Panel Transcript: Religious Perspectives on Immigration

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Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name’s Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank here in Washington that examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States. All of our work, including the papers that will be discussed today, are online at our Web site,

The topic of how to approach the immigration issue from the perspective of people of faith is something that doesn’t usually come up in the policy community. It does, however, figure in much of the public debate, almost always on the side of legalization of illegal immigrants and increases in immigration.

And this is the case across the board for denominations. Catholic bishops frequently use religious arguments, obviously, in making the case for legalization and higher immigration. Among Protestants, both mainline institutions, usually the headquarter staffs as well as, increasingly, even evangelical denominations use religious arguments to argue for legalization and increased immigration, as well as the various Jewish denominations.

In fact, Thursday there’s going to be a hearing at the Senate immigration subcommittee on exactly this topic. At least for now it looks like there won’t be anyone criticizing the approach that religious arguments demand legalization and increased immigration. It’ll be a one-sided hearing. So it wasn’t really planned this way, but in a sense this is sort of the other panel – the second panel of that Senate hearing, unofficially – looking at the issue from a more critical perspective rather than cherry-picking Bible quotes to support the National Council of La Raza’s policy positions; instead, taking a more thorough and balanced look at the subject.

We have three panelists here, each of them author of a paper in the packets that’s out there. The first speaker will be Fr. Dominique Paridans. He’s an associate pastor at a Roman Catholic parish in Maryland and has been a pastor of a parish in Laredo, right on the border, and is the son of immigrants from Belgium himself, so has a good deal of both professional and personal experience with the issue.

After Fr. Paridans, James R. Edwards, Jr. – Jim Edwards – will speak. He is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. His day job is in government relations, but he’s a fellow as well and writes on a variety of immigration issues, and specifically on this issue of looking at scripture, and rather than cherry-picking a couple of useful quotes, actually spent some time examining what it is that scripture, if not really tells us about policy – because obviously neither the Old nor the New Testament tells us whether E-Verify should be mandatory for all employers – but rather, how should we think about and approach the issue.

And then last but not least is Stephen Steinlight, whose day job is a senior policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies. He’s actually testified on this very issue before the House of Representatives a few years back, and actually that testimony is online at our Web site as well. He’s a former policy director at the American Jewish Committee, a former vice president at the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and has thought about and written about this issue at some length. So after the three speakers, we’ll then go to Q&A and have some discussion. So, Fr. Dominique?

FR. DOMINIQUE PARIDANS: Good morning. I’d like to thank Mark and the Center for Immigration Studies for this invitation. This is a fairly new forum for me. Anyhow, I noticed that at 10:00 in the First Amendment Lounge there will be Bertha Lewis from ACORN speaking, which of course, is a sign to me that God has a tremendous sense of humor.

So we gather here in this room this morning to discuss the role of religion and the public debate on and the consequent forging of public policy for the very delicate issue of immigration. We gather for that discussion, but I would like to argue that strictly speaking, religion has no role. So thank you very for the invitation, Mark — (laughter) — have a great day.

I’m somewhat kidding. I am actually very serious about religion having no role, strictly speaking, in the public debate on and in the forging of public policy for the delicate issue of immigration. And I hope I’m not going to be disappointing those of you who came for a convincing religious argument for controlled illegal immigration and the legitimacy of corresponding laws.

Let me be very specific. Religion has no official public role. Religion is a private matter. Religion is a sacred private matter that the state must respect. And interestingly, religion in turn must respect the state. Now, does this mean that the two are separate worlds? Does this mean that the religious community and the political community are never to meet? It does not.

If you would like to think in more diagrammatic terms, think not of two parallel, juxtaposed, separate communities — the political community on one side and the religious community on the other side — think rather of the religious community as emerging from and transcending, yet eminently rooted, in the political community. Members of the religious community are necessarily members of the political community. In fact, let us call the latter the national community, so hopefully to make this somewhat clearer.

Religion as private matter means not that there are no public expressions of religiosity, and that is not part of our patrimony and our heritage. Religion as private matter means — as I will try to explain, hopefully with some clarity — that religious persons — and in this particular case, Christians, Catholics — need not refer to their religious belief, to God, for wisdom regarding the national community and its various issues, including that of immigration.

Does not referring to one’s faith in the public square mean forsaking one’s faith? Absolutely not. It means that in the public square what we need is not the voice of religion, but the voice of reason – the voice of what I would call refined common sense, a political or philosophical perspective.

In Catholic circles, there is a theological principle that is foundational and makes for sound thinking. Some of you may have heard of this, those of you who’ve done some theology: Grace does not destroy nature. Grace does not destroy nature. Otherwise put, grace — which comes from above, we believe — respects nature, respects the natural, respect human reality. This means, amongst other things, that what is true of the national community is true for all its members, including the very religious, including Christians, including Catholics.

The transcendence of the religious community, as I expressed it, is not a separation of any sort. It means that Christian faith is essentially an interior reference to and bond with the divine that gives new meaning to the individual’s life. But faith, strictly speaking, provides no new intelligibility, and consequently no new guidelines for the national community. The national community continues to make sense on its own — or supposedly.

So much does grace respect nature that it led Thomas Aquinas — one of the theological references in the Catholic tradition — to say in his “Treatise on Charity,” quote, “In matters concerning relations between citizens, we should prefer our fellow citizens.” Thank you, Thomas. Let me further explain.

What I’m articulating, as far as I can tell, is a very Catholic perspective, although for some reason it leads me to a conclusion that is different then what it currently being articulated by many members of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States. You may have noticed. Thus, please clearly note that I’m speaking not for them but for myself and for the dignity of the human mind and in defense of the common good. That is why I am an associate pastor at the generic Roman Catholic parish and not a specific one. I’m trying to proceed with utter respect with respect to my church.

In the Catholic tradition, there is respect for the autonomy of the human mind. In other words, there is an understanding that the human mind can, of its own inquiry, come to an understanding of basic human truths about, amongst other things, human personhood, love, nature and community. Such an understanding is arrived at through the careful attentive search into human experience, into human reality, into the reality that we all experience. We all have an experience of being human persons and of love and of nature and of community — of national community.

And so strictly speaking, the intellectual playing field — save perhaps the case of a disability — is level for all human beings, including Christians. And we can and do often arrive at an understanding that resonates with the majority of the population, an understanding that members of the national community — including Christians, including Catholics — use to engage in dialogue on issues affecting everyone.

Now, I realize that that may sound like wishful thinking or heresy to some who claim that reality is unknowable, and that in the public square the best we can do is just try to accommodate the vast array of diverse opinions that we have. I would disagree with that. Catholics can fall into that thinking at times when they feel compelled to compete, to make sure that their voice — or the voice of the Church — is heard.

Be that as it may, the Catholic Church acknowledges the basic truths about the national community. And some of them have been articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is more or less the official summary, published in 1994, of the truths about God and humanity as the Catholic Church has come to know them. And I have extracted just two little examples which I think would resonate with most people, religious or not.

Quote: “The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition, but a requirement of his nature.” Second quote: “Each human community possesses a common good which permits it to be recognized as such. It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good; of civil society, its citizens and intermediate bodies.” So before further articulating what I think are basic truths about the national community, allow me briefly to state how many officials in the Catholic Church — in my humble opinion — have misunderstood and with the greatest of intentions have confused the issue of immigration.

The difficulty, I think, lies quite simply in taking a religious principle — in the case of immigration, a mandate that Christians believe comes from their founder, Jesus Christ, welcome the stranger — meant to animate and guide the individual interiorly and transposing and applying this mandate in the political arena or to the national community to the elimination of the basic human principles regarding community and the common good.

It’s very interesting, but as Mark said at the beginning, Jesus gives no specifics as to how his mandate translates concretely in the reality of the national community. Jesus gives no specifics because it’s not his purpose. Jesus does not give political principles — principles for the national community, per se. Jesus gives principles — Christians believe — and powers for the human heart which in turn must influence the actions of the individual Christian who remains a member of the national community.

The translation of his mandate, in other words, in the national community is the responsibility of the individual Christian believer. Where the believer can think for him or herself, he or she must. God does not and will not think for the believer. God specifically, we believe in terms of Christian revelation, illuminates when it comes to that which transcends human knowledge. So the Christian believer must discern – must think – n ecessarily taking into account what is true of the national community.

When Jesus says, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar,” he is, amongst other things, I believe, saying this. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church obviously knows this, and not just because they were taught this, as I was, in seminary, but because it’s simple how faith and reason work. Faith and reason respect one another’s terrain. Pope John Paul II clearly articulated this in 1998 in a famous encyclical, “Faith and Reason.” Quote, the opening statement: “Faith and reason are like two wings —” two wings, I underscore — “on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

And so I think what we have — in the midst of a faith statement like that of the Catholic bishops — reason surfaces of its own. And the statement finds itself — in particular, the statement of the Maryland bishops, which was issued in November of 2007 — the statement finds itself charged with an unnecessary tension – a tension between common sense and the misapplication of this Christian mandate.

I will give you two examples of this unnecessary tension. The first from that particular statement in which we read, “Illegal entry is not condoned, but undocumented immigrants are embraced. In the Church, no one is a stranger,” which sounds beautiful, but which blurs the issue. And in an article by the archbishop of Baltimore, Edwin O’Brien, published in July 2008, we read, for example, “Dare we look at them” – meaning illegal immigrants – “with and through the eyes of Christ, for whom no one is illegal?” So when I read that, I say, what?

So what do we do? We acknowledge that we live in a national community, with its common good, and that we have legitimate laws that govern the national community and seek to protect the common good, but at the same time apparently there’s a more pressing good that delegitimizes anything less than open borders. So an unnecessary dilemma is created in the end.

In conclusion, with faith in the heart, moving the individual Christian to hopefully greater generosity and kindness, the Christian must ask the same questions as everybody else. What are the basic truths about human community, which remain true for religious folk, which the Church ought to respect, which shed light for the community when it comes to the question of immigration and allow us to forge sane, healthy, respectful public policy?

In my reflection, I’ve come to the following: a sample of truths — or a sampling of truths. First, there is such a thing as a national community. There is legitimate sovereignty of nations — which the Catholic bishops state — which neither the universality of the human family, the universality of the Church, the suffering of foreigners — with all due respect — nor what is unfortunate in the nation’s past delegitimizes.

Second, the common good of the national community — that is, its cultural patrimony, its language, its values, et cetera; all that is truly human — must be protected and promoted. Third, it is legitimate for the national community — as religious as it may be — to control the influx of new members. Fourth, the distinction between legal immigrant and illegal foreigner is real. And because it touches the common good, the lack thereof is a real moral issue.

Fifth, a national community of greater means ought to be particularly generous in its welcome. But the welcome is truer if more qualitative than quantitative. And sixth, lastly, a qualitative welcome presupposes the expectation that immigrants become full-fledged members of the community and thus integrated members of the community. So in the end, the melting pot is a welcoming paradigm. Go figure.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Fr. Dominique. Jim?

JAMES R. EDWARDS, JR. : I think you’ll see that, providently, our thoughts are very much in sync. I’m going to just summarize — give you a Reader’s Digest summary — of my paper, which takes the Protestant perspective, looking at the scriptures and analyzing what applies to immigration, looking at immigration in the Bible. I try to set forth a biblically grounded Protestant perspective on American immigration policy.

There are really four things that I’ll address, that I’ll hit on this morning: the role of civil government, migration in biblical times, immigrants’ responsibilities and trying to identify the appropriate biblical principles that would apply to a modern United States immigration policy.

So first, the biblical role of civil government. God charges civil authorities with certain duties and they include predominantly preserving order, protecting citizens and punishing wrongdoers. And you can look in places like Romans, chapter 13, and find this laid out succinctly but clearly. Civil authorities providentially hold their office. They do so as agents of God for carrying out justice. The civil authority’s role is to protect the citizens, who are placed providentially under their authority. That would be another word for citizens.

Citizens also owe civic duties. They owe duties to the state. You would see things, specifically service in the military, perhaps, or volunteering in certain civic capacities in a national emergency. You would see payment of taxes, things of that nature as the practicalities of that. Fr. Peridans already mentioned where we — one of the places we base this — probably the most prominent statement of Jesus — was to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

Christianity’s classic mercy teachings — you’ve got justice on one hand and mercy on the other — in Christianity’s mercy teachings, such as the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or to “attend to the needs of the least of these” – these apply predominantly to individuals, not to civil government; which again is a point that was providentially coordinated with our earlier speaker.

The exercise of mercy is very difficult for civil government to do. And the reason for that is that mercy really is to willingly incur an injustice against yourself. Well, you can do that, I can do that, and we should do that as believers in Christ; to go the extra mile to not demand back our — to give our tunic as well as our coat, thank you — we can do that. But the state, again, as agents of justice can’t do that because the state is an agent that only has in its hands the resources that are entrusted to it by the citizens.

And so to misapply those public resources is wrong. And so that’s why mercy is very difficult. We do have mercy in — some states have mercy and shown in ways such as through parole or pardon or staying deportation in very extraordinary cases — individual case-by-case basis. But that’s altogether different than mass exercises of “mercy” like mass amnesty, which is a broader application of mercy to the point of imposing more injustice on the native-born citizens, I would argue.

Well, second, to move along, the migration in biblical times is very interesting study. The overriding point here is that scripture is solid on the normative principles of immigration policy. It doesn’t spell out a system of immigration for Old Testament Israel, for New Testament church, for anybody. Migration differs within scripture depending on the nations and the times, the place and the circumstances. In general, each civil authority would set its own rules for immigration: who to let in, the terms of admission, when and how to remove foreign visitors.

A couple of quick examples: One is in the Old Testament with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham, of course, migrated over vast open spaces over his lifetime. At one point, he and his wife, Sarah — and actually this is Abram and Sarai before they had their names changed by the Lord — but it was a famine and they went to Egypt, finding food.

Apparently — now, there’s no indication they went into Egypt unlawfully. They apparently entered completely lawfully. But Abraham told his wife, Sarah, don’t say you’re my wife; say you’re my sister. Because apparently she was a lovely woman and she was concerned that Pharaoh would take interest in her romantically and would have him killed. And after it became apparent that he had misrepresented — they had misrepresented their marital status, Pharaoh became very fearful and he deported them. Those were grounds for deportation of Abraham from Egypt.

Another example is the Roman Empire in New Testament times. You see the Roman Empire occupying all the conquered territories of the empire, especially around Israel, Judea, the basin around the Mediterranean. Well, that very occupation — the Roman Empire existing — allowed the safe — generally safe and freer passage of people like the Apostle Paul to spread the gospel in that area. And that’s what helped to empower and enable the spreading of the Christian gospel.

The final point under this section is with regard to what the most often cited passages do not say. We often have quoted to us pieces of scripture about not mistreating or oppressing aliens and they’re found in places like Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:33 and 19:34. Well, if you look at those and other similar verses, they don’t say more than not to mistreat or oppress resident aliens.

This is the same principle as not mistreating or oppressing widows and orphans. It’s people who are of a certain class. But it’s really more about fair treatment and equal justice under law, not at all how many immigrants or which immigrants or aliens to admit or on what basis. It just does not speak to that. And to imply that it does is overstepping reason, to borrow a recent term.

Third, immigrants having certain responsibilities that we find in scripture. In the Old Testament, very interestingly, foreign residents were to comply with the Israelite laws — civil laws, criminal laws but also many religious laws such as the observance of the Sabbath. In other words, scripture expects of sojourners — which means resident aliens — lawful, permanent resident aliens — a strong assimilationist ethic — a strong assimilationist ethic.

In addition, the Old Testament laws here allowed legal distinctions to be drawn between native Jews and resident aliens. The Gentile foreigners didn’t necessarily benefit from such laws as the automatic remission of debts every seven years.

We see that obeying a nation’s immigration laws is really a practical application of a principle Judeo-Christian commandment. Both Jewish, Catholic and Protestant religions stress we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind; and we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The practical application of that principle in the immigration context is to obey the immigration laws. That is how you love your neighbor. You obey what are the lawful standards of a given nation. That’s respect for the body politic, which the Lord has providentially established.

Finally, what are the principles in the Bible that we can look at that apply mostly in our context of the United States today? Well, in light of the principles I’ve already hit upon, certain things really stand out: things like the rule of law and national sovereignty; promoting justice; assimilationist ethic; obeying the law as a desirable virtue; government’s civic duty to safeguard the interests of its own citizens. Scripture leaves immigration policy to prudential judgment, to be set by a particular government according to prevailing circumstances, principles of justice, good judgment and preserving the best interests of its citizens.

And finally, when we hear the term “the least of these,” we should think in the public sphere as that term is used that where immigration is concerned, it should take into account that each government’s foremost responsibility is to its own citizens. Therefore, policies that privilege foreigners, wealthy elites and special interests over the average or less fortunate members of that society would seem morally obtuse. Thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jim. Steve?

STEPHEN STEINLIGHT: Good morning. It’s a pleasure to join my colleagues on this panel – “my younger brothers in faith,” as Pope John Paul the Great characterized this virtual kinship between Jews and Christians — it will concentrate our minds wonderfully, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, if I dispense with the preface and cut to the chase.

Our opponents on immigration policy do battle with quivers ostensibly devoid of substantive arguments. They have them, all right. But the real motives that drive their case are too narrowly chauvinistic, politically cynically, ideologically foreign or too brutal to share openly with the American people.

Among these are extreme identity politics, ethnic pandering for political gain, raw economic greed — as corporate members of their alliance work to create a permanent underclass to re-barbarize American capitalism, and advancing a post-Americanism which includes implicit and explicit rejection of the moral authority of the nation-state.

Whether articulated with questionable innocence and irresponsible platitudes by princes of the Church, or in the thinly veiled sneers of my own politically correct clergy, the tenets of our civil creed — the bonds that unite us — are devalued or derided — patriotism, civic virtue, love of noble community, belief in a common destiny, faith in the rule of law.

Our clerical opponents recognize they dare not make this underlying logic public. Thus, they habitually resort to three pseudo-arguments, each an evasion suffused with disingenuous moralism. They argue ad misericordiam, seeking to inculcate guilt in ordinary Americans about the plight of illegal aliens, for whom they wish to engender sympathy — greater sympathy, in fact, then for the unemployed and impoverished of their fellow citizens.

This logical fallacy’s essence, whether employed by religious or secular advocates, is arguing that particular actions or particular policy follow pity. Since they build their case — or this part of their case — on compassion, we must note that on this miserably unjust planet of seven billion human beings, three billion have nothing at all, while Mexicans are richest in the Third World, possessing twice the income of the most wretched. Selective compassion for Mexicans is comprehensible only when viewed to the prism of narrowly defined communal, political, commercial, and yes, sectarian religious interest.

Second, our opponents level ugly charges of xenophobia or racism against those who disagree with them. And third, with arrogant religiosity, they assert “Gott mitt us” — “God is with us” – engaging in advocacy exegesis, abusing scripture to hoodwink a religious nation; perhaps deluding themselves into the bargain.

Our purpose today is not theirs. We offer varying perspectives from our faith tradition to address questions arising in the context of immigration. None of our scriptures address immigration directly; certainly not as we understand it in modern historical terms, though we must work through analogy. Our views come from knowledge of our traditions, but our finally subjective interpretations.

This reticence about religious claims is essential. God and God’s intentions are ineffable. No faith tradition has only one response to these questions. Scripture speaks with many voices, rarely reducible to a single meaning; nor can any be understood outside of context. We should walk humbly around our sacred texts.

In early 16th-century Judaism, a historic hermeneutical enterprise encapsulated a long tradition of oral and written biblical commentary into what remains authoritative. Its Hebrew title is Mikraot Gedolot; in English, “Great Happenings.” Also known as the “Rabbinic Bible,” it embodies Judaism’s faith — Judaism’s belief that faith and intellectual rigor are partners; that understanding the divinely inspired words of the Bible’s authors require interpretation, and that multiple perspectives yield the most thoughtful answers, not reductivism.

Our Rabbinic Bible contains two Targums — interpretative translations of Hebrew into Aramaic, the lingua franca of biblical times. One is the Eastern, or Babylonian, Targum of Onkelos, a Greek monk and convert to Judaism; the other, Western, or Jerusalem, Targum of Rabbi Jonathan. On each page, rabbinical narrative is surrounded by the commentaries of six great medieval exegetes, including Maimonides of Andalusia and Rashi of Troyes in France.

Our opponents, who cherry-pick and dumb down sacred texts, are shameless reductionists. And they regard one passage from the Hebrew Bible as their trump card. And yes, we heard — it’s been referred to: Leviticus 19:33-34. I’ll recite it. “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistrust him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

This passage expresses the ethical universalism central to classical Judaism. Many liberal adherents — many liberal adherents regard it as Judaism’s totality, though it is but half of the dialectic, counterbalanced by another strong particularism, including national and civilizational allegiances.

One of scripture’s greatest expressions of moral empathy, the passage from Leviticus is not a press release from God’s legislative affairs office in Washington endorsing comprehensive immigration reform. It says nothing about immigration, for which there is no word in biblical Hebrew; or amnesty, extended family reunification, birthright citizenship, guest workers, identity theft, eligibility for Obamacare, bilingualism, et cetera.

The Hebrew Bible’s authors did not anticipate the debate on immigration in 21st-century America and they do not address it in Leviticus. This self-evident truth should prevent clergy or lay leaders from treating it like political talking points, but they do. And they cite legislative particulars as though they were written by — as thought the Bible was written by policy wonks. I wonder if they would dare cite Leviticus on gay marriage or, say, the death penalty. Their approach drenches political advocacy with arrogant religiosity, dangerously sanctifying partisanship.

Does Leviticus 19:33-34 address, let alone endorse comprehensive immigration reform? Not by the most lenient interpretive standard. It commands empathy, even love for the other — for Gentiles; asserting humanity’s oneness and God’s omnipotence. It commands us to treat the other — the stranger — kindly; the stranger, residing with us temporarily and lawfully. It commands nothing more and nothing else.

Utilizing this passage for an argument for amnesty requires its conscious mistranslation. This is not an esoteric quibble. The word for “stranger” in the Hebrew Bible is — (in Hebrew) — “sojourner” in English – first appearing in Genesis to describe Abraham when he dwells briefly with the Hittites in Kirjath-arba. Its final appearance is in Chronicles when King David contrasts the transitory nature of human existence with the eternality of God.

The eminent scholar, Richard Elliot Freedman, professor of biblical Hebrew at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, translates it as “alien” and “visitor.” All English dictionaries define “to sojourn” as to stay temporarily. Arguing some 11 million illegal aliens should remain here permanently finds no support in Leviticus. Look for it some place else.

As noted, there’s no term for immigrant or immigration in the Hebrew Bible, and the book of Ruth is an exceptional narrative about the adoption of a new national identity. Ruth, a Moabite, determines to remain with her Israelite mother-in-law following the death of her husband and become an Israelite. It’s instructive to contrast the powerful assertion of national belonging.

Ruth expresses to Naomi — with the apparent indifference to national identity or loyal to a competing one that characterizes so many contemporary resident aliens — Ruth says, “Wherever you will go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your god will be my god. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” The book of Ruth provides perhaps the most ancient expression of the ideal of patriotic assimilation.

Fewer than 25 percent of foreign-born Mexicans have naturalized. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that number dropped 62 percent in the last year, one explanation being that the cost for filing for naturalization rose by $265. In the book of Ruth we encounter an outsider’s total identification with an adopted nation and longing for complete absorption. Among a great many contemporary trans-national migrants — and that is the proper term, not immigrant — we see something very different.

Whether stemming from the anomie of the deracinated, economic calculation, unwillingness to choose between identities; or more likely, an abiding loyalty to Mexico — all Mexicans remain Mexican by Mexican law — there’s scant indication of a parallel desire to embrace American identity. This is especially true when that embrace requires paying a price for wholesale violations of American law, playing by the rules and going to the back of the queue.

A recent survey in Mexico finds 69 percent of Mexicans believe their compatriots in the United States owe primary loyalty to Mexico. Another survey finds 62 percent of Mexicans harbor irredentist attitudes, regarding the Southwest as Mexican. Can one even disaggregate these groups — Mexicans here, Mexicans there — given our porous borders, their peregrinations, and Mexico’s unbroken ties — ideological, cultural and legal on its children here?

The Hebrew Bible addresses inclusion of strangers, aliens — as Jim talked about — in civil and legal terms in several places; Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. It proclaims one law for the citizen native, an alien stranger that dwells among you. But this is no bill of rights for sojourners. The Bible demands strict adherence to Israelite laws and norms. Aliens gain rights only through lawful residency.

Aliens need not convert, but they must embrace monotheism, the bedrock of Judaic civilization. The punishment for idolatry is death. Strangers had to pay taxes, demonstrate civic loyalty by making the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem and preserve social order. The Bible also draws a bright line between the religiously defined notion of being a citizen. The biblical word for that is — (in Hebrew) – from “a sojourner.”

While forms of legal residency — again, as Jim pointed out — for those outside the Covenant find sanction in the Hebrew Bible, only conversion to Judaism confirmed all rights and made one a full member of the people; a parallel to the propositional conception of American citizenship.

Leviticus 19:33 exhorts us to love the stranger. Comprehensive immigration reform is not about love. It’s about exploiting cheap labor, Hispanic identity politics and creating a permanent Democratic majority. Leviticus does not command us to exploit strangers for profit or political advantage. Contemporary immigration pits hard-pressed constituencies against each other: poor illegal aliens against America’s unemployed, working poor and working class, including legal immigrants.

The competition gravely harms our fellow citizens, especially during times of acute economic distress. Our jobless recovery means some 10 percent of us are officially unemployed — and of course we know the real number’s higher. Some 16 million are out of work while six citizens chase every job advertised. Illegal aliens hold some seven million jobs. In this zero-sum game, our countrymen have first call on our loyalty. Charity truly begins at home.

The Hebrew prophets repeatedly demand justice for the humble laborers of one’s own community. This call is recited in the Bible’s holiness code, read in every synagogue on the Day of Atonement. Distorting scripture to support legislation designed to import cheap labor, to depress the wages and worsen the working conditions of our vulnerable fellow citizens is not shameful. It’s also sacrilege. Thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you. We’ll go to Q&A. Any questions? Somebody has to have provoked somebody. Yes, ma’am. You first.

Q: Well, I —

MR. KRIKORIAN: If you could identify yourself, please.

Q: Okay. I’m — (inaudible). And I’m a Baptist and I read the Bible and I — all this stuff. And it seems to me that the commandment of love — love your God — the Lord your God and the stranger — love your neighbor, with the Good Samaritan right in there means that I need to really care much more. Then you guys are saying, back off. I mean, I as an American citizen should be really caring for these people. I don’t get that you’re saying stay out of it.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Who wants to go first?

Q: Maybe you, since I’m a Protestant –

MR. EDWARDS: I’ll give it the first shot. I think the distinction I’m trying to draw is what we expect from our civil authorities and our actions as a body politic, which could entail immigration, it could entail foreign aid, things of that nature, as distinct from our individual religious duties.

My duty as a Christian is to love my neighbor as myself; to go the extra mile to do — to even love my enemies and do good to those who harm you. That is a very, very high standard. That’s an impossible standard for the civil authority to ever attempt to exercise. And that’s the distinction. And I give money to missionary organizations in order to spread the gospel abroad, to provide practical helps abroad or in my own country; volunteer as an individual in certain ministries and things of that nature. That’s where it plays out as a practical matter.

Q: But it doesn’t involve anything with the government.

MR. EDWARDS: Well, it does, very prudentially. There may be a place for foreign aid; for development grants to poorer countries. There may be a place for forgiveness of foreign countries’ debt to the IMF or something. That may be prudentially appropriate in a given circumstance. But that’s not to say that’s a black-and-white, every-time thing. And it’s not to say that that applies completely in every circumstance in all time.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s let people — anyone else have a thing to say on that one?

FR. PARIDANS: Well, I can understand the difficulty that you would have trying to navigate that. As somebody involved in ministry, I try to envision individual cases; what would I do, ministerially or pastorally, when an illegal immigrant comes to my door? Well, I would care for him. And at that moment I would not ask his — the legality of his status. But I’m not going to go from that to establishing a full-fledged long-term ministerial program that deliberately ignores the legality — status of people, which is what you do see at times in the Catholic Church.

So there’s the individual case, and I am called to extend myself. And we believe we’ve been given love to do that. But my ministry cannot ignore the reality of the national community and the reality of immigration and the legitimacy of the sovereignty of the nation in which I find myself. And therefore, my ministry cannot disrespect those laws. You do have voices in the Catholic Church which are inviting us to disrespect those laws, which I think is unbiblical. I think it’s just intellectually deficient. I think it’s disrespectful and ignores the reality in which we live. We do not exercise our ministry in a cultural or social vacuum.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir. You had your hand up.

Q: I’m surprised this was not addressed in what I would consider to be some very complex exegesis, is a much more simply way, which is the Ten Commandments — “thou shalt not steal” being one of them and “thou shalt not covet” being another — to view the notion of illegal immigration as a form of trespass or stealing.

I guess the other question I would have which might be related to that — independent of it — is are some of these faith groups — and particularly the Roman Catholics — perhaps motivated to take the position that they have taken simply because the majority of people illegally in our country are of that faith, and it’s very hard to look at them straight in the eye and administer to them when you’re taking a position that they all ought to be thrown out? So I would appreciate it if the panel perhaps could address these concerns.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Who wants to go first?

Q: Oh. I’m Dino Drudi. I’m on the board of advisors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

MR. EDWARDS: I think I probably touched on that in the paper, but I kind of hinted at it in terms of the obligations or biblical-imposed duties on immigrants themselves. And certainly I did say, and as seen in Scriptural examples, the requirement is that they obey the civil and criminal laws of the country. That’s assimilation as well as a practical application of the very intent — commandment which you just cited; not to steal, not to take advantage of something.

Something I enjoy doing — maybe some of you do, too — is I enjoy sometimes reading particularly Revolutionary War sermons. And one I read not too long, the minister was talking about how do you live out loving your enemies? And he said, yes, my duty is to care for those and to do for those who do me harm. However, my duty is not to love them more than I love myself. Or you can extend that. My duty is not to love them more than I love my household. And our household is our national household.

MR. STEINLIGHT: Jim, I was thinking of Robert Frost’s famous line that a liberal is a person who can’t support his own argument; can’t defend himself in a debate.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Did you want to deal with the Catholic question or not?

(Cross talk.)

FR. PARIDANS: As I said in the beginning, I’m here speaking for myself. I’m not sure of the exact reasoning or what goes on in the minds of the Catholic bishops who have spoken more explicitly for — in generally speaking, open borders or are moving in that direction. I’m not really certain. I’m sure that’s definitely an issue. There’s high population of Spanish speakers — of Hispanophones — who are members of their flock.

And it is not easy – I mean, ministerially for me, it’s not easy to look someone in the eye and to have to articulate a law that would, civilly speaking, preclude them from the community; and at the same time, include them in the Church community. That’s a very awkward, very awkward situation.

It does give the impression that these bishops who are speaking along these lines are thinking as though we are ministering in a social vacuum, which I just find very, very odd. So I’m not really sure. I think it’s well-intended charity. I mean, I’m comforted by the intention but not the articulation at all.

MR. KRIKORIAN: I’m not Catholic, I’m Orthodox, but if I could briefly defend the Roman Catholic Church in this respect. You’re right, obviously. Eighty percent probably of illegal immigrants are at least nominally Roman Catholic. But then you look at the other religious bureaucracies and hierarchies and they take very similar positions. So it seems to me that you’d have to ask if very few illegal immigrants are Jewish, why are Jewish religious figures backing it? Do you see what I mean?

In other words, I understand there may well be some institutional self-interest involved. But I think there are so many cross-currents there that it’s — I don’t think it’s actually fair to say, well, most illegal immigrants are Catholic; that’s why the Catholic Church wants more of them. I think that’s reductionist as well.

Q: That wasn’t what I was saying. I’m saying it hard to look them straight in the eye and — (inaudible) — they should be thrown out again.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Right, right.

Q: It’s not an institutional interest. It’s just hard to do.


Q: So they choose to do something else. It means they don’t have to do what’s hard.

MR. KRIKORIAN: I understand. My point is that non-Catholic clergy end up making the same decision as well without having to face what you’re describing.

So let me take the next question. Yes, sir. If you could identify yourself, too.

Q: Alan Wisdom with the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Just for purposes of argument, I think I heard the assertion that mercy is principally something that is extended towards individuals and not a broad government policy. You know, I wanted to ask you to sort of pursue that further.

It seems to me that there are some cases, for instance, where there’s been a dictatorship that has massively abused human rights; and after the fall of the dictatorship — (inaudible) — for instance — there’s been a process of reconciliation under the new democratic government. And South Africa’s another example.

And the Church has often played a major role in that process. And part of that process has been a corporate act of mercy that there is investigation of the abuses that have been committed, but there is also a clemency displayed towards many people who were involved with the former regime in those abuses.

And church leaders in many cases have judged prudentially — I don’t think it’s an absolute thing that you always pardon people — that prudentially it is better for the national community that there be this exercise of corporate mercy. Might not that principle apply to some extent to the immigration issue in the United States; that some sort of process of legalization might be appropriate, even though the law has been violated, as an act of corporate mercy for the benefit of the whole community?

MR. STEINLIGHT: Just as a practical matter, the last time an amnesty was given in this country, 1986 by President Reagan, illegal immigration quintupled. A survey that we recently conducted in Mexico said how more likely would you leave if there were an amnesty to enter the United States illegally. And some 57 percent said they would. It’s clear that behavior follows. There are consequences to these acts. And I don’t — I would not regard this act as prudential.

FR. PARIDANS: I was just going to say, you’ll notice what you described are punctual acts; a corporate act of mercy. But there’s a difference between a nation or a community of whatever sort deciding to do that and laws that they have established. That’s opting to go beyond the law.

But laws are based to promote and to protect justice, and mercy — first of all, as he said — Jim said — individual acts or it can be a corporate act, perhaps. But it’s something that occurs periodically as an exception; never to transgress justice, but at that moment, to go beyond justice because it seems fitting to the community or the individual.

MR. EDWARDS: Yeah. Alan, I would not discount that as a means to particular political ends on a very prudential basis. But it’s got — it can’t be the default. And in our country, our default position on immigration is amnesty. I mean, the past several efforts of pushing legalization have been basically, let’s legalize tens of millions of people first and we promise we will enforce the laws after that.

And I just think, as a prudential matter in this country with respect to immigration, there may be some sort of a legalization process for a very distinct subset as a mopping-up effort at the very end — after you’ve put into place a real getting control of your borders effort. And then, years down the road, saying, okay, here’s just a manageable handful of people who have real legitimate or rational, reasonable kind of circumstances that we say, okay, we’ll let legalization go for that, but we’re not going to do it up front for everybody who just arrived, all the way back to who came in 1986 or whatever.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Alan, if I just clarify. You’re making a prudential argument which may or may not be true, and that’s what reason and debate is for. The religious arguments that have been used, the language I have heard used and pervades this debate on the pro-amnesty side does not make a prudential argument. It says that not legalizing illegal immigrants is ipso facto immoral. It is not something — it is not — it is not an option.

And that’s the problem. In other words, it’s the absolutist position that scripture or the tradition of the church, depending on where you’re coming from, precludes not legalizing illegal immigrants. And that’s the — seems to me is the issue at hand. Ma’am, you, and then you. Yes, you first. Please identify yourself.

Q: I’m Donna Scupper from the Judson Memorial Church of New York City, and I have very little voice, so I’ll try to do everything I can. I really came here to learn because I — I don’t think I can theologically or biblically disagree with you, and I want to say that in the softest of terms, because I don’t come here saying, well, I’m right and you’re wrong.

And I want to really say that the first thing I’ve learned is what you were saying about your different interpretation of the Leviticus text, where you say that there was a universalist, push, but in particular was rhythm, also. And I’d like to pursue that with you. And if I may, then to follow up with some particulars about real human beings who are caught in what I think is a broken legal system.

MR. KRIKORIAN: If we could have a question because there’s a lot of people who want —

Q: — particularism, and what do you mean by that? Are you arguing that in your Judaism or in a larger religious sense, those of us who interpret that scripture, that it really is false; that there is not imagined a universalism to our faiths, or that God, or God beyond God? Or are you saying that there’s something almost nationalistic or in particular ethnically based that God would want this?

MR. STEINLIGHT: First of all, I was simply characterizing the essence of Judaism, which Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan has correctly described as a civilization. Jews believe in a religion which has many strongly universalistic elements from which Christianity drew. But it also has particular senses of loyalty to the people — to the Jewish people, to the Jewish nation. And many of the concepts of nationhood that the founders and others came from that.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t have universal moral obligations. But I would also say, how far does your sense of universalism run? You know, I was listening to the woman earlier who felt pained that we did not seem to be embracing a more generous welcome, or that we were taking what I guess she felt was a narrow or cramped view of Leviticus, even though — by the way, there’s no question that that is the clear meaning of Leviticus 19:33-34.

But I mean, I always ask this question after I speak, and I speak very often to Jewish groups, who are overwhelmingly liberal, overwhelmingly predisposed to support open-ended immigration. And I know they’re sitting there thinking I’m an S.O.B. because I don’t want all of Mexico to walk into the United States. Now mind you, about 15 percent has. That’s a pretty good number. But I say to them, there are three billion people on this planet who have nothing. Nothing.

I was executive director of the American Anti-Slavery Group. I know about places like Chad and Sudan who have nothing. Mexicans have more than five (billion) out of the seven billion on this earth. Why is there a particular moral passion to deal with that issue? And do you want those three billion people to come here?

Are you not under a moral imperative to want those three billion people to come here? I say that to my audience. Do you want those three billion people to come here? Whose coming here, by the way, is not a matter — as it is in the case of the Mexicans, who’ll simply earn more per hour — but it’s a choice between living and dying. And no one raises a hand.

So I say, excuse me. You are all believers in controlling immigration. You’ve just made a — what I describe and say — random exception that has to do with the advantageous nature of geographical contiguity, period. Full stop.

MR. KRIKORIAN: One follow-up, ma’am. That’s it.

Q: The question is where and when the particulars will stop. We might even agree. But if a person — if a Haitian man has been here since age two and lived under three different legal systems as an immigrant, and — is he to be thrown out now because the new system doesn’t keep him? Is a Chinese father of three children to be sent back to China because he wants the religious liberty after he started — (inaudible)? In other words, where does —

MR. STEINLIGHT: Well, the Chinese father who came here for religious liberty strikes me as a refugee, and it seems to me that a different — that there’s a different body of thinking and a different body of policy that should be dealing with refugees. We’re not talking about refugees here. We probably would find more agreement on that.

Q: But respecting the law, and then where does it stop and start, is my question in terms of real human beings.

MR. STEINLIGHT: Well, I don’t know all the circumstances of the two individuals you cited. We have to work, it seems to me, on the macro level first. Then we can get into those particulars. But I know Mark, I think, wanted to say something.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes. Yes, ma’am. You had a question.

Q: I want to go back to the idea of mercy and the date and how the government should be or not be merciful. And it seems to me that by arguing that the government would be more merciful by granting amnesty, then you are ignoring the fact that there’s a huge population already in this country that desperately needs the mercy of its own state: the poor, recent legal immigrants, the people who are unemployed.

Those people; don’t they deserve — aren’t they entitled to the first priority of the mercy of their own government? And doesn’t that make that mercy a much more moral calling than the mercy for illegal aliens in this country, who — yes, they may be in very desperate situations, they may be very poor — but they are not here lawfully, they are not citizens of the body politic, and how then can they claim the same priority under the government?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, it seems that all three of us this morning have made that point of priority of a government, a civil authority, to its own people, its own members of that body politic. That’s their first priority, because those are the people that the government in turn looks to and can hold certain powers over and say, I need you to pay taxes to support the government or I need you to serve in the army or whatever.

Q: They’re the people who give the government their power.

MR. EDWARDS: Yes, exactly. They’re the members of the social contract in that situation. And the government in turn would owe its first duty to its own people.

Don’t know if anybody else wants to weigh in.

MR. STEINLIGHT: I think clearly we all believe that is true, morally and scripturally.

I’d also just like to add a personal observation. And that is that I find it very painful that when people speak about civil rights today, the term is only used — and by the way, jurisprudentially and morally, it’s completely inappropriate for the situation of illegal aliens; almost all of them are Mexican — what happened to the civil rights revolution? I mean, what happened — there is, I think, a certain amount of moral fashionability, quite frankly, that’s going on right now.

Seventy-five percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock. What’s going on right now in today’s economy is not a recession for black America; it’s a depression. It’s like black America has been living in a depression for about 40 years, with unemployment rates for men between 19 and 40 hovering around 50 percent.

Why has the liberal community of conscience simply forgotten black America and embraced — it has — and embraced the new cause — and embraced the new cause? And by the way, these immigrants are coming and the group that they are most disadvantaging are African-Americans.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Fr. Dominique, you have something you wanted to say?

FR. PARIDANS: Well, I was just going to say for me, the question comes back to something I said earlier; quite simple, the question of the legitimacy of the state and the legitimacy of sovereignty of state. If there is such a thing as a state, then there is a priority, and the priority first goes to citizens. And then the question would be, must the Church respect that reality? If it is a reality, then the Church must respect it. And that truth or that reality, I think, should shed light on the question of particularisms as well.

It’s a very difficult moral dilemma. You’re dealing with people as you describe them and I’m in similar situations. But I cannot go from that to establishing a law which would in a sense be suggesting or leading towards the elimination of the sovereignty of the nation. And that’s what — that seems to be the only way you can get around to sort of welcome all these particulars is to say, well, in the end there’s really no such thing as a sovereign state; we’re all one global village.

And that may be kind of taking the reality of church, which is at a different level — the church is universal and one, and sort of applying that at the human level and saying, well, in the end we’re one human community. So let’s stop pretending that borders mean anything, or that sort of thing. I think that’s a misappropriation.

MR. EDWARDS: One quick thought is that we tend — and our nation has been blessed with many — a long heritage of moral foundation; things that we take for granted because we are basically like the middle class kids who have things given to them and don’t have to earn it like their parents did, maybe. We take for granted the rule of law, which is the great equalizer — the great fairness to all people. We take for granted the fact that due process, the right to counsel, the right to appeal — those things institutionalize mercy.

If you have somebody who’s seen unjust civil authorities that don’t have those things, I think they could testify that those are elements of mercy. And we take them for granted like they’re not even there. The elements of mercy mentioned, such as parole and pardon, we allow those kind of things on a case-by-case basis. But you can’t institutionalize ignoring whole sections of the law going unforced.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s take one more question. There’s no more? Okay. Well, good. I’m not sure about the other speakers, but I think some of them will be here to be accosted afterwards, if you’d like to do that. I just — remember, all three of the papers by our authors are online at our Web site, And the video and transcript of our proceedings today will be online there as well in a few days. Thanks for coming and hope to see you at our next event. (Applause.)