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. PAUL

    most of what congress was reading was instruction give in old testiment days when people of the land recieved instruction from kings or priests, to-day we live in new testiment day,s, to-day we live in a better time , laws are debated and given by provincial and federal goverments, they can give immigration and citezenship to people, but it comes with a responsibility to be of good behaviour and up hold the law, in the case of arizona , the american goverment took six southern states away from the mexicans by force, i do not know if mexico surrendered those lands to the USA, IF NOT , THEN AMERICANS ARE LIVEING ON MEXICAN PROPERTY, BUT THE MEXICANS HAVE A RIGHT TO LIVE AND WORK THERE AS IT WAS THIER PROPERTY, AND WAS TAKEN BY FORCE, what they are doing to the mexicans in arizona is cruel to say the least,

    July 14, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • Olive

      What can one say????? We won....deal with it

      July 14, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
    • Sara

      If you're going to make this into a "we won, you lost" issue, then nothing will ever be solved. That's the problem with you people. You're obsessed with winning and making US the best country in the world, and then when people try to come here, because it sucks for them in their own country (in Mexico's case, partly due to bad US foreign/domestic policy), you suddenly become offended by their desire for the American Dream. The American people need to change their entire attitude when it comes to illegal immigration so that Congress can finally do something about it. As I've already said, a wall is a waste of money, as it will not stop human smugglers from crossing the border. All this talk about border security is an evasion of the real issue at hand, which is far more complicated.

      July 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
    • Sara

      If you're going to make this into an issue of "we won, you lost," nothing will ever be solved. This is the problem with the US. We're so obsessed with winning and being the best country in the world, and then when other people want to come here, because it sucks for them in their own countries (and in Mexico, it's partly a result of bad US domestic/foreign policy), we suddenly become offended by people who simply want to live the American Dream.

      Also, can I just say that illegal immigration from Canada would not be this big of a problem. Know why? They can hide themselves better. Does that make it any more legal for them to come here? Absolutely not. But I'm willing to bet that people would not be all up-in-arms about it. They wouldn't even know. Goes to show the value of racial profiling.

      July 14, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
    • Jason

      Illegal immigration from Canada isn't as much of an issue because they can hide themselves better?!!! LOL, that is the funniest and most ignorant thing I've read in awhile. Don't get me wrong, those pesky Canadians do blend in better, but the standard of living comparability between Canada/US compared with US/Mexico is the primary driver for illegal immigration not being a major issue. Besides, with Hispanics making up more than 15% of the US population, you don't think they can blend in? The problem is that too many come illegal which gives the whole hispanic community a bad reputation. People like their generalities.

      July 15, 2010 at 1:12 am |
    • sim

      We paid, Paul. The texans won texas, but 15 million dollars was paid to Mexico for texas by us. It's not mexican territory, they sold it.

      July 15, 2010 at 7:35 am |
  2. Mike in Texas

    Profiling is an essential part of law enforcement. It is the courts that must have the blindfold and judge by the merits of the laws of the land.
    An officer profiles a speeder by his own awareness of what speeding looks like and sounds like then uses legal instruments as evidence. A criminal is caught by profiling his mode of operating in order to anticipate his next violation in the act. When violations of laws are racially or cultural biased then those factors become part of the profile.
    Churches need not ignore the commandments. Forgiveness by clerics is for the violations of God's laws not those of a civil society. Civility is the adherence to laws that provide security and sovereignty to its citizens.
    The misfortune of those afflicted by the lack of governance in their home countries should not be pushed upon this country through accusations of negligence on our part. Hold the home country responsible for their neglect.

    July 14, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
    • Ralph

      Stopping a speeding car is not profiling... stoping a car that is not speeding but has a darked skinned driver because you suspect he might be an illegal is profiling.

      July 14, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
    • Ralph

      Violations of the law that are suspected of being culturally based is called prejudice!!!

      July 14, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
    • Sara

      Oh, okay. So it'd be perfectly acceptable if my 19-year-old brother was taken in for questioning just because he happens to be half-Arab and/or look the part of a terrorist?

      Also, I think all white men should be subject to racial profiling. After all, Timothy McVeigh, a white man, was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombings. And let's not forget the bombing of the IRS building in Texas several months ago. A white man was responsible for that one, too.

      July 14, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
    • Mike in Texas

      Some really have a problem with this line in my statement: "When violations of laws are racially or cultural biased then those factors become part of the profile."
      Does this wording make it any clearer?
      When laws are violated mostly by individuals that are from a demographic then demographics are a component of the profile associated with the violation of that law.
      The complaints noted in the postings about profiling play on a taboo of having a demographic component in profiling crime statistics. Without such components in the profile, community outreach cannot be achieved to get to the root of why the crimes are committed. Thus the crime fails to be properly addressed and no incentive is given to the violators or demographic to correct the problem.
      There are nut-jobs in all demographics. McVeigh was mentioned along with a man that met the breaking point of his sanity. How do these two compare to the ignored statistics of demographics that enslave countless youth in drugs, prostitution, and human trafficking? So now we now that the profile of whites it to snap and others to engage in nefarious criminal activity.
      We can't afford not to profile. Trying to shame enforcement or cripple law enforcement by taking it away is wrong.
      For the 19 year old brother. Has he identified what brought attention to him? Was there something he was doing that fit the profile of a potential terrorist? Did he learn what not to do to get unwanted attention? If he did not have anything to hide then all is well and hurray for law enforcement for keeping us all safe.
      An expression of disrespect for the laws of our land is a profile component.

      July 15, 2010 at 1:17 am |
  3. Popeye

    If Ethiopia, Somalia and the rest of Africa were bordering the US, how would the US public view immigration then?

    July 14, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  4. Taylor

    The reason why people are so against actually doing something about illegal immigrattion is because this isn't the United States of America anymore. It's the United States of Mexico.

    July 14, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  5. Bobert

    The Bible should have no credibility in a debate about the determination of national laws. Our founding fathers would be repulsed if they bore witness to this.

    July 14, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
    • Jason

      That is probably not true. Most would consider the moral implications of the decision I would think. Since their morals are guided by their religion (and many but not all of the founding fathers were religious) I don't think it is a stretch to think that religion was a factor in their decisions. Mind you they didn't think the Bible should function as the rule of law or that the Government should enforce the Bible or any set of religious beliefs, and that still is true.

      July 15, 2010 at 1:05 am |
    • Wake Up

      Ed – Ignorance is the opposite of Observance.

      Let us first observe that the US was established as a Republic, not a Democracy...and work from there.

      We deny our foundation and wonder why it crubmles beneath us.

      July 15, 2010 at 7:41 am |
  6. yankee cowboy

    "Most illegal migrants are coming "not for nefarious purposes," but to reconnect with family members or find work, he asserted."

    Um, what part of ILLEGAL don't you understand???

    July 14, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
    • Olive

      Maybe they can stay with you

      July 14, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  7. Eric

    Seems to me that there would be fewer illegals if the system to become a citizen legally wasn't just a complex system of bribes. If you want to become a citizen in less than 10 years, you can pay a huge 'expedite fee'.
    There should be an easy application process and the fee should be no more than the cost of processing the paperwork. Get them in the system and paying taxes. Imagine how many people would be driving cars without a license if it cost $800 and took ten years to get one...

    Quoting bible verses to make your point is to admit you have no sense of morality or reasoning of your own.

    July 14, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  8. Mike Speakman

    If the fine is hefty enough then it is no longer an amnesty, however if the fine is lower than $20,000 per person then I still consider it amnesty. These people have broken our laws by crossing illegally, most compound this crime by obtaining false paperwork to function in this country. This alone make them unfit to become citizens and should be deported. It would be best for ICE to return to the policy of deporting illegals caught or the entire administratioin should be censured for treason.

    July 14, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  9. Cyrus Howell

    Don't let a bunch of ignorant, under educated Mexican indians snow you.

    After the Mexican War the United States government paid Santa Ana and the regime in Mexico City 10 million dollars in gold for the US territories of Texas, Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico.
    None of the Mexican peasants ever saw any of this money so they don't know this ever happened.
    It was a contract between two nations. An offer of 10 miliion dollars and the acceptance of the ten million dollars by Mexico.

    July 14, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
  10. jackh20s

    Hello, what about the FAIR TAX. This taxes people not based on income, ie. no tax returns at the end of the year, but instead on what you buy. It would make a huge difference in the issue. No longer would there be resentment from US Citizens towards Illegals for driving on our roads, using our hospitals, taking jobs, etc. Instead they would be contributing to the economy that they have come to enjoy.

    So issue the ones here with a ID card, so that they may work,
    Tax the things everyone buys
    NO more income Taxes (which by the way would bring tons of jobs to the US because corporations would be jumping at the bit to not have to pay income tax)

    Close the borders but lets not waste money deporting people who are already here, working, and contributing to the US.

    I don't think that the ID card that they get should be a SS card or guarantee citizenship, they should still have to go through all the appropriate Green Card procedures to become a US citizen. So even though they are allowed to work, they will not be able to vote, or receive any government benefit (welfare, foodstamps, SS, Disability) until they become a citizen.

    July 14, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  11. Mesa Mick

    Did you ever notice that those individuals that are not able to form original thoughts on their own always end up quoting the bible?

    July 14, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  12. jamesnyc

    What a load of horsecrap. We need to make changes. Starting with citizenship rules just like other countries. Make a provision of citizenship that one of the parents has to already be a legal citizen before a child can be "born" American. As far as splitting up families, THEY CHOSE TO LEAVE MEXICO, THEY CHOSE TO LEAVE WHERE EVER. Don't make America the bad guy because they chose to split up their own families. Blame the Mexican government and economy for not providing for their own people. ENOUGH. The Bible is just a smoke screen and excuses for not abiding by what the majority NOT THE MINORITY of the people of the United States wants. When does the majority get to decide anything in this country anymore?

    July 14, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
  13. Paul

    For once, I agree with the religious figures; usually they're the ones spouting irrelevant Bible verses, but in this case that has devolved to the conservative fools in Congress. Comprehensive immigration reform is needed, and the path Obama outlined is perfectly reasonable, with a path to citizenship outlined for those who have been here for years and are integrated into our society in multiple ways, which has costs and hence is not amnesty. People spouting off that the solution is to "enforce the law and ship all illegals out" are being stupidly unrealistic, as anybody who takes a few seconds to think through what would be required to actually make that happen would realize.

    July 14, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  14. BraveSoul

    Then what does moral have to do with what are rights now?

    July 14, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  15. Dan

    As far as immigration goes, there is nothing wrong with racial profiling when it is one race that is breaking the law.

    July 14, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
    • Mesa Mick

      We in this country seem to have a problem recognizing that "When it walks like a duck, quack like a duck and s89ts like a duck it's almost sure to be a duck."

      July 14, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  16. Dan

    I cannot believe this actually happened in this country. Are these U.S. congressmen or Iranian clerics?

    July 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
  17. Robert D Werner

    I'm in the Army. I'm also a Christian.

    However the last time I was in school. I was taught about the seperation of church and state.

    Whatever happened to that? I can (maybe) see the Bible being as a good reference to get ideas from that would better our country. However citing the good word.. that's very borderline to most and I personally believe it's wrong.

    Sure the good word is awesome to share,but,let's keep it out of politics,shall we?

    July 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  18. Weezann

    Ryan has it right! Thanks for a well though-out and rational post, Ryan.

    July 14, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  19. QuestionAuthority

    I feel like I'm living in crazy world. What is this, the Middle Ages? Can someone please explain to me why our lawmakers are citing passages from a religious book thousands of years old in a Congressional debate? I think I'm gonna be sick.

    July 14, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
  20. HeatherS

    Biblical passages should never, I repeat NEVER be invoked during sessions of the United States Congress. I turned on C-SPAN once and saw three congressmen quoting the bible and I was outraged. This is supposed to be a secular nation and we are no better then any of the nations ruled by religious doctrine if we allow our elected representatives to use their religious beliefs to shape the laws of our land.

    July 14, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
    • kahn

      Heather I'm with you. Imagine God being USED by politicians just to get votes.

      July 14, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
    • Ronald

      Religion is used all the time so that a person or group can somehow look "holy" when quoting it. I agree in that we are supposed to be a secular nation so quoting any religious work really isn't necessary. Politicians use it to impress their "religious" constituents to show them how "Christian or Godly" they are. What they are is full up to their eye brows!
      Keep America free and safe from Religion!

      July 14, 2010 at 11:50 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.