The State of Arizona has passed a controversial law to address the serious social, economic and law-enforcement problems caused by the bi-partisan abdication of the core government responsibility to protect our borders and enforce a fair and rational immigration policy. President Obama calls the law “misguided,” which suggests, in the absence of any current efforts by his administration to deal with the illegal immigration crisis, that he believes that doing nothing at all is “well-guided.” It isn’t. It is irresponsible and unethical.
The governance ethics principle involved here is clear, and it is one that the Obama Administration has been willing to embrace when it considers the objective important enough. For example, national health care insurance reform will not work unless everyone who can afford to do so buys health insurance. This raises serious issues of Constitutionality and, as two seconds of listening to conservative talk radio will let you know, slippery slope problems. Never before has the State presumed to order individuals what to buy. (You don’t have to buy auto insurance if you’re willing to eschew driving.) It doesn’t take much imagination to think of ways this intrusion into personal liberty could be abused, but the alternative is not to fix the problem, Obama reasons, and that is even more unacceptable, at least if you care about the problem. In leadership and government, fixing the problem is the prime directive, and yes, this means Utilitarianism in its strongest and most potentially dangerous sense. You have to make the system work, and often, more often than we like to admit, that means ethical trade-offs. The government ethics principle is “Fix the problem with a good faith solution, and do everything possible to minimize the bad side effects as they appear.”
This isn’t “misguided.” This is basic and essential. And when opponents attack such solutions by invoking potential bad side effects as their sole reason, what they are really saying is that they don’t want to solve the problem.
The Arizona law requires law enforcement officials to question people about their immigration status, and arrest them if they are unable to confirm status that is legal, if officials have a “reasonable suspicion” an individual is in the country illegally. It requires immigrants to carry proof of legal status at all times, so an immigrant or an illegal immigrant can be arrested if he or she does not have documentation.
No doubt about it, a tough law. I have a hard time seeing how it will be enforced, frankly. But the only argument being raised against it—other than the dishonest, illogical, irresponsible and stunningly popular arguments routinely raised by illegal immigration advocates, such as that the U.S. should have open borders, that people who come here illegally are magically not illegal, that enforcing immigration laws is somehow inherently racist, and that we should just shoulder the burden of providing education, health care and other benefits of citizenship for every desperate foreign citizen who jumps ahead of legal applicants in the immigration line—is that it will lead to “profiling.”
“Racial profiling” used as a law-enforcement taboo in this way makes an implicit Utilitarian argument that should be rejected on the basis of common sense and logic. It assumes that the likelihood that some law-abiding citizens will be inconvenienced by this law is more important than what the law is intended to address: the United States continuing policy gridlock regarding illegal immigration, resulting in chaos and financial crisis that will only get worse. In any fair balancing equation objectively considered, these two matters do not even approach parity, and I can prove it:
I would personally raise no objection if I were stopped by the police every single day of my life and asked to prove my own citizenship, if it would either 1) discourage illegal immigration to a significant degree, or 2) force the Obama Administration or any administration to establish and enforce an effective immigration policy.
And so would many of you reading this. If you wouldn’t, I would have to conclude that you don’t care how many illegal immigrants stream into the country, for any number of indefensible reasons. And this is exactly what motivates the protesters, op-ed writers and politicians who are expressing horror at Arizona’s desperate, flawed but ultimately brave and ethical effort to fix a terrible problem that has been allowed to reach an intolerable level. These people don’t want the problem fixed, because, as bad as uncontrolled immigration is for America socially, economically, legally and philosophically, it serves various agendas of many advocacy groups and voting blocs. They don’t have the integrity or courage to admit this, of course, because it would be overwhelmingly rejected. Instead, they continue to say they “agree” that the problem “should be addressed,” while opposing any measures that could effectively address it. Indeed, it has long looked as though this is exactly the attitude of the Federal government. Arizona’s law sends a message that is critical to counter the opposite message sent by Federal negligence and the rationalizations for inaction adopted by both parties. The Arizona message to illegal immigrants is: “You are not welcome here, we do not approve of your failure to abide by the law, and we will not tolerate it.”
The State of Arizona is conducting itself responsibly, ethically, and bravely by taking this stand. It needs to take whatever measures it can to minimize the effects of racial profiling, but any Hispanic-American who genuinely cares about the welfare of his or her nation should be willing to accept some indignities—as I would—to help cut this Gordian Knot.
Next, we have to ask American companies to give up the convenience of paying unconscionably low wages by relying on illegal workers, conservative zealots to stop blocking a path to citizenship for long-time illegals, and Democrats to abandon the cynical strategy of enabling unchecked illegal immigration in order to build a demographic that will elect its candidates. Arizona can’t solve the problem without these occurring too, but its law is a legitimate first step…for those who really want the problem fixed.
Fix the problem. In government, leadership and management, that’s where ethics begins.