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. Shellee

    Not sure how the Bible debate got going in Congress, but interesting to hear about. There is nothing immoral or un-Christian about upholding the laws of the land. ILLEGAL immigration is a crime. Since the late 1800's our country has required LEGAL immigration. My ancestors came from Mexico in 1905 LEGALLY through El Paso. My other ancestors came from Germany, all legally. It is absurd to even consider "open borders." We're not just talking about poor Mexicans wanting to better their lives. People from every country in the world want to come here and some want to do serious harm. Legal immigration reform must happen!

    July 15, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  2. Brad

    People bitterly criticize Pope Pius XII for supposedly not speaking out against the Holocaust.
    When the church speaks against abuse of desperate immigrants, it's told to "SHUT UP"

    What causes such inconsistent thinking?

    July 15, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  3. Melissa

    Interesting, if you post anything that talks against religion on this topic, they delete your post. Hypocritical crap.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  4. Erik

    You have to be kidding me. When will people grow up and stop with their bronze age nonsense? I could care less what the Bible says and frankly, neither should the American government. Grow up.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:36 am |
  5. Buster Bloodvessel

    Apparently the Devil can quote Scripture for his own purposes. Sure, just dig through the book and find some out of context lines that support your view. Never mind what civil law says, let's just go Taliban and make up our own Sharia!

    July 15, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  6. Mike

    Why the hell are they using the Bible in Congressional debates? This is just messed up. I don't care which side they are trying to defend by quoting an ancient book. We're living in the 21st century and our understanding of morality and government has moved far beyond that of iron age peasants.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  7. cc423

    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."


    July 15, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  8. myshlei

    It's a good thing the native americans didn't have the bible, they might have held a pow wow and thrown the white people out.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  9. Brad

    I think that about 20 people need to show up at Mr. Kicanas house and just walk in the front door, lay on his couch, eat his food use his bathroom, and tell him he has to pay for any visits to the hospital. Then he can understand illegal immigration!

    July 15, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  10. CB

    So.... are we putting "In God we Trust" back in to American Doctrines and schools? This is so ridiculous. After the wars, the constant division of the rich and poor and church and state, they consult the Bible on IMMIGRATION! If they really follow God, try this one on for size "Love thy neighbor as you love yourself." Not only that I thought the law says separation of church and state? Don't get all "holy" now because things aren't going the way you want them t...which is the WRONG WAY!! Make a just law and justice will be served.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:22 am |
    • CactusJumper

      We have a just law in place now which provides means for legal immigration.. It just isn't being enforced.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  11. CactusJumper

    Whatever happened to separation of church and state? If laws were based on the bible we would go back to an eye for an eye, life for a life. Also there would be no gay marriages. I think Congress should do their job and represent the desires of the majority of legal citizens that voted them into office. Better than that, let the US citizens vote for what they want. 1. Amnesty 2.Reform with punishment 3. Absolute enforcement of existing immigration law Put it to a national vote. Let the majority of legal voters decide. (Common sense is totally lacking in the US)

    July 15, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  12. Randy

    It seems to me that people who want religion out of government are just as eager as religious people to lecture others on the appropriate role of religion in their lives. You're both presumptuous to claim that your p.o.v. gives you the right to lecture me, and your "contributions" are equally unwelcome.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  13. Dave

    The correct quote from the DOI is, "We hold these truths 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." No apostrophe in "truths." Note that the term used is "Creator," not "god" (a mark of deism rather than christianity), and note as well that what this creator endows us with are rights having nothing to do at all with what religious dogmatists are interested in.

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

    "Arizona's law is a "symptom" and a "cry for help ... because the federal government has not done its duty" to control the border." Gee you think? If it were nutcases with bombs crossing the border, the National Guard or the Army would be on it in an instant. But no, it's these wonderful Mexicans that work for almost free. So because it isn't popular to bar cheap labor from entering the country, let's turn a blind eye. Damn politicians.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  15. NoGodinGovt

    Religion HAS NO PLACE in gov't and laws. This is a country of free choice in religion. Therefore the Bible, Koran or any other religious writings have no place in how we run our country!

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

      Were would laws and beliefs come from. Freedom Of Religon is not forcing abstance from Religon, then it is no longer a freedom

      July 15, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • Mike

      Brilliant, Mike. Next time let's scan through the Koran for some moral guidance. And then we can bust out the Hindu Vedas. Because our only source of morality is ancient books. Perish the thought that we should use common sense and centuries of real-world experience to guide our moral choices.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • Mike

      Again Freedom has its responisibilities, abstance is not the solution.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  16. Wake Up

    “You do well to wish to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.”

    George Washington

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

    "The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools."
    – United States Congress 1782

    By Law the United States Congress adds to US coinage: "In God We Trust"
    – United States Congress 1864 

    July 15, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  18. MajorCrisis

    Anyone who believes our founding fathers were "Christian" or adhered to a "Christian Religion" that was anything like the way we understand those words today is misinformed. The founding fathers, like most of the brightest and best of their age, were dominated by a version of religious thinking known as Deism. They believed in a God who was knowable through reason alone. They rejected miracles, the inerrancy of the Bible and supernatural events.

    They would have either blanced in horror at the way the Bible has most recently been used in Congress (as should anyone truely fearful for the future of democracy), or laughed themselves silly at such a group of dullards.

    As for the morality of immigration law– I think many have said it well here. A policy of legal, controlled immigration that protects existing citizens from becoming the welfare system to the world is rational, moral and frankly necessary for the integrity of any country. A program of tranlating a particular morality such as Christianity into law, not only defeats the need that good needs to be chosen freely, but is a foolish attempt to create Utopia. Can't be done.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  19. Javier


    July 15, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • GCarlin


      Wonderful...I couldn't have said it better myself...

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

    “What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.”   
    – George Washington

    “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”   

    George Washington

    “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

    – George Washington

    “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable.”

    – George Washington
    “Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work.  Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb and purge my heart by Thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of Thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in Thy fear, and dying in Thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy son, Jesus Christ.”

    – George Washington, Prayer

    “True religion affords to government its surest support.”- George Washington

    July 15, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • Mike

      Unfortunately for you, George Washington wasn't the only founding father. You may be able to cherry pick him for some choice quotes that make you feel warm and fuzzy about your particular brand of religion, but the fact remains that the founding fathers set up a secular nation, and the use of the Bible is Congressional hearings is a disgrace.

      July 15, 2010 at 10:37 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.