Ethics Dunce: Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle


Look up "Ethics Dunce" in my dictionary, and this picture is under it.

The “Ethics Dunce” designation was invented for people like Texas Republican state Rep. Debbie Riddle.


She has proposed one of the many anti-illegal immigration bills currently being considered in the Texas state legislature. Her brainchild, and I use that term generously, is House Bill 2012. Man, it’s tough! It  would punish those who  “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” hire unauthorized immigrants with penalties up to two years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

Riddle does have what she considers a reasonable exception, however. She believes it is dastardly to hire illegals, rewarding their disregard of our immigration procedures and willful violation of our laws, and creating an incentive for others to do the same…unless they are hiring a maid, a lawn caretaker or another houseworker!

How does she justify this? Her colleague and fellow Ethics Dunce state Rep. Aaron Pena, also a Republican, explains:  “When it comes to household employees or yard workers it is extremely common for Texans to hire people who are likely undocumented workers,” Pena said. Meanwhile,Riddle’s chief of staff, Jon English, explained to the press that the exception was put in the bill to avoid “stifling the economic engine” in Texas.

Riddle is a disgrace. Excepting household workers from a anti-immigration laws renders the law impotent and self-contradictory, just like the current U.S. immigration policy, of which it is almost a perfect microcosm. It guarantees a measure without integrity that sends a mixed enforcement message and does nothing to stop the long-standing deplorable “we don’t want you but somebody has to do those menial jobs” attitude that has paralyzed our immigration policy for decades.

Her bill is cynical, posing as a tough measure but refusing to inconvenience anti-immigration hypocrites who can’t find maids, and ethically idiotic, enshrining “everybody does it, so it’s not wrong” logic for the Texans who are happy to employ scofflaws when they need their lawns mowed, while rejecting it for a business that needs someone to dig some holes.

No one needs to dig any holes, however, in Debbie Riddle’s ethics, integrity or logic. There are plenty already.


Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, U.S. Society, Workplace

34 responses to “Ethics Dunce: Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle

  1. Pingback: Ethics Dunce: Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle (via Ethics Alarms) « Pilant's Business Ethics Blog

  2. Eric

    The exceptions may not be unwarranted or unjust. It might be unjust to hold single family homes to the same standard as large businesses because they have less ability to verify that a worker is legally entitled to work (both in terms of having less money and less knowledge about how to check a worker’s status).

    I still think the law is unethical to totally exempt single family employers from such a scheme (but I could understand mandating a lesser penalty).

    • Variable penalties, sure. Hiring illegals knowingly is aiding and abetting cheating, lawless behavior, and a serious social, demographic and financial problem. We should have no tolerance for it, no matter who the culprit is.

      • ray cooley

        No politician should advocate breaking any law of this land. They should not amend or allow to be amended any law just for the convenience of a few. If they do, or try to, they should be removed from office instantly. Politicians must learn that they do NOT run this country. The voters do. This sounds far too much like something they’d do in California, than in Texas. We are in hard times now and its time for the brace, strong side of Texas to step forward and toe the line. If you can’t, then get the hell out of the way and make room for a real Texan to step up.

        • Eric

          Yes, but the punishment must fit the crime. It may be right to be more lenient on single family homeowners who know less about how to check status than large corporations (who know better). The law would not be amended for the convenience of a few but to prevent holding many people who do not know better liable.

        • Curmudgeon

          Ray Cooley, as a California resident, I am puzzled. What is the basis for your contention that, in essence, Californians are less ethical than Texans?

          (“Anything that can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” — Sam Harris.)

  3. Here’s a potential solution worth considering. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal workers. To comply with this law, employers must collect information regarding an employee’s identity and employment eligibility and document that information on Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, no later than three business days from when the employee begins work for pay. There’s no good reason for a homeowner to not check the required documents and require household employees to fill out the I-9. Then, this information could be verified through E-Verify — assuming government cooperation.

    E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows companies to verify the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. E-Verify is closely linked to Form I-9 and strengthens the Form I-9 employment eligibility verification process that all employers, by law, must follow. Though all employers must verify their employees’ employment eligibility with Form I 9, participation in E-Verify is usually voluntary. Some employers may be required by state law or federal regulation to use E-Verify. For example, most employers in Arizona and Mississippi are required to use E-Verify. In addition, participation in E-Verify is required for employers with certain types of government contracts, such as federal contracts that contain a clause requiring E-Verify use. E-Verify compares information from the I-9 to data from U.S Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.

    • Absolutely. It would also avoid the Meg Whitman tap-dancing about being deceived, though there was plenty of smoke to suggest that an immigration problem was worth investigating. Thanks for the details.

    • Curmudgeon

      E-Verify has a reputation for inaccuracy, false positives, etc., nearly as bad as that of the No-Fly List.

  4. Elizabeth


    Clearly doesn’t have a BUSINESS that needs to hire undocumented workers, but she DOES NEED HOUSEHOLD WORKERS. How convenient that her bill would answer what are clearly her personal needs, and really, really punish others who break Federal immigration laws. A bit transparent, don’t you think? What a moron…

  5. Tim LeVier

    With a house cleaner or lawn care, aren’t you purchasing a service? Doesn’t that make you the client and not the employer? Only the rich who would have full time employees doing these jobs every day of the week would be the employers.

    • Dawn A

      I think that’s the point of the exemption, Tim. It’s for the wealthier individuals and families who want live-in help such as nannies, maids, and gardeners at poverty-level pay grades. I don’t think Merry Maids could justify an exemption.

  6. Joshua

    I do not understand how some people can ignore the illegal in illegal alien. Are we redefining the meaning of illegal? I know CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and a few other places no longer use the word illegal. They use the phrase “undocumented worker.” Doing such is like calling a murderer an “unintentional life changer.” Or a bank robber a “money changer.”

    This woman should be kicked out of office for this hypocritical BS. In fact, any politician who uses the phrase “undocumented worker” or believes illegal aliens are not a problem needs to be removed from office.

    It is a law for a reason. How will they be taxed? What will they do to prove they are who they are?

    There are proper channels to go through to become a legal immigrant to this nation. It isn’t that difficult. Jumping across a border, stowing away on a transport freighter, or hiding on a plane to get here in America is criminal. Deportation should be mandatory unless the person breaks more laws which requires further prosecution.

    • I agree on all counts. The use of “immigration” for “illegal immigration” is sometimes lazy, but more often a disreputable attempt at rhetorical jujitsu, allowing the critic to argue that those who want to enforce out laws are “anti-immigrant.” It shouldn’t be tolerated. “Undocumented worker” is a misleading euphemism, designed to obscure the problem. Any writer or politician who uses it should be called on it, and is not trustworthy.

      • Joshua

        I’m flummoxed by this entire issue. If you speak out against illegal aliens you are condemned as a racist against Mexicans.

        Do people not know there are more illegal aliens than Mexicans? They may just be the largest group of illegal aliens but they are not the sole illegal aliens.

        Our Federal Government should be enforcing the law; not filing a lawsuit against a state because it wishes to enforce a law.

    • ray cooley

      I agree wholeheartedly. We need an easier way to get bad elected officials out of office before they can do much harm.

  7. Tony

    I have thought long and hard about how to respond to your assertion that this exemption in the proposed immigration law is perpetuating the continuing problem of illegal immigration and there are just so many things that make your stance incorrect the most succinct response I can come up with is “you’re an idiot.” Enjoy.

    • Thanks, Tony! I especially enjoy how you display your expertise regarding idiocy by admitting that you thought “long and hard” about why providing a huge and unjustifiable loophole in a law aimed at discouraging illegal immigrants helped to perpetrate the phenomenon! Wow, what a head scratcher! Whatever could be the answer?

      Then, to demonstrate that your familiarity with idiocy was no illusion or bald claim, you went a step further, revealing that the most cogent and well-reasoned argument you could come up with—after pondering long and hard, of course—is—wait for it— “you’re an idiot!” (Actually, you misspelled “you’re” but I fixed—oh NO! Was that also part of your proof of your expertise on idiocy? Did you think “long and hard” about how to spell “You’re” and then spell it “your”? I bet it was! I’m so sorry, Tony!!! Come on, give me another chance—think long and hard and come up with an appropriately witty and carefully thought out rejoinder to this reply, like, oh, I don’t know—“Up yours!” or “So’s your old man!”

    • Joshua

      That is such a compelling argument. How can we ever contend with such high and mighty intelligence and strength of conviction! Oh woe is us of the peon class unable to understand your compelling assertions.

      Without an actually argument to speak of, I will have to go with “you’re an idiot.”

      If you can tell us why the exemption is okay, I will retract my statement. Until then, enjoy an IQ below room temperature in the arctic.

  8. mk

    I have a problem with your statement, ““we don’t want you but somebody has to do those menial jobs” attitude that has paralyzed our immigration policy for decades.”

    That attitude stems from a culture of enslaving Black folk, and I wish people who spoke about the attitudes around modern immigration policy , could admit it

    • What’s your “problem?”? I worked in this area in the U.S. Chamber years ago—do you know how often I heard that argument? Do you deny that it is heard constantly? It is an objectionable rationalization, whatever its root.

  9. Texas Lawyer

    I think your post is not only over the top but unwarranted. Like most main stream media, you have jumped on a headline that looks like a big deal which actually isn’t. Very few people hire full-time “employees” as maids, lawn caretakers or houseworkers. The issue, as addressed above, is whether the once-a-week lawn guy or maid is “hired” under this law (see the “Nanny Tax” to see if the Federal Gov’t considers these people employees). This exception just wants to make clear that the people who hire these types of services aren’t required to do their due diligence (also addressed above; Form I-9, E-verify, etc.) to verify citizenship or risk a $10K fine. Besides that, your post doesn’t even address whether you think the law is a bad idea or just the exception, although you do manage to be very derogatory.

    • I’m an ethicist, not a political policy commentator. If you’ll read other posts on the blog, you’ll see that I have no sympathy with illegal immigration, or the children of illegal immigrants, or the governments failure to enforce the immigration laws. It is either wrong to help people here illegally by hiring them, or it isn’t. It is. The argument put forth for the exception was “so many people have illegals as household help,” to which the various answers are, 1) Well, they shouldn’t 2) That’s too damn bad, 3) That doesn’t make it right, and 4) It still has to stop.

      The bill, as written, says that it’s OK to provide an economic incentive to illegals as long as you hire them for certain jobs. That’s absurd, a double standard, and beyond stupid. You’re arguing about terms; the whole concept of the exception is outrageous.

      • Texas Lawyer

        I have no problem with your opinion or response. But I wonder would you prefer the law not be introduced, thus not enforcing fines against employers for hiring illegal immigrants, or that the law be introduced without the exception, thus imposing a fine on me for hiring someone to mow my yard without checking his papers? B/c not having read the bill, it seams they are trying to enforce the law, but being reasonable about the practical application.

        • The latter. We hired a Guatamalan nanny years ago, and I never though about her as a possible illegal. She was. Now I would request to see confirmation of citizenship, and do due diligence. If I suspected that she was illegal, and didn’t have convincing proof to the contrary, I would not hire her. A law back then would focus my attention on the task very effectively. Checking citizenship isn’t that burdensome, and it isn’t unreasonable to expect every citizen to do his or her part in addressing a serious problem. Whatever its supposed intent ( the bill is ridiculously drafted), it appears to say, “we want to stop illegals, except when they are OUR illegals.”

  10. Alena

    Sorry about the above posts – please delete if possible. The # on the bill you have listed here is wrong.
    I have found the Bill NO 1202:

    82R996 KCR-D

    By: Riddle H.B. No. 1202

    AN ACT
    relating to the creation of the offense of employing or contracting
    with an unauthorized alien.
    SECTION 1. The heading to Title 8, Penal Code, is amended to
    read as follows:
    SECTION 2. Title 8, Penal Code, is amended by adding Chapter
    40 to read as follows:
    Sec. 40.01. DEFINITION. In this chapter, “unauthorized
    alien” has the meaning assigned by 8 U.S.C. Section 1324a(h)(3).
    ALIEN. (a) A person commits an offense if the person
    intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:
    (1) employs an unauthorized alien;
    (2) contracts for the performance of labor or other
    work with an unauthorized alien; or
    (3) contracts or subcontracts for the performance of
    labor or other work with another person the actor knows will employ
    or contract with an unauthorized alien to perform labor or other
    work under the contract or subcontract.
    (b) An offense under this section is a state jail felony.
    Sec. 40.03. EXCEPTIONS. It is an exception to the
    application of Section 40.02 that the actor:
    (1) employed or contracted with the unauthorized
    alien, or entered into a contract or subcontract described by
    Section 40.02(a)(3), for the purpose of obtaining labor or other
    work to be performed exclusively or primarily at a single-family
    residence in which the actor resides; or
    (2) attempted to verify the unauthorized alien’s
    immigration status or work authorization in a manner that is more
    likely than not to produce a correct and reliable result concerning
    an individual’s immigration status or work authorization and had no
    knowledge of the unauthorized alien’s actual immigration status or
    work authorization.
    SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2011.

  11. Pingback: An exception for ‘the help’ in an anti-illegal immigration bill: good, bad, or ugly reality? | MULTI-AMERICAN

  12. Dear Jack: I’m coming into this WAY late, but I thought I’d add my two cents. I KNOW Debbie Riddle. She’s a highly respected legislator here in the Houston area. I’m sure that her “exception” has sparked by the same circumstances by which California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitson was blindsided in the late campaign. It’s all too easy- especially if you live in a “sanctuary city” in a border state, to hire domestic help that’s being performed by illegal aliens. Every week, people (who can barely speak English) come by my modest Houston home offering to mow my lawn or dig up that ugly stump on my front yard for reasonable terms. In Houston, unless you perform a difficult and legally questionable background check, it’s almost impossible to tell who’s legal and who’s not. And if he’s not, nothing will happen to him anyway, as he’s in a Sanctuary. Mrs. Riddle’s bill is aimed at stopping illegal immigration at its source, as the federal government should be doing already. I agree, from my vantage point at the ground level, that it’s unfair to burden homeowners with the near impossible chore of doing what our tax-supported agencies are failing or refuse to do themselves. The Pro-Illegal people, as I’ve pointed out, use this issue as a means of crucifying their opponents as hypocrites. In fact (and as usual) the hypocrisy is on their side. To them, its power politics. To Debbie Riddle, its an issue of law and morality.

  13. As you say, Jack, it was likely badly worded. More than one otherwise good bill has come to grief because of a hurried schedule, incompetant staffwork or just plain flubbery! In fact, this may have been the very bill that got thrown back into committee just recently because of a few misplaced words… as objected to by a single Democrat legislator. Unless you dot every “i”, you leave an opening for a procedural delay; even when your party enjoys a supermajority in the State House.

  14. Pingback: Ethics Dunce: Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle (via Ethics Alarms) - Pilant's Business Ethics | Pilant's Business Ethics

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