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. CoqCheney

    It terrifies me that religion is "debated" regarding anything of legal concern. Morality existed long before any human created the notion of a god-being. If this is a moral issue, then let actual philosophers, and not ideologues, discuss viable solutions. No religion has ever held itself to its own ever-shifting doctrines... mainly because it is dependent upon the will of the individuals who lead said religion, and not on the actions of some supernatural entity.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:57 am |
  2. Matthew

    Using near-random biblical quotes to debate immigration law? That's pretty terrifying.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:50 am |
  3. fanbridge

    the truth is,,,americans are afraid of hispanic taking over this country,,, and thas exacly what we will do.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:49 am |
  4. Jack

    Of what relevance is the Bible? It is antithetical to our system of government to consider it any kind of authority for American law. Rebellion against theocracy was a substantial factor driving our revolution for independence. We should use reason, not ancient texts, to decide how we, as a nation, address issues like this. When, at long last, Christianity is no longer the majority view in the US, the dogmatic Christian right will finally understand the importance of separation of church and state. Their lack of imagination and foresight is remarkable.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  5. Thomas Jefferson

    Don't open up our borders, expand our borders. Take over Mexico and Central America. Enforce the same employment rules and guidelines we have in the US (Minimum Wage, Taxation, SS, FICA, etc.) in those newly acquired "states." Our corporations can operate in those states if they choose, but then to what avail.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:37 am |
  6. Thomas

    What happened to separation of church & State. There is //no// place for religion in this debate. Congress needs to take action so that 1. children born on US soil are NOT automatically US citizens. No 1st world country give this privilege. 2. Enforce and beef up our current immigration laws and make it clear that if you are in the US illegally, you need to leave or at a minimum declare your presence; even if that ultimately results in deportation. Illegal immigration is a crime. 3. Until the Federal government is capable and willing to pass and enforce current and new laws, they should //not// interfere with individual States rights to enforce current Federal laws. It's a dirty job, but someone /has// to do it! 4. Stop pandering to Latino and other minority groups for political motives. You are in office to protect and serve the //average// American. Follow these simple requests or don't be surprised to be voted out next election!

    July 15, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  7. Ryan

    Why would the bible be used at all? It's a fictional work of faith. Not anything that should be used to determine any modern policy. It makes me sick that anyone would invoke passages from a story book within our government...lame.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:22 am |
  8. Split Decision

    Once there was a separation of Church and State. Now we have a separation of cause and effect, action and consequence, emotion and reason, heart and head. We auction intellectual and moral integrity for want of perceived sympathy and illusory religious validation. The policies and citizens of the United States have not separted families across borders. People of other nations (mostly to the south) have chosen to split apart, sending some family members into the United States against the laws and wishes of its people. They decided to separate their own families. It is not the United States' responsibility to fix what they have broken, family or law. The Bible is a tool for faith, not reason. Let it not clutter the minds of those who would pass and enforce secular laws for humankind. Love thy neighbor from across the fence, not through, over or under it. Open your hearts and arms to those who respect and obey the law. Pray for those who don't, as you send them home to their families.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:17 am |
  9. Richard Larson

    This debate has been going on for almost 50 years with no reasonable resolution for two primary reasons. The first, and the least defensible has as its basis a rather deeply held ethnic position that reasons that the increasing "browning" of America cannot be allowed to continue. Unfortunately this position is the primary basis for the Arizona law. Within that arguement is the second putative reason for immigration law is an economic arguement. Politicians who really have no interests in the debate other than to persuade people who agree with them to re-elect them so they might enjoy the very real benefits that accrue to office holders regardless of the level of government involved. The economic arguement which is based upon the ludicrous belief that immigrant mexicans and central americans are taking jobs away from the working class Black, Central American, or citizens of Latin American origin. The facts are that no Black, even the most needy would ever take a stoop-labor job for the wage offered because of its conotation of plantation slave labor. Whites are totally unable to grasp that notion, but it is a very real cultural disincentive to Blacks working in the fields. Where then do American farmers obtain workers who will do the work? The answer is obvious. The second misconception of the economic arguement is that they are a weight on health and school services. This is fostered by the falacy that these people don't pay takes. I can tell you from personal experience that within 2 to 3 years after immigration, these people have moved out of the fields and many have gone on to owning real estate and paying property takes and that the communities they generally move into undergo the process of gentrification all the while improving their communities so that property taxes increase and the community thrives.

    The #1 commentary begins with the question, "Separation of Church and State". Will the Congress allow the Church to dictate what kind of Immigration Reform is inacted? If they do, I am going to try to find another country in which to live for then the Church will have the opening it so dearly desires in which to literally make Orwell's 1984 a sad reality. I have contended since 1970, and I still hold that this nation's government will eventually be overthrown by a coalition of politics and the church that will create a totalitarian fascist regime from within created by totally american political forces.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:15 am |
  10. Liz

    Our government should not be pushing any religion or religious book, it should remain secular and free. I don't want to live in a Bible thumping thocracy, give me liberty or give me death, but don't give me religious dogma.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:57 am |
  11. George

    Who elected these idiots? Since when did we send them to Washington to interpret a so called religious text?

    July 15, 2010 at 12:51 am |
  12. Robert

    Congress discussing the Bible??? That is really really scary. Separation of church and state anyone?

    July 15, 2010 at 12:46 am |
  13. Jim

    Let 1,000 illegals jump the White House fence & see just how fast the Government acts.
    You people crying " separation of Church & state better go back & read your History, Prior to the 1960's Prayer was allowed in School, The Bible was taught in the class room for over 100 years. If you would read From the First Congress all the way up to today God & his word have been a part of our Countries foundation. God instituted the Death penalty for criminals- Look around you & tell me how many of us are getting out of this life alive????

    July 15, 2010 at 12:37 am |
  14. Jim

    In the 1850's my ancestors came here , They were discriminated against, but THEY DID IT BY OBEYING THE LAWS of this Country.
    Now as for the Bible- Either there is a God who has laid down the Law- what is right & what is wrong, If we break that law We stand accountable before HIM, If there is no God then all our Laws can be thrown out- it is ok to lie, cheat,steal,sleep with whoever you want were ever you want whenever you want, rob,rape,Cross the border of another country.go where you want do what you want – survival of the fittest. choose you this day which path you want to take- you can't have both.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  15. Shugo

    our country is corrupt enough to be another Mexico, also our country was founded on illegal immigration. I don't like illegal immigration, but i feel people should face the facts about it

    July 15, 2010 at 12:16 am |
    • KH

      You have a valid point, but it is now 2010. Things change. If we can't be bothered to follow our own laws and just break them instead of repealing them or changing them, then it's going to be much harder to stop eventual anarchy.

      July 15, 2010 at 8:45 am |
  16. Shugo

    seperation of religion and the state?
    Religion is THE most corrupt system of all and here it plays a role in politics. Religion is hardly relevent to these arguments, are they expecting some kind of miracle to fix these problems. They should use MORALS over this. Religion is like the little boy who doesnt like how the game is played because it make him look bad so he changes everything to his favor(The justification of slaves, Crusades,executing others in different religion) morals are what is right and wrong. money is not involved usually THOSE are what should be used to determine this. Also do you really think that the christian god says "thou shalt not keep illegal immigrant away from thine country" and everyone will agree? THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ESCAPE THOSE THOUGHTS. maybe other religions. I dare our politicians to tell Al Qaeda to disband because the christian god says so.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:14 am |
  17. Carmen

    Our founding fathers insisted upon a separation of church and state for good reason. Churches that honor that separation are rewarded with tax-free status pursuant to Sec. 501(c)(3) of the tax regulations. It is manifestly clear that Church leaders, some of whom are named in this article, are engaged in activities designed to result in a political outcome. Proceedings to remove their tax-free status should be immediately initiated, as such is long overdue. We have a Constitutional right to be free from religion if we so choose, and I so choose, as do myriad others. I choose to base my politics, in general, and my position on illegal immigration, in particular, on rule of law, national sovereignty and sound economic principle, as well as the fundamental guide that all immigration policy should be based on the best interest of the host country. And as sick as I am of hearing that we are a nation of immigrants, I will again repeat that we are a nation of LEGAL immigrants. This country has immutably changed since the vast immigration waves of the early 20th Century. Today's policies must adapt. And BTW, while acknowledging past injustices, I remain firm in my beliefs that two wrongs go not make a right, and the end does not justify the means.

    If the Churches are so concerned about the welfare of those who illegally migrate to other countries, why are they not taking up the banner of REFORM in those countries that are the root cause of the problem because they fail to provide for their own people, while their elite get fatter and richer due to corruption and unchecked crime? Why aren't the Bishops marching in the streets of Mexico City, demanding that Mexico use its wealth of natural resources to provide for ALL its people? And why aren't the Vatican, the Southern Baptist churches, and all the other churches and church leaders engaged in influencing political outcomes in the name of RELIGION setting the example for bankrupting themselves in aid of the suffering masses whose own countries have turned their backs on them?

    July 15, 2010 at 12:12 am |
  18. brett

    As a military man, I am embarrassed and ashamed to see that now I am part of a theocracy. So much for freedom...

    July 15, 2010 at 12:09 am |
  19. scrumbugulus

    In summary:

    A bunch of overpaid windbags spent more of their time uselessly grandstanding and positioning for their next election run resolving no real issues and passing no legislation.

    Meanwhile untested drugs pour into the country, oil continues to poor into the gulf, and our troops are still overseas in 2 foreign theaters.

    Everyone needs to vote anti-incumbent wherever you are, regardless of party.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:06 am |
  20. sagebrush

    They talk a lot but say nothing.

    July 15, 2010 at 12:02 am |
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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.