Comment of the Day: “Observations On The Illegal Immigration Ethics Train Wreck, The Ugliest Of Them All”

green-cardChris Marschner, the Ethics Alarms master of the long form comment, has delivered another. This is his analysis of what a fair, rational and ethical approach to the nation’s illegal immigration problem might look like. I’ve never read a better one, not that there are many lawmakers, and certainly not many advocates for illegals, who appear to be interested in ethics or rationality where this issue is concerned.

I don’t agree with all of Chris’s conclusions, but I would endorse his approach over any other I have seen floated by elected officials, scholars and pundits. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Observations On The Illegal Immigration Ethics Train Wreck, The Ugliest Of Them All”:

I keep hearing about the need for “comprehensive immigration reform”. My understanding of the need for reform is that something is broken or is otherwise unfair to one group or another. Reform should never take place to a policy that tilts a currently level field in the direction of a specific group. No elected leader has laid out why reform is needed and what areas are unfair or not working in the best interest of the American people – other than to deal with the undocumented immigrants currently here illegally. Thus, I have no reason to believe that we must have “comprehensive immigration reform”. If you simply want to make something not illegal, all that is needed is to rescind all the rules that make it illegal. If elected leaders want open borders and more citizens they should be able to say so unequivocally without euphemisms that create an illusion of serving the best interests of all.

In my opinion, to solve the problem of the 12 million who are here by virtue of any reason other than the legal process we cannot simply focus on the two extremes (mass deportation or pathway to citizenship). The conundrum that we face is the impracticality of mass deportations and the legal and ethical conflict of giving one ethnic/racial group special immigration privileges over those that follow the rules. Changing the legal process to obtain citizenship for one group and not anyone in the world seeking to reside here would not be in keeping with the notion of equal protection under the law. As we will not simply throw our borders wide open to all comers it stands to reason that we cannot not make special exceptions. We should ask ourselves would those that advocate for immigration reform be willing to give Europeans, Chinese, South East Asians, Africans and any other ethnic group the same advocacy on this topic. If not, they should have no standing in the matter.

Jack outlined the various groups who have jumped on the ethics train wreck and why they did so. If we evaluate the problem using some very simple assumptions and parameters we can develop a reasonable solution that will move us closer to resolving some of the social problems that impact the current citizenry and the (undocumented, illegal) immigrant.

I think that it is fair to say that the current group is not creating an undue economic problem that we are unwilling to let continue. Therefore, allowing them (the current 12 million) to remain will not wreck our economy. Secondly, no political or social advocacy group should benefit in any from the decisions made. Thirdly, we must adhere to a policy that views the separation of the family was a direct result of individual choice of the immigrant and that the United States has no moral or ethical duty to reunify them in the United States. Furthermore, we must accept the fact that we have a pathway to citizenship now – at issue is dealing with those that want to take a shortcut. It seems to me that by focusing on each core group’s issues we can reconcile this problem.

If we start with the most pressing issue facing the undocumented, that being them having to hide in the shadows, which allows the unscrupulous from exploiting their situation, because of fear of deportation then it stands to reason that by creating a narrow (say 30-60 day) window of opportunity for granting permanent legal status for those who are currently undocumented to become documented would eliminate that fear and potential exploitation by the less ethical businessperson or the gangs in the street. (aside: this solves the “finding them” issue put forth by Dragin_Dragon)

During that period have the current group register with INS to obtain a “special” legal status card while simultaneously temporarily stepping up border enforcement barring all entry during the enrollment period. Yes there is an economic consequence to us all by barring all entry but it is temporary. Sometimes you just have to stop doing something that you want to get to your ultimate goal; kind of like saving for a new home – you have to defer consumption to save enough to get something better.

Giving a permanent “Green Card” for lack of a better word, does not confer voting rights to the immigrant – legal or illegal. Those who choose not to apply for legal status during this special period would be subject to immediate deportation if found later as well as those found to be overstaying their visa or sneaking in the future. The caveat to this, or consequence to the registrant, is that those who register to become permanent through this means will be ineligible for citizenship unless they return to their home country and follow the existing legal pathway.

Ethically, there should be no permanent bar to citizenship provided the individual follows the current legal process, or whatever process is in place at the time. This eliminates this block from being exploited for political gain. It gives Republicans and Democrats no special advantage for advancing or opposing arguments for them to remain. It is not amnesty because the consequence of registering means no citizenship opportunity and failing to register with INS is immediate deportation when identified later.

For those who were born elsewhere and brought here as children decades ago they are citizens of the country of origin so they are not stateless. For them, the same pathway for full citizenship exists as any other immigrant as does an ability to stay without the possibility of voting rights. It should also be pointed out that they never took any steps to become citizens when they reached the age of majority. They must accept the fact the decisions of their parents and later, their own have created the situation they are in. It is not the responsibility of the American people to resolve that problem for them. Many Americans have issues as a result of poor parental decisions. If they were born her they already are citizens so the plan outlined above will not force the disunification of the family except by virtue of their non-citizen relative’s choice not to register under that plan.

By definition amnesty means no consequences. The current idea that someone should pay a fine to be granted legal status and a quicker path to citizenship is subject to abuse and uneven treatment. Only those that have the financial means will be able to pay so the migrant farmer or low skilled service worker making subsistence wages cannot afford to pay the fine will remain undocumented. Such a plan solves very nothing because those with means are better able to navigate the immigration process now. I reference the story in Jack’s Ethics Hero column the other day about the impact of financing small town governments using fines as justification for not using fines as a prerequisite to gaining legal status to illustrate how abuse can easily take hold.

The only good solution is a workable solution that does not confer unilateral benefits to one at the expense of the citizenry or another that seeks to become a citizen and reside in the U.S. Mass deportations would come at a huge cost to find and expel them and would undermine certain elements of the economy that we all must acknowledge we rely upon and enjoy. History tells us that blanket amnesty will only serve to protract the problem of the undocumented in the U.S. as it will signal that only the desire to get here, a willingness to hide, and a bit of patience is needed to enjoy the rights and advantages of becoming an American citizen. Neither of these is a workable solution.



2 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Observations On The Illegal Immigration Ethics Train Wreck, The Ugliest Of Them All”

  1. For those who were born elsewhere and brought here as children decades ago they are citizens of the country of origin so they are not stateless.

    Actually, that very much depends on circumstances, including the rules of the country of origin. For instance, Indonesia requires that any of its citizens who are overseas renew their citizenship periodically, usually in person in Indonesia, or they forfeit their citizenship. There could well be some of the group described who do not have any other citizenship, simply as a consequence of their situation and how they got there.

    • PM
      I am sure we can find examples of stateless persons is we tried hard enough. Trying to carve out exceptions is what is creating both legislative and social chaos on these matters.

      However, if they were required to renew their citizenship in their country of origin periodically by law then that is their responsibility to not become stateless, not ours. Any loss of status was of their own making, thus if a carve out exception is to be made then it should be made by the country of origin to allow them to repatriate.

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