Illegal immigrants: Treat them humanely or make their lives miserable?

Ethics can be confusing. Like the case of illegal immigration: how do we decide between compassion and legality? {Disclosure: My ideas may be affected by my family experience. My grandparents came here from Russia and Germany in the 1880s, when there was no such thing as illegal immigration. You just had to be free of TB and you were admitted. Had they not been admitted the whole family would likely have been subjected to fierce anti-Semitism, then murdered in the Holocaust.)

The Arizona House of Representatives this week passed America’s toughest state law against illegal immigration. It makes it a crime to lack proper immigration paperwork and requires police, if they suspect someone is in the country illegally, to determine their immigration status. It also bars people from soliciting work as day laborers. Its author, state Sen. Russell Pearce, explains, “When you make life difficult, most will leave on their own.”

I certainly believe in making life difficult for lawbreakers, but there’s serious collateral damage here. What about the “foreign-looking” people who will be challenged to prove their legal status? Like Graciela Beltran of Tucson, who, the Los Angeles Times reports, was asked for immigration papers while boarding a bus. And the other dark-skinned people who will be “profiled.”

And along with the lawbreakers there are innocents, like the U.S.-born children of illegals, who face having their parents deported. Or who face hunger because their fathers can no longer find day work from the Walmart parking lot.

Americans have contributed to the problem by allowing so many to overstay their visas or to enter illegally. Now it seems to me that we have an obligation to be humane in our treatment.

What’s an ethicist to conclude? Let me know your opinion.


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12 Responses to “Illegal immigrants: Treat them humanely or make their lives miserable?”

  1. richard g martin Says:

    Government entitlement programs and the theft of taxation lies at the root of the problem. If all who lived in the country and any who came here needed to contribute and pay their own way, then legal status would make very little difference. It is only a problem because we steal from Peter and give to Paul–Peter is irritated, go figure.

    • Ethics Bob Says:

      I’m not sure you’re right about that. My impression is that they pay more than their own way, through withholding and SSA tax, and they are reluctant to apply for benefits because of their illegal status.

  2. sasoc Says:

    Collateral damage? How about the destruction by non-assimilating illegals of the anglo-saxon heritage of the greatest nation the world has ever known? Now that is collateral damage. I say this as a descendant of non-anglo Europeans who assimilated into the angle culture and have been the better for it. Illegals should be made uncomfortable enough to voluntarily leave this country as soon as possible. More thoughts from Arizona here:

  3. Jack Marshall Says:

    There has to be a national policy, that’s all there is to it. The unholy alliance of businesses that want to exploit cheap labor and unscrupulous politicians who want to gain electoral power through demographics has created a problem that isn’t going to be solved by one state getting tough. Still—an illegal alien is illegal, and like a poor man who robs a bank to buy medicine and food, still cannot be the beneficiary of compassion over justice. I don’t believe we should be making life comfortable by those who cheated to get here (keeping those who play by the rules out). Bob’s ancestors weren’t breaking the law: using cocaine was legal then, too, but that doesn’t mean I like crack dealers any more. The children? That’s a compassion trap…the children of felons and killers suffer too, and that doesn’t justify not sending criminals to prison. I’d favor laws that made the children born of illegals exceptions to the citizenship rules.

    But the fact is that until 1) we chart a way for current illegals to become legal and 2) enforce the borders, nothing will be completely fair or make sense. Bush’s plan was correct, and should have prevailed.

    • Ethics Bob Says:

      I admit to being trapped in the compassion trap. Your last paragraph is just right, it seems to me. Border enforcement will relieve us of complicity in illegal immigration, and a path to legality will enable compassion to those already here. Bush was right, and I hope it’s not too late for such a solution.

      • James Haynes Says:

        I no longer work in the construction industry, yet my experience there revealed contractors wanting less expensive labor. Where they could, unscrupulous employers paid workers cash under the table. Many however take out social security and taxes. I hope that this is the rule rather than the exception.
        But again, most of the general contractors and contractors that hired illegals were some of the most vociferous protesters of illegal immigration. At work they entertained illegals, but at home and church they were totally anti-immigration. They were good enough to work 12 hours a day but not good enough to be given an opportunity to attain citizenship.
        Ethics and logic are absent from our culture. We cannot persuade someone to look at an issue from a different perspective.
        The problem that rears its ugly head is that most of us Anglo-Saxons are xenophobic when it comes to immigrants. I can see how some wish to close our borders. Jobs immigrants take are the same jobs that the proponents of immigration control would not themselves take. This debate of us versus them is only fueled by certain media outlets.
        I too am glad that the restrictions on immigration were laxer in the past. Because my family would have a lot of explaining to do to the Native Americans. My ancestors have been in North America since the 1600’s, both Scotch-Irish and German.
        If the first Americans, also my ancestors, had their way none of these outsiders would have come in.

  4. Jack Marshall Says:

    Bob, if there’s a good trap to be trapped in, the compassion trap is it.

  5. Funny Guy Says:

    As an Arizona resident, I am really getting tired of being portrayed as a racist because I am in favor of SB1070. I hope this legislation leads to reform on the current immigration laws. It’s a travesty that more illegals aren’t even given an option to enter the country legally. However this law isn’t going to “legalize profiling.” The law is going to require officers to obtain proof of citizenship only in situations where a crime has taken place.

  6. Political Junkie Says:

    The law is designed to protect the citizen of Arizona as well as the undocumented immigrants. If an illegal reports a crime or requests police help they will not be prosecuted under this law.

  7. Ethics Bob Says:

    The Phoenix chief of police opposed the new law just because he thinks it will make illegals very unlikely to report any crime for fear of being deported.

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