Yesterday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law held a hearing titled “The Ethical Imperative for Reform of our Immigration System,” which made the case that reforming the country’s broken immigration system is a moral duty.
Several religious leaders testified before the committee, citing the Bible’s moral invocations for caring for the least among us and treating each other humanely. “Immigration is ultimately a humanitarian issue since it impacts the basic rights and dignity of millions of persons and their families,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas, the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops. “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.”
Yet several of the Republican members of the committee did not take kindly to the religious leaders’ words. Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA) both cited the Bible to attack the idea that it is a moral responsibility to treat undocumented immigrants humanely and give them the chance for a decent life. King even went as far as to cite the human rights-violating Israeli separation wall it has built deep into Palestinian territory as an example of how “the land of the Bible” deals with immigration:
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.” [...] “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.” [...]
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.
Of course, comprehensive immigration reform does not mean that we have to “acquiesce” to undocumented immigration, as Smith says, but instead that we secure our borders, give hard-working immigrants who are already here a fair path to citizenship, and overhaul our legal immigration system.
And while King claimed that the Bible would have us care most “about the well-being of [our] citizens,” the advocacy group Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) disagrees. Citing Genesis, CCIR writes, “We believe all people, regardless of national origin or citizenship status, are made in the ‘image of God’ and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”