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. The Truth

    So if any of you think you know more than these guys do (some of the premier medical facilities on the entire planet), then more power to you. If you do think that you are correct and they are incorrect, then the next time you need a doctor badly in a life-threatening situation, you might as well just stay at home and pray instead. Meanwhile, I'll be at the hospital allowing science to help save my life.

    Finally, we can prove it right now: Matthew 19 explicitly states – "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it WILL be done for you by my Father in heaven." OK, so myself and my friend with me are now asking for World Peace and for all hunger to eradicated instantly... WHAT? We are still at war? There are still hungry? Who would have thought?


    February 21, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  2. The Truth

    I wonder how many homeless and hungry the cost of that helicopter fuel could feed and provide shelter for? But hey, I'm sure Jesus would have used that money on the helicopter instead of helping the poor.

    I'm not going to get into the whole "Does Prayer Work" debate as I'll leave that up to you guys, but here's a handful of studies that state the abundantly obvious:

    ***Mayo Clinic Study:
    "CONCLUSIONS: As delivered in this study, intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit."

    ***Duke Study:
    "INTERPRETATION: Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterisation or percutaneous coronary intervention."

    ***American Heart Journal Study:
    "Conclusions: Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications."

    February 21, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  3. Gabrielle Ross

    bowling balls are dangerous on the foot if you mishandle it.*':

    September 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  4. Hayden Robertson

    some bowling balls are heavy and i accidentally dropped one on my foot. it is quite painfull~-*

    August 11, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
  5. Ditimus

    Watched this debate: The only 'witness" one for enforcing the laws now was The Center For Immigration STudies" who did not believe people should be rewarded for breaking the law. Gutierrez, Gonzalez and Maxine Waters were all over him, very rude. Watch it on C-Span, July 14, 2010. What happened to the division of Chruch and State? What is this "COMPREHENSIVE" stuff, why does it need to be so comprehensive. Close the borders first.

    July 30, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  6. Carolyn

    The only immigration problem we have is caused by people who enter this country illegally – that includes people from So. Am., Cemtral Am., Europe, the Middle East, potential terrorists, those who want the privileges and benefits this country has to offer, but not the responsibilities. I didn't separate the families. I didn't cause their problems, and I am not obliged to solve them. Would they want this country back if everything the Gringos built were destroyed, and the land they got back was like it was in 1845: sand, horned toads, sidewinder rattlesnakes, sagebrush, tumble weeds, and s Spanish mission every few hundred miles, or do they just want to steal what someone else has worked and sacrificed and died for? What have they done with the land they've got called Mexico ? Look at Maywood, Calif., if you want to see what they would do with America if they had it.. Enforce the immigration laws, and the problem will solve itself. Richard Land does not speak for So. Baptists; he has over-reached his authority and assumed that his position is more influential than it is.

    July 21, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
  7. Ernie

    John 10

    1Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.

    If they're not willing to enter the country through legal channels, they shouldn't be allowed to stay. Some do come looking for a better life, some smuggle drugs and import crime into our border states. They have no desire to assimilate and are being taught the begin a 'reconquista' of the American southwest. There is already a US National Park on the AZ border that is 'off-limits' to US citizens because of the illegal crime problem. Round 'em up and ship 'em back! We need the full force of at least the AZ national guard and state militias to protect us from illegal invasion. And Obama fiddles while AZ burns. Is this the hope and chage you were looking for?

    July 20, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  8. wizowl

    SELF PRESERVATION IS THE FIRST LAW OF NATURE. If those people stay home they wouldn't go through the dangers in the desert that they speak of. There is no need to have broken families - simply take all your family members home with you. You don't need to leave anchor babies here because we don't need you to come back.

    I don't need you Do-gooders to tell me what is right. Just like the unlawful invaders have feelings well so DO I. Everybody's got feelings that need to be addressed and respected. It is not right for them and you to impose their Will on me. The right thing is for them to go back to their own country and FIGHT to make it right instead of coming to my country trying to force me to take care of their needs. You do-gooders would do well to go to their countries with them to help them to get it 'right' there. I don't agree to make a good life for them while hurting myself. Just whose funeral do you think I want to go to - mine or theirs? And, no, I don't want to lay down my life for any of them - I am not Jesus. Jesus already did that for all of us.

    These people aren't willing to become Americans. Instead they want to force their culture on us and make us take care of them. Americans would like to be loved just like they do. Our so-called leaders need to know that different cultures cannot dwell together in peace until Jesus comes back and He hasn't returned yet.

    July 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  9. liz

    I am deeply concerned that clergy was given any voice in this matter-It is a legal issue concerning already established law.Why not give the whole issue over to church and business to decide as both profit greatly from the siuation as it stands-We know how business profits-But let's not forget that a highly religious culture whose population is increasing it's earning power is also able to enrich the church to which they are VERY generous.

    July 17, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  10. john_mushenhouse

    The good Bishop is more concerned about dignity than the bible. I guess you get that way when your entire religious system is based on works. It gives the good bishop something to major on instead of cleanning up the abuse in his own church.

    July 17, 2010 at 7:46 am |
  11. Pohknee

    Where is the responsible Mexican Government, that it will not fulfill it's moral obligations to it's citizens. Instead it is glad to see the people leave Mexico to become essentially wards of the U.S. It relieves Mexico of financial obligations and moral obligations to it's Mexican Citizens. Where are the goody, good people of America in laying the problem exactly where it belongs, on the MEXICAN Government or are only Americans in this world expected to provide for the world. Where is the condemnation, oh ye citizens of rightousness?

    July 16, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  12. Cassie Sky

    His excellency Bishop Kicanas is right. Let us speak of the moral implications of the travesty of 2 decades of an increasingly open border between the US and Mexico with a simple morality tale:
    Let us say that the richest member of the good Bishop's flock lived across the street from a busy Elementary School in a house he inherited from his ancestors. This 200 year old house had an attractive deep swiming pool right smack dab in the front yard of this house. Now the 200 year old house had an old fence that his ancestors had built to keep the children from getting into the front yard falling into the pool and drowning. Now the last 4 owners had let this fence fall apart from neglect. The gardeners warned the Bishop's rich parishioner that the fence was broken and that it was inevitable that some of the school children would come into his yard, fall into the pool and drown. The rich man fired these gardeners and put up a no trespassing sign because his lawyer told him that was all the law required. Children began coming into the yard in droves. The rich man hired some of the bigger children to do the gardening work and became even richer because he was now able to let those highly paid middle class complaining gardeners go. Some children fell into the pool and some children were pushed into the pool by the school bullies and drowned. The rich man ignored the fact they had drowned because no one claimed them and besides the other children made his yard look good. The bullies at the school even made the smaller children swim across the pool with bricks strapped to their backs and even more children started drowning. Finally the neighbors of the rich man had had enough and tried to rebuild the fence but the rich man became enraged. He complained that a fence would keep out his child gardeners. He had his amoral lawyer go to a judge to block his neighbors from fixing the fence.
    Now does anyone really believe that the good Bishop would not tell this rich parishioner that he had a grave Moral Obligation to IMMEDIATELY put up a fence to prevent MORE children from drownings! How many more "thousands of men, women and children have [to die] in the desert" before even the dullest and densest among us will recognize that the swiming pool must have a fence around it "yesterday". From this point on every man woman and child who dies crossing our border because there is no fence should be lain at the feet of every president, senator and congressman who refuses to build one. The floating bodies in the pool are their direct responsibility and their relatives should hire amoral lawyers to sue them for forseeable wrongful death.

    July 16, 2010 at 2:07 am |
  13. Brandon

    To all of you who maintain that the U.S. was founded on the Christian religion:

    "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion"

    –John Adams, Art. 11, Treaty of Tripoli

    "Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies"

    –Thomas Jefferson

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"

    –Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution

    And, while he wasn't exactly a founder, he was an early president:

    "The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma."

    –Abraham Lincoln

    So, friends, it looks like a lot of you haven't done your homework. The United States is NOT a Christian country, it was NOT founded on Christian principles, and Congress should NOT be invoking religion while on the job. PERIOD. It was founded on SECULAR FRENCH ENLIGHTENMENT PHILOSOPHY. If anything the founders were suspicious of religion.

    July 15, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  14. Deacon

    "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.
    OK. And the Drug War is what? Watch out LaRazza, once those wolves have you. They may never let you up.

    PS: Long live the Libertarians!

    July 15, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  15. Mike

    Rep. Smith should stick to his day job, because he is no theologian. He claims that the Apostle is talking about individual acts of kindnesses rather than civic policy in Matthew 25 which talks about the Judgement Day.. Read again Rep. Matthew 25:32 says "Before him will be gathered all the nations..." This passage is not referring to individuals whose personal lives are under scrutiny. Oh no. It is "the nations" that are on trial!!!!

    July 15, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  16. sealchan

    Like most deep philosophical issues, including how one can allow freedom of belief and separation of Church and State, there are no easy answers. I don't see a problem with Bible quotes in government so long as these are used in a debate context. Christians will differ enough among themselves on how to interpret Biblical passages to such an extent that no deep bias will form on this issue in the halls of government.

    Jesus taught not to give pearls to swine...we must exercise some discrimination even as we give the thief who steals our shirt our coat as well. We must find the balance. If we do not we will undermine this nation's ability to provide the kind of life that so many who come to this country long for.

    We should keep our border (the door) open but also we may, we must, ask for something in return.

    July 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  17. bethradd

    other people have pretty much said what i was thinking when i read this article, and probably more eloquently than i can...but basically...separation of church and state. where is it? it is appalling that the bible is being brought up in congregational hearings. should never be done. period.

    July 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  18. Gingeet

    O.K. so now our congress uses the bible as guidlines for our laws? Give me a break! Who are these idiots and how did they get into office?

    July 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  19. AZSTYX

    What happened to separation of Church and State! This concept was imposed for VERY good reasons. The Church, any Church, has NO BUSINESS addressing our Congress on any country matters. Neither shoud our Congress invite comment any ANY Congressional matters!

    July 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  20. Mike

    I love how even the church sign misquotes the bible. Paul never wrote those words.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
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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.