
    God Bless America, Land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her Through 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 10:05 am |
  10. Amanda

    What on earth happened to the separation of church and state?

    July 15, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  11. Dave

    These two quotes from our founding fathers may help those who think our land is or ever was a "christian" state:

    "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law," Thomas Jefferson, February 10, 1814

    "The Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion," George Washington, The Treaty of Tripoli, 1796

    July 15, 2010 at 10:02 am |
    • NoGodinGovt

      Well spoken!

      July 15, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  12. Wake Up

    "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

    2 Chronicles 7:14

    "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected
    knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou
    hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children."

    Hosea 4:16

    Pray for our country...

    July 15, 2010 at 10:01 am |
    • Really though?

      I do pray for our country. I pray that it remains secular and does not base its laws on one religion and descriminate against another.

      /win again

      July 15, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  13. muggles

    Where would we be if they turned those immigrants on the Mayflower back?

    July 15, 2010 at 9:59 am |
    • Mike

      It's not about immagration its about ILLEGAL immagration. Don't confuse the two.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  14. GCarlin

    Thou shalt not commit murder.
    Thou shalt respect others.
    Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

    3 commandments...that's all we need and it covers EVERYTHING.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  15. Wake Up

    To all who speak against the Bible, I would highly encourage you to take anything that folds or rattles bearing the phrase "In God We Trust" and rid yourselves of it....wait a minute...you may have already done that.....

    July 15, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • ARob

      Those 4 words don't belong on our currency. They didn't defile the face of our legal tender until 1954.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:14 am |
  16. ARob

    The Bible should not be burned – the Nazis did that – it should simply be left behind forgotten, as the other mythologies have been. People have been trying to mandate law based on mythology since long before Christianity, long before Judaism...long before monotheism of any kind. It's an anchor that we drag behind us, keeping us from progress and a brighter tomorrow.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  17. curtegg

    The solution is quite simple.

    1) Any employer caught employing illegal immigrants is fined $100,000 per illegal.
    2) Any homeowner caught hiring a day-worker that is an illegal is fined $10000.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  18. Rick McDaniel

    Religion cannot be allowed to interfere with government. This is NOT a humanitarian issue in any way. It is simply a governance issue, for and by citizens......and NOT non-citizens.

    Those who wish to become citizens, must follow proper procedures to do so. There are systems in place for that purpose.

    The church arguments are totally out of line, and inappropriate, regarding this issue.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  19. roz

    That we are still clinging to the bible as a guide to public policy is extremely bad news. It means we cling to a self fufilling prophecy of species extinction. It means we accept the policies that will lead to armadeggon and reject the hope that science and reason bring. Faith is such a petty and conceited emotion...it puts the individuals desire for the eternal above the entire human species chance at it.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  20. Aaron B

    If any elected official is spouting bible verses to prove a point on a political issue, that official should be removed from office. Trying to invoke any form of religion in a debate about politics should be outlawed in itself. One would believe that it already is outlawed, by the separation of church and state, but now if you are not of a certain religion you do not stand a chance of becoming a high ranking political official. This disgusts me and I hope someday we can ban religion all together. I am the minority in this one, but once people wake up and see how terrible religion in politics is, maybe we can move on as a country.

    July 15, 2010 at 9:55 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.