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. Jaggar

    This is NOT rocket science folks. First of all, the humanitrian rights issue is bull crap. These people are not leaving Mexico because they are in fear of their lives. They come to America to mooch off hte taxpayers and get work. I am sorry their country sucks but it is not my fault. The hispanics have ruined the state of California and Arizona has the right to protect its state from decoming the disater California is now facing. PUT A WALL UP AND PROTECT OUR BORDERS! Simple as that. Then deport all the illegals as they are caught. They knew when they came to this country it was a risk.

    July 15, 2010 at 7:44 am |
  2. SeaknightRex

    Why learn to speak English? Most our government info is in other languages now anyways so the added "learn to read, write and speak English" is useless, that is, unless they make English the native tougue....figure the odds.

    July 15, 2010 at 7:37 am |
  3. Ed

    Does no one see the danger lurking behind this bible-driving-civil law approach? This is another example that we are an effed up country and I do not see it getting better. We are fatter, dummer, less tolerant, more entrenched than ever. My partner and I are working toward financial freedom to faciliatate a quick exit. We are a pathetic people not worthy of this great country. The greatest nation on earth and the longest standing democracy is in peril - at risk of being brought down by ignorance.

    July 15, 2010 at 7:31 am |
  4. Wake Up

    Public Law 97-280.....

    July 15, 2010 at 7:22 am |
  5. Wake Up

    Psalms 33:12 "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD: and the people whom he hath chosen for his own

    ...and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

    July 15, 2010 at 7:11 am |
  6. Joachim Bors

    Good to see that our tax dollars are spent on nonsense like this.

    July 15, 2010 at 7:07 am |
  7. dzolnoski

    So lets be clear, the left wants us to be good moral people by having open borders on one hand and allowing the killing of unborn children on the other. Shame on you to use the bible only when its fits your needs.

    July 15, 2010 at 7:07 am |
  8. Wake Up

    97th Congress Joint Resolution
    [S.J.Res. 165] 96 Stat. 1211
    Public Law 97-280 – October 4, 1982
    Joint Resolution authorizing and requesting the President to proclaim 1983 as the “Year of the Bible.”

    Whereas the Bible, the Word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people;

    Whereas deeply held religious convictions springing from the Holy Scriptures led to the early settlement of our Nation;

    Whereas Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States;

    Whereas many of our great national leaders—among them Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson—paid tribute to the surpassing influence of the Bible in our country's development, as the words of President Jackson that the Bible is “the rock on which our Republic rests”;

    Whereas the history of our Nation clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the Scriptures in the lives of individuals, families, and societies;

    Whereas this Nation now faces great challenges that will test this Nation as it has never been tested before; and

    Whereas that renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through Holy Scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized and requested to designate 1983 as a national “Year of the Bible” in recognition of both the formative influence the Bible has been for our Nation, and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

    Approved October 4, 1982.
    1 U.S. Cong. & Adm. News '82-29 96 Stat. 1211
    Legislative History – S.J. Res. 165:
    Congressional Record. Vol 128 (1982)
    Mar. 31 considered and passed Senate.
    Sept. 21 Considered and passed House.

    July 15, 2010 at 7:04 am |
  9. Wake Up

    I Wonder why every session of Congress is opened in prayer, the Holy Bible is considered in debate, was approved by Congress to be taught in schools yet we have removed prayer and the Bible from schools?

    July 15, 2010 at 7:04 am |
  10. usafirefly

    Never assume anything you see the Fed saying or doing (i.e. laws, regulations, committees, inquiries, media spots) is for, “We the people…” These leaders aren’t “Democrat” or “Republican,” they are mostly lawyers & attorneys. When I remember that it all starts making sense. Remember they have their own language—isn’t that nice? Globalization is really to do to other countries what they’ve done to us, after all, it’s worked for them! Just saying … wake up and realize the real problem and who these people are who are in charge that we all have to ‘obey’.

    July 15, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  11. Kevin_WI

    If Reagan hadn't given illegals amnesty in1986, would there really be so many here now? Not to mention our gov't turning a blind eye to all the boarder hopping the last 20+ years in order to take advantage of cheap labor. We made our own bed on this one.

    July 15, 2010 at 6:52 am |
  12. ramtruck2500

    Why is this even being discussed in Congress??? We are here to solve things. This is just plain stupid and another waste of tax payers money!!! I just cant belive this!

    July 15, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  13. prl

    America is a place of immigrants.
    the first "pilgrims" were not "Americans" they were poor, with dreams , with families they left behind. so why has the people forgotten where they came from? I know that the US is a great place to be. that's why the whole world looks at the US as a great country. shame on those people who look down on the poor who by necessity have come to this country. Shame on those who call themselves Christians or believers of God. because you are not far from being an atheist. If you don't have love for the most unfortunate being that is trying to survive on a few dollars a day , working hard, then you have failed your faith. God will judge the nations. do not oppress the poor.

    July 15, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  14. mary

    we are a land that was not rightfully ours. have we forgotten Squanto? we all came from somewhere. now the US is a great Country that I love, but we are forgetting that we are all immigrants. our forefathers come here poor , broken , with dreams and left families behind. It is wrong to target a group of people because of their inability to obtain legal entrance. I am not saying is right either but they should not be treated like criminals. they are human beings for God sake. . but in time of need , and survival , we have all migrated. and also Hispanics are not the only "illegal Immigrants" if you didn't know.
    There are several scriptures in the Bible that show how God protects and helps the poor and the defendless, He instructs us to do the same. Here are a few. See also the "giving scriptures" section for more.

    Deuteronomy 15:7
    7 “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. 9 Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you. 10 You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. 11 For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’

    Deuteronomy 24:14 (New King James Version)
    14 “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates.

    Psalm 12:5 (New King James Version)
    5 “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.”

    Proverbs 14:20 (New King James Version)
    20 The poor man is hated even by his own neighbor, But the rich has many friends.

    Proverbs 21:13 (New King James Version)
    13 Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be heard.

    Proverbs 22:16 (New King James Version)
    16 He who oppresses the poor to increase his riches, And he who gives to the rich, will surely come to poverty.

    Proverbs 28:8 (New King James Version)
    8 One who increases his possessions by usury and extortion Gathers it for him who will pity the poor.

    Proverbs 31:8-9 (New King James Version)
    8 Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die.[a] 9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy. God will judge.

    July 15, 2010 at 6:46 am |
  15. Separation

    Separation of church and state! These politicians using the bible to discuss laws should be deported along with the Illegal aliens. It goes against the constitution! If these people want government run by the church then they should move to Iran. The church has no place in politics.

    July 15, 2010 at 6:46 am |
  16. R. Mussared

    the bible has no place in government. Peope came here for religious freedom, and the ONLY way to insure religious freedom, is to keep the government secular.

    July 15, 2010 at 6:25 am |
  17. Lynn

    Last I looked, we had a rule of separation of church and state. Why is congress using the Bible to formulate an opinion on anything? If the Bible was used to make ad ecision in a trial, that trial could possibly be cionsidered a mistrial due to the "influence" of the Bible.

    July 15, 2010 at 5:58 am |
    • Wake Up

      In court witnesses are sworn in to tell the Truth so help them God. (To which God is the Judge referring?) Perhaps the same Creator whom our for fathers recognized endowed us with our inalienable rights.

      Was that a Bible the President was sworn an oath to uphold the US Constitution, and was that a Supreme Court Justice administering the oath?

      Wow!!!! Could we really not be just a Christian Nation?

      July 15, 2010 at 7:20 am |
  18. Mark

    Well. If you were not sure Politicians are insane now, I hope this artical leaves no doubt.
    How does the bible play into this? I do not not understand.

    July 15, 2010 at 5:31 am |
  19. Aaron

    I Believe that Arizona is in the right for this situation, why should immigrants be able to prosper and live the "American Dream" while so many full blooded Americans are suffering from this economic crisis. Beef up border security and stop the illegals from taking what is rightfully ours

    July 15, 2010 at 5:30 am |
  20. AnaHadWolves

    Are we a religion-neutral country or do we govern as an adjunct of the Religious Right, the Roman Catholic Church or some other "religion"? For too long, politicians have blurred the line separating religion from state...usually for their own self-interests pandering to voters. Enough, already! The law is the law. Obey that law or change it, but, don't decide that you don't LIKE the law and so you are not bound to obey that law because of "religious objections."

    Unless one is descended from Native Americans, we are all immigrants. The difference between my ancestors and the illegals here today is that my ancestors came through the front door, metaphorically; the illegals slipped under the back fence, literally. There's the difference between the sides in the debate: everyone should have to go through the legal and established process to come to live in America. To do otherwise is illegal. Period.

    July 15, 2010 at 5:13 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.