Arizona, Illegal Immigration, and Ethics

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.

21 thoughts on “Arizona, Illegal Immigration, and Ethics

  1. I agree with your general premise that we badly need comprehensive reform, but you’re too hard on Obama and too soft on Arizona:
    Obama’s clearly not for doing nothing, although that’s what he’s done so far. He acknowledged yesterday that it was federal failure that led to the “irresponsible”Arizona action.
    The law looks terrible to me: it will impede law enforcement, and as I read it, would make it criminal for children NOT to inform on their parents and vice versa. I’ve blogged several times about this at

    • As for Obama, “show me.” I don’t believe the Democrats are interested in immigration reform; I believe they are interested in making the GOP look bad by blocking amnesty provisions without significant border control changes.

      I don’t read the law to apply to children, and I’ll bet you anything you like that no such interpretation will ever be attempted. It’s a tough law. As I say, I don’t know that it can be enforced. But it is irresponsible to do nothing….and nothing is what has been happening for decades. There is no reason for any state to assume, at this point, that that will change. And again: something is better than nothing, when the problem in indisputable and can’t possibly fix itself.

      • Well, I know you don’t REALLY believe that something is better than nothing. Is a dysfunctional hyper-expensive health care reform better than nothing?
        I think the Arizona law is worse than nothing. As far as Obama is concerned, we’ll just have to see.

        • OK, you’re right…something can be worse than nothing if it doesn’t begin to solve the problem and makes the problem worse, or creates a different problem that is as bad or worse than the problem it tries to solve.

          My objection to the health care bill is a little different: I require “something” to actually be something readable, definable, understandable, and honestly presented so it can evaluated on it merits…or it isn’t “something,” but merely “anything.”

          You and I actually could read the Arizona bill. That makes it better than the health care bill on that basis alone.

      • Another reason why “something” is important—and I just added this to the post. The law makes clear the fact that Arizona is not tolerating or being sympathetic to illegals, which is what the Federal inaction suggests. Without law enforcement and with various lines of argument about how “essential” illegals are to the work force and how “they are just like our great-grandparents,” the current policy, I think intentionally, encourages illegal immigration by implying that we don’t object to it enough to stop it.

        • I’m just wondering to myself — President Obama, or rather people who work directly for him, are supposedly in charge of enforcing America’s laws.

          It is already illegal for foreigners to enter this country without leave, and that law already has provisions for removing those who do.

          It is a fact that the United States, by deliberate inaction, fails to enforce these duly enacted laws aggressively.

          That’s wrong. The main purpose of government is to protect the people of the United States, and to willy-nilly ignore a clear problem that allows as many documented criminals into our nation to plague our citizens as anything else is straight-up incompetence — not just of Obama, but of many others before him.

          If we merely enforced our own laws at the southern border as sternly as we do at our various airports (including the necessary fencing, warning systems and law enforcement personnel), Arizona would not need to pass laws to enforce the existing U.S. law that our various administrations have deliberately ignored and/or under-funded.

          Arizona should never have been placed in the position to have to pass this law. This problem rightly belongs to the United States, not to state(s) condemned by the incompetence of various administration to suffer the social problems of unchecked illegal immigration.

  2. It also appears that Arizona’s law may have the correct effect, which is to prompt meaningful action after decades of Federal negligence on this issue. This is truly an example of bi-partisan incompetence and cowardice.

    But if I read one more news account describing the Arizona statute as an “immigration” bill, I’m going to scream.

  3. I’m trying to filter through all the extreme responses and understand what this law will actually require of people.

    “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.”

    I think a citizen also could be arrested for not having documentation. If they are suspected of being an immigrant, and don’t have proof of citizenship, they could be arrested. Is this accurate?

    • Yup. That’s how I read it. Presumably a driver’s license will suffice. Does this bother you? Not me. The alternative is either to make all illegals citizens, or just keep allowing more and more illegal immigration. If I’m at a crime scene, I may be questioned by the police, and if I can’t give good answers, the I might get detained. The alternative is to let the criminals go scot free. We’re all in a giant crime scene—and we let it become one, too. I’ve got a copy of my birth certificate handy, just in case Virginia goes the Arizona route. And I wouldn’t care if I was stopped every day, if it helped solve the problem.

  4. I’m sure some sensible countries require carrying proof of citizenship at all times, but it brings up WWII connotations in my mind. Maybe someone can enlighten me about some benign modern examples?

    It seems like a big change to me. Maybe just because I’m the kind of person that walks to the grocery store and fills half a basket before realizing I left my wallet at home.

    • In 2005 I visited my brother in Germany and we drove to Prague. While in the historic business district, there was one intersection with police checking everyone that drove through. I don’t know if they were checking for passports (for citizenship and identification purposes) or for driver’s licenses (for driving authorization) but it was non-discriminatory because they were doing it to everyone.

  5. It has negative connotations that can’t be ignored, but, you know, there are consequences of not enforcing the law for multiple decades. Pick your poison. I live near Washington, DC, where I loved the fact that public building were so accessible. Now the place looks like permanent bunker, and we are wanded if we want to visit a Congressman. It’s too bad. It’s a loss of something valuable. But what’s the alternative?

  6. Personally I think Arizona’s new law is a great law. We all recognize that we need to allow a better path to citizenship, but since the state can’t grant the citizenship the only way we can protect ourselves is to enforce harsher penalties against all illegal immigrants. We can’t sort the good and the bad until the Federal government acts. Instead of protesting our actions people should be petitioning their congressmen to reform immigration laws. We just want to keep the criminals and drug dealers out of our state.

  7. I have known illegal immigrants who work very hard, are members of churches, pay their taxes, volunteer in their communities, have business that employ American citizens and love to have the opportunity to become citizens themselves. Some of them went to war to defend your right to be using this forum of discussion. I just think that you are making a generalization when calling illegal criminals. What say you?

    • What???
      Illegal immigrants are illegal immigrants. That means they are illegal, in that they have entered the country against the law, unfairly pre-empting law-abiding foreigners who wish to immigrate. Calling all people who have broken a law (technically illegal immigration, at least the first time, is a civil violation of federal law, not a criminal act, but “illegal” is still an accurate description) “law-breakers” or “Illegals” or “Cheaters”, or, in my view, “criminals,” is not a “generalization”, but a statement offact. I compare them to criminals because what they have done is in fact a crime…the Federal distinction between a civil and criminal violation in this case is simply part of the dysfunctional and craven Federal abdication in this area—heaven forbid that we should actually burden those who have committed a serious—and ONGOING—crime as “criminals.” The penalty for civil violations is typically a fine…the penalty for sneaking into the country illegally is deportation—sounds a bit more serious, no?

      All the wonderful things you cite are not relevant in the least. If someone who breaks into my house while I’m not there, uses my electricity, sleeps in my bed, watches my TV and takes a shower, alos happens to report a fire next door, feed a stray kitten, give money to the PBS telethon and write the great American novel…I DON’T CARE, because he he still has no business using my house—and when I return, I’m having the presumptuous invader arrested. He didn’t ask. He didn’t tell me. He just took what he needed/wanted/ thought he deserved. It doesn’t matter if he’s Thomas Edison, Mother Theresa and Audie Murphy combined, and it doesn’t matter if he’s black, brown or plaid—he had no right to use my house, and I certainly don’t have any obligation to let him STAY there because he happened to make good use of it. What say YOU?????? The suggestion that someone can retroactively erase a violation of law bizarre, illogical, and an invitation to lawbreakers. Robin Hood was still a thief, you know.

      • Dear Jack, I can sense a lot of passion in your statements. I assume your ancestors came from Europe a few years ago in comparison to most Hispanics in Arizona which may be more than 400 hundred years or more. Also when your ancestors came to America, they came as invaders and brought with them destruction, disease, and greed. They have decimated entire nations of real Americans who were defenseless against the brutality of your ancestors. I believe that same passion runs in your “pure” blood, and why not another ethnic cleansing in the good old USA. You have no more right to call this your land than that poor Mexican migrant worker who came to make a better life for his family. In fact, he probably should have more rights than you and your Nazi ideology.

        • Fine. Law, treaties, history, boundaries are all Fascist artifacts, is that your game? Swell. So your position is anything other than open borders is immoral, and that enforcing laws in immoral, despite the fact that civilization is impossible under such circumstances. Good–you hold on to that brilliant construct, at least until you decide to sue whatever idiot professor it was that rotted your brains with such a ridiculous idea.

          The great weakness of the pro-illegal forces is that people with your absurd logic and warped concept of fairness and justice support them. Good luck with that, and thanks for my laugh of the week. Heil!

  8. Arizona lawmakers have approved changes to the state’s controversial law cracking down on illegal immigrants. The changes were designed to answer charges made by protesters that it will lead to racial profiling by police. The original law stated police can conduct an immigration status check during any quote “lawful contact,” if they have reasonable suspicion a person is an illegal immigrant. It replaces “lawful contact” with “lawful stop, detention or arrest,” clarifying police may not stop people without cause. The revised law also removes the word “solely” from the phrase “The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.” Read the new Arizona Immigration Law

  9. Most people in America aren’t against immigration; they’re just against illegal immigration. For example, like most of our ancestors, my mother’s parents were immigrants. They came through Ellis Island and followed the various legal steps required in order to establish themselves as true citizens of this country. The immigrants crossing the Mexican border, however, have absolutely no interest in following these legal protocols. Once they cross the border, they change their names and/or purchase social security numbers in an effort to conceal their true identities from the law. It is not uncommon for an illegal immigrant to purchase not one, but two or more social security numbers, just in case one is flagged. I have witnessed this crime with my own eyes. (One day, a supposedly legal immigrant was asked to give their social security card to a receptionist for a job application and an interview. When the receptionist happened to ask to see the card a second time, the immigrant mistakenly handed over a different social security card with the same name on it, but with a completely different set of numbers…)

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against Hispanics. I have many Hispanic friends, but they either have green cards to work in the United States or have become legal citizens. They decided to follow the rule of law and work within the boundaries of our legal system. Unfortunately, many immigrants do not, and it those particular individuals that we are most concerned about.

    Now it seems that those who sympathize with illegal immigrants wish to hijack the discussion of reform by attacking the law recently imposed by the State of Arizona through protests and boycotts; a state mind you, that has been besieged with crime, drugs and an ever-increasing population of illegal immigrants. Don’t allow them this option. Speak out and take action. This is your country… fight for it.

    In closing, I consider myself to be a bleeding-heart liberal: a Democrat. My ancestor, Roger Williams – one of our founding fathers, was one too; regarding the acceptance of different nationalities, cultures and religions as the vitality and lifeblood of any country. Nevertheless, I think that he would agree with me; that immigrants wishing to become legal citizens have not only the obligation, but the civil and legal responsibility to follow the rules of law established by any country in which they wish to become authentic citizens, just as our ancestors – both yours and mine – struggled so arduously and righteously to achieve.

    • The amazing thing to me is that you should even have to argue any of this. Obviously illegal immigration is wrong. Obviously the laws should be enforced. Obviously the effort to make objections to illegals out to be a form of bigotry or opposition to legal immigration is a dishonest smokescreen. It’s all obvious—the opposition to enforcing the laws regarding immigration is indefensible. I don’t understand how it can continue to get the respect it does.

  10. I’m writing you today to inform you of both an employer who not only knowingly hires illegal aliens, he is currently married and having an affair with one of his employees who is here illegally from Mexico. His name is Dr. Larry Stark. His business is located at 3201 West Peoria. #A100. Phoenix, Arizona. 85029.

    His receptionist, who’s birth name is Gabriela Sanchez, is the lady he is having an affair with. She goes under the assumed names of Patty Durazo, Patty Sanchez, Karla Durazo, and Julieta Durazo. She lives at 2220 West Mission Lane. #1095. Phoenix, Arizona. 85021. Her last address was 2520 West McLellan #40. Phoenix, Arizona. 85017.

    Not only is she in the United States illegally, but she is using a stolen social security number. 611-32-7757. She has also helped other illegal aliens obtain false identification after coming into the United States illegally. She is also using the Family Assistance Administration under the name Gabriela Sanchez. Her case number is 00564738.

    Her phone number is in Dr. Larry Starks name: 602-628-3116

    Her SRP bill is also listed in Dr. Larry Starks name. Account # 919-863-000

    I hope that you will address this matter immediately. When employers and employees work together to intentionally break our laws and take advantage of our justice system they need to be held accountable.

    Thank you

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