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. Alex

    All this time I thought there was a separation of Church and State. How wrong I must have been...

    July 14, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
  2. Mike

    Why is Congress even using the Bible to discuss legistlature in regards to immagration. They should not even be using qoutes from the Bible in a government building. I fear for our country when the people running it start doing things like this. You cannot run a country debating using verses from the Bible. Illegals must go, hence the term illegals immagrants. If I even here about the founding fathers and religeon one more time, because they were mostly Deists.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:56 pm |
    • KH

      Good question.

      July 15, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  3. mudbone9

    I'm sorry but I fail to see the relationship between religion and immigration. According to their Bible God does not even let everyone into heaven. It's just simple math. The US can no longer afford to support immigrants coming into this country. We now have over 300 million people here and quite frankly that is more than the land and its people can support. Also unemployment is already too high and contrary to what the proponents say they are taking American jobs and depressing American wages. The churches only want the poor and the tired from other counties because they know these people are the most likely candidates to fill their collection trays with money. The politicians want them for votes. The business community wants them for cheap labor as it is another way to outsource our jobs. The leaders in this country are ignoring the voices of real Americans.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
  4. Doug

    Stupid Christians reading from there stupid book in congress. " Romans 13: "Let every person be subject to governing authorities." Hypocrite, what about abortion? Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!!

    July 14, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  5. attheopera

    Now Congress wants to trun to the Bible!!! Did they consult the the Bible back in the 60's when civil rights was up for debate, because if they did, there would have been no question about passing civil rights in this country!!! So now let's get real!! Religion has nothing to do with the fact immigration is the problem, be it illegal or legal. End of story. No one needs to turn to the Bible, do the will of the American people, not the immigrants. This country imports people and exports jobs, that just doesn't work. Fix the damn problem to the liking of the American people, if you do the will of the people everybody wins, i.e. politicians and the American people. It is long pass time for politicians to get off their lazy, cheating rear ends and start running this country, with a pro American agenda. If it ain't good for America then ain't good. It is past time to rebuild America, and we the people should be out marching every damn day, starting with deportation, then jobs, then a better way of life in this country. Let big business go under, so what if it ruins our economy,it is already screwed anyway, and will not recover for another two or three years, because that is the way the rich and mighty want it, so let the economy fall, because if this economy falls, then every other economy in the world will fall, very soon after, so then everybody will be poor and hungry, and homeless, then we all will be equal, especially in the eyes of the LORD!!! I am so fed up with having to foot the bill for somebody else, starting with those that don't bleong here, that jump up and say "I know my civil rights" and was not in this country when civil rights was past,and don't even understand how and why it came into being. Additionally had no civil rights from where they came, so they don't know a damn thing other than get on the back of the American taxpayer!!! These old ass politicians need to get out of office, and we the people need to put American intheir place, not some first, second generation born in this country, but somebody who has roots inthis country for the last 100 to 200+ years. My family has been here for over 150 years and they all ain't immigrants, they indians, and everyother immigrant–you name it!!! If we the people continue to let big business run this country then,we are all screwed. Amnesty, should not be a part of the solution, that is part of the reason why this country is in the fricking mess we're in now, and is just not advantageous to America!!!!

    July 14, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  6. dilly

    "All the fat is the Lords"
    Leviticus 3:16

    Therein is written all the laws of man.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
  7. verify

    This Smith person needs to be censured for trying to govern according to a religious text. If his vote on a particular law happens to be influenced by his religious beliefs, fine, he can talk about that on his own time; but to introduce that text as a basis for any U.S. law is not permitted.

    His salary needs to be docked for the government time that he spent on this.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:35 pm |
  8. Billy10

    As a Southern Baptist I would like to say Mr. Lands statement is his personal view and that he has no authority to make it as representing the views of other Southern Baptist. Each church in the convention is an independent body that governs itself. There is no hierarchy that has any authority over these independent bodies. For a resolution to be presented as a statement of Southern Baptist it has to be voted on and passed at an annual convention by typically about 20,000 messengers representing all of the individual churches in the convention.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  9. ben

    What is happening to separation of church and state? It's scary when lawmakers start quoting verse be the republican or democrat. Let's make decisions based on moral considerations and not bible verse. I believe that since the federal government has not enforced immigration laws means we have a moral obligation to treat those we have come illegally in a moral and humane manner – not just through them out, and not give blanket amnesty. Pay up or leave and wait your turn to apply for citizenship. Punish the employers who make it desirable to cross our borders illegally then exploit those illegals – they should pay a large part of the bill to fix this mess.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  10. Leaf

    Who cares! I only want to see the state of AZ fall in its own economy with all these lawsuits.
    What's the moral of this story, AZ?

    July 14, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • mudbone9

      I predict that they will win in court and more states will adopt similar laws. I also hope that a National ID card is adopted and we kick out the illegals. If I lived on the border (North or South) I know I would have an electrified fence and plenty of guns. It ticks me off that our law makers won't do what it really takes to stop the illegal immigration into this country. They point to the bible stating its Gods will but people are not stupid. It's all about money and power.

      July 15, 2010 at 12:04 am |
  11. Benjamin

    Technically, the Constitution does not have the words "separation of Church and State." This is a novel interpretation of the Constitution. Also, many people use this term to justify the separation of "Reason and State," since many people who use this phrase operate under the false assumption that religion is irrational, which is totally false.

    Lastly, God is not a danger, but a guarantor of our rights . . . or have we forgotten that the U.S. Declaration of Independence states that God is the giver of inalienable rights? Good thing Martin Luther King Jr. and many other men in the history of the U.S. do not think like many modern Americans. This is the beauty of America: No longer are human rights dependent upon king, queen, government, or the majority; they are given by God, hence they are sacrosanct.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  12. Crystal

    Alright people, get this.... IF YOU DISLIKE "ILLEGALS" THEN....WTF IS THE PROBLEM WITH AMNESTY? If I'm not mistaking here, but last time I checked, amnesty is the source to let the good hard working 'any kind of immigrant' earn their legal documents and BAMMMM, no more "illegals." HELLO.... THE OBVIOUS. YOU scandalous whiney babies. get over yourself. embarassed how my people are acting like the white trash racist ADOLF HITLER!!! Yeah, I am siding with "latino immigrants" but really you have no idea how bad they have it. WALK IN THEIR SHOES. then we'll talk... I am HAPPY WHEN EVERYONE IS HAPPY.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  13. Surthurfurd

    If the US is not a Christian Nation then it does not need to put itself up to Christian values. If it wished to assert itself as a Christian Nation then it adopts the responsibility to act as Jesus would command. We can either render to Caesar what is Caesar's (accepting that the nation is only a Social organization) or be a Matthew 5:14 City on the hill which knows no border nor holds no Law but God's Law. We can not choose to be secular and holy at the same time.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  14. bettie

    Oh my God, we've reached a new low in our nation's capital when elected representatives in our civil government start reading religious holy books to justify proposed civil laws.

    I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. And so did God.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  15. Justin Hamaker

    Why the hell is religion and the bible being used to such an extent in a debate over laws in the US Government. What happened to separation of Church and State.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  16. Carl

    In November, throw every single one of these spineless career politicians out of office and replace them with a government FOR the people. We've had enough of this RULING CLASS that is only concerned about retaining power and staying on the cocktail party circuit.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  17. kd

    The people will come, so figure out a way to make it legal and then support it. Walls are stupid and ineffectual. Racist rants against 'illegals' is stupid, ignorant, insulting and ineffectual.

    Republicans – stop politicizing this issue for political gain. ACT! WORK WITH THE REST OF CONGRESS, ADDRESS THE ISSUE HONESTLY (for a change) AND THEN MOVE ON!

    And keep religion OUT of the conversation. It has no place in the conversation and using it is, again, just politicizing it for personal gain.

    (man, but I'm sick of Republicans)

    July 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  18. Daniel

    If legislators can base their lawmaking upon scripture, then quit pretending churches are non-political entities, and let them pay taxes like everyone else.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  19. Dave

    Of coarse churches are for the immigration of central-south american christians, it gives these churches more political clout that they have lost in recent decades because as Americans have become better educated they have abandoned religion.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  20. Monica

    How is it not a moral issue? You people just keep telling yourselves you just want laws obeyed. Because none of you ever broke any laws, you know floating a check is supposed to be punishable by jail time in most states? It is illegal, so if you argue that they're "illegals" then you're an "illegal" if you ever went over the speed limit, wrote a bad check, jaywalked, etc. But anyway, families being separated, people, especially women, unable to report a crime such as rape out of fear of being deported – you don't think that's a human rights issue?

    Please. I'm not about amnesty, certainly not, but to pretend that this issue has nothing to do with moral obligations is completely ridiculous. But you all just go to your churches every Sunday with all that hatred in your hearts, see how that works out for ya... And if I read that idiotic argument "my ancestors were legal immigrants" you really need to read some history books. The first settlers were criminals themselves escaping the legal system in their own countries... And later there were no immigration laws until the Chinese started coming and all of a sudden people had problem with immigration – again, nothing to do with morality and racism – not at all, completely accidental that only when people of other race than white were coming in it was met with resistance.... But even then the laws were still nothing like they are today. Those desperate people who are truly escaping poverty have no way of coming here, there's no "back of the line" for them. So just admit that you don't want them here instead of hiding behind this "obey our laws" "get in line" BS. We all know what's going on...

    July 14, 2010 at 11:01 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.