Comment Of The Day (And Poll Results!): “Meet The Passionate Ethics Dunce Confronting Public Figures With Their Immigrant Histories…”

I decided that this one was too stupid for the poll…

I want to express my gratitude to veteran Ethics Alarms commenter and previous Commenter of the Year texagg04 for another of his epic contributions, this one following up on my poll asking readers to vote for the worst of 15 commonly used justifications for tolerating illegal immigrants. Rather than choose the worst—“stupidest,” in Tex’s parlance that I approve of in this matter—he ranked them from stupidest to least stupid, after commenting on each and explaining what each signifies.

The Most Stupid in his ranking is also the most sinister and the most important: “Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.” The entire pro-illegal immigration movement has adopted the strategy of impugning opponents as racist or xenophobic  to both stifle legitimate debate while demonizing the rule of law and immigration restrictions.

The poll that ended the January 22 Ethics Alarms post about Jennifer Mendelsohn , who thinks that if you had a legal immigrant in your lineage you are a hypocrite to advocate enforcing immigration laws attracted 239 votes, and Ethics Alarms record (multiple choices were allowed). The final results with percentages of votes cast:

“Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.” 19.67%

“We stole their country, so it’s really theirs to use as they please.” 12.55%

“We’re a nation of immigrants.” 11.3%

“The words on the Statue of Liberty!” 7.95%

“They do jobs Americans won’t do.” 7.53%

“Think of the children!” 6.69%

“Illegal immigration is an act of love.” 5.44% (tie)

“They just want a better life.”  5.44% (tie)

“They aren’t hurting anybody.” 5.44% (tie)

“Our economy depends on them.” 5.02%

“They aren’t really criminals.”  4.18%

“We’re a compassionate people.” 3.77%

“You would do it too, if you were them.” 2.93%

“It’s a dumb law.”  2.09%

Here is texagg04′ s Comment of the Day on the poll included in Meet The Passionate Ethics Dunce Confronting Public Figures With Their Immigrant Histories As If It Proves Anything:

“We’re a compassionate people.”
Yes, we are. Americans should, when, 1st, Security can be ensured AND, 2nd, our internal needs prioritized and accommodated, seek to alleviate the sufferings of others. This alleviation should come firstly through affecting positive change WITHIN the suffering nation to lead it to a more tolerable condition and only finally through allowing the sufferers asylum within our borders. This is, however, nuanced. Depending on the originating culture and it’s similarity to our own, certain controls on incoming populations would need to be considered, such as observation, duration, mobility, until it can be reasonably established that the incoming population can be returned to its home or that it is assimilating smoothly into the greater population. But, this only applies to policies governing legal immigration. We cannot have “chronic” compassion for law-breakers…see the arguments related to Rule of Law.

“The words on the Statue of Liberty!”
There can be two or more interpretations of this. A low form argument is essentially an emotion-addled twit citing the line rote because they think that somehow the poem inherently has bearing on nation policy. A high form of the argument actually does take into consideration the values of compassion enshrined in the relevant verses, but it gets a slight bump up because of the line “yearning to be free”. It doesn’t completely go above “Compassionate People” because as a poem, “yearning to be free” is too vague, but it doesn’t go below because, interpreted correctly, “yearning to be free” comes with weighty baggage that implies we expect something out of the arrivals that will contribute to American liberty in a good way.

“We stole their country, so it’s really theirs to use as they please.”
I’ve never heard this in regards to immigration in general. I’ve heard it used in regards to Mexicans, and only in regards to the frontier states: California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. So, this is another one I’ll refrain from ranking. Though it’s a pretty stupid argument.

“It’s a dumb law.” & “They aren’t really criminals.”
Going down this road, the next conclusion is that “It’s a dumb law” (though, in fairness, this conclusion will be reached if any of the other rationalizations from the list are believed). While this may be true, it is still THE law–it MUST be enforced, for the reasons already mentioned. Because this is a final conclusion rather than a supporting rationalization, I’m not certain where it can be ranked in the list.

“Our economy depends on them.”
This appears to be a rewording of “They do jobs American’s won’t do”, with the added flavor of being especially unethical. It does seem that the value each individual puts into the community does differentiate them from others on an individual level in terms of a value–that is a hard worker IS more valuable than a lazy worker, a creative worker is more valuable than a dullard. OF COURSE the intrinsic value of an individual human surpasses other entities by EXPONENTIAL leaps and bounds that we can never ethically disregard any one human as some sort of chattel or expendable item, so we should be leery of any claim that immigrants are needed because it boosts our economy.

It would seem that an immigrant who will put MORE effort into local commerce is MORE valuable to the economy than a native who will only half-heartedly do a task, but can we claim from a macro-level that we should let more immigrants in because “it is good” for the economy. That seems to be a policy that makes individuals a means to an end, and therefore a violation of basic Kantian ethics. But I am conflicted here, because what is good for the economy, is generally vicariously good for the whole community–the new immigrant included, since it’s inevitably a team effort. So I am still working out this conflict.

This ranks high on the list because at least it takes into account the interests of receiving population as well as the incoming.

“Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.”
This is just a smear, it doesn’t seek to justify illegal immigration before impugning its opposition, rather it uses the insult to presume that illegal immigration has no valid opposition, that the only reason anyone opposes illegal immigration is because some people oppose immigration on racial grounds. Whether or not some people oppose legal immigration out of xenophobia, the argument is a complete non-sequitur for evaluating a stance about illegal immigration. This being an outright insult, earns it the lowest spot on the list, just below the low form argument “Words on the Statue of Liberty”.

“They just want a better life.”
This, like the economy arguments are stronger than most on the list. This points directly to our founding values of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Given that it’s evaluation doesn’t rely on how it benefits the receiving population and therefore doesn’t see the individual as a tool to better the rest, but on the individuals in question, this ranks above the two “Economy” arguments, contending with the “Economy depends on them” for the top spot (and only if the latter is reworded in a more Kant friendly manner).

“Illegal immigration is an act of love.”
I’m not sure I’ve heard this one before, and I may be classifying it incorrectly. This could be interpreted in two or more ways. The first way being: “Tolerating illegal immigration is an act of love”. If interpreted this way, it should be nested with the group clustered around “We’re a compassionate people” and fall much lower on the scale. The second way being a direct interpretation with no assumptions added: Illegal Immigration is an act of love on the part of the illegal immigrant for his/her family, which is why its nested it here.

“They aren’t hurting anybody.”
These three may as well be one argument, as they seem to be rewordings of the same idea: “No harm, no foul” and “If it isn’t unethical, it shouldn’t be illegal”. These are ultimately diversions and get bumped very low on the valid argument list. But at least that first one in the cluster starts on semi-ethical grounds…or better yet very shaky ethical grounds. In the best case scenario they immediately go to work and contribute to the community…but even in that scenario, they add unregulated competition to natives who are bound more solidly to regulations…this is a type of harm. Vicariously, tolerating their presence is an assault on Rule of Law, and no Republic lasts that doesn’t *religiously* guard Rule of Law against chronic violation.

“They do jobs Americans won’t do.”
This IS true to a degree. There are a lot of low skill low pay tasks that our economy demands, and many natives are convinced they are “above” such work.

But there’s another side to this: They do a lot of things American’s CAN’T do because we’ve regulated the hell out an individual’s ability to simply up stakes and start a business with little to no capital by simply ignoring the bureaucratic hoops and other governmentally imposed start-up costs. These are obstacles whose risks pale in comparison to the risk of being deported, so the gamble is worth it to make some scratch…to a citizen, the risk of just starting a business bypassing regulation vastly outweighs any other risk faced.

This ranks high on the list because at least it takes into account the interests of receiving population as well as the incoming.

“We’re a nation of immigrants.”
At worst this is a non-sequitur that analogizes my legally immigrated ancestors with modern illegal immigrants. At best it seeks to obligate the present nation to past practices. Though I am copacetic with the concept of the Debt Against the Living, it cannot be a principle that unwaveringly obligates the modern generation to practice the policies of the past if conditions have changed substantively enough that those policies are either detrimental or no longer beneficial. Because, at worst and, in this case, most likely analysis is that this is non-sequitur, it’s reliance on illogic gets it demoted to the bottom of the list, but since it isn’t outright insulting, it lands above “Racist” and “You Would Too”.

“Think of the children!”
This is the un-thinking man’s version of “Compassionate People”.

“You would do it too, if you were them.”
No, you have no idea what I would do if I were in a potential illegal immigrants shoes. Would I stay and fight the good fight in my home country? Would I desperately seek legal paths of immigration while doing so? Would I illegally immigrate if the conditions became such that I’d have to roll the dice with a receiving country’s laws? You have no idea. This is semi-insulting diversion and so ranks above the outright insult of “Racist” and below the simple illogic of “Nation of Immigrants”.


All of this considered, here’s how I rank the list, from Stupidest rationalization to “Least stupid rationalization” for illegal immigration:

1 – “Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.”
2 – “You would do it too, if you were them.” (ad hominem version of “They just want a better life”)
3 – “We’re a nation of immigrants.”
4 – “Think of the children!”
5 – “The words on the Statue of Liberty!” (Low interpretation)
6 – “Illegal immigration is an act of love.” (Low interpretation)
7 (tie) – “The words on the Statue of Liberty!” (High interpretation)
7 (tie) – “We’re a compassionate people.”
9 – “They aren’t hurting anybody.”
10 – “They do jobs Americans won’t do.”
11(tie) – “Our economy depends on them.” (If reworded to be more compliant with Kant)
11(tie) – “They just want a better life.”
corollary: “Illegal immigration is an act of love.” (High interpretation)

The two I don’t know how to rank, because I think they are the conclusions people derive after using the rationalizations above:

1 – “It’s a dumb law.”
2 – “They aren’t really criminals.”

The last one that I’ve never really heard in terms of immigration:

1- “We stole their country, so it’s really theirs to use as they please.”

22 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day (And Poll Results!): “Meet The Passionate Ethics Dunce Confronting Public Figures With Their Immigrant Histories…”

  1. Groan. There are alot of little artifacts in those paragraphs that indicate I had organized them entirely differently in the first draft. I originally clustered them into groups of rationalizations of the same “flavor”.

    But, thanks!

    • Stipulating that I think all of them are terrible, divided into divisions of Levels of Stupidity:

      “Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.”
      “The words on the Statue of Liberty!”
      “We stole their country, so it’s really theirs to use as they please.”
      “We’re a nation of immigrants.”

      “We’re a compassionate people.”
      “They just want a better life.”
      “It’s a dumb law.”
      “Illegal immigration is an act of love.”

      “They aren’t hurting anybody.”
      “Think of the children!”
      “Our economy depends on them.”
      “They aren’t really criminals.”

      “They do jobs Americans won’t do.”
      “You would do it too, if you were them.”

  2. Some people argue that “they do jobs Americans won’t do”. As someone who picked fruit when I was a teenager, I believe I am qualified to insist that the phrase should be adjusted to say “they do jobs Americans won’t do FOR SLAVE WAGES”. Once you eliminate the supply of illegal workers willing to overlook basic workplace standards, wages rise. Arizona witnessed that phenomenon when it became less accommodating to illegal workers: Unemployment in construction trades dropped and wages advanced.

    • Yes! I looked up how seasonal workers are paid, and the wages are abysmal. They’re paid by the crate or bag, not by the hour, and even the fastest workers don’t make much. What these people are advocating, whether they realize it or not, when they say ‘If we stop immigration our economy will take a hit,’ is legalized modern day slavery. The pickers live hand to mouth, and have neither a safety net nor rights in order that American fruit (especially) and vegetables can be cheapest in the world. They’re willing to trap people in a hideous system and break the law for cheap grapes.

      • I’m sorry. I mistyped my email address on the previous comment and has to be moderated. Sorry to make extra work for you, Jack!

      • Crella, the pickers are the worst of it, yes, but this is an across-the-board problem. West Texas ranchers hire illegals at $2.00 an hour. I don’t know what the King Ranch pays it’s wranglers, but I’d bet, for the illegals, it’s well below minimum wage. Corporate America is using illegals anywhere it can, at starvation wages, to keep prices low. Why? Because our Unions have jacked wages up to a point that consumer goods are no longer affordable. The only way to make them affordable, and, hence, marketable is to reduce unskilled labor costs. There is a solution, but it will never happen, because it involves reducing the power of the labor unions, and penalizing corporations who hire illegals as slaves.

  3. A good comment, Tex. Didn’t have the time to come back and read it yesterday, so I’m glad Jack posted it as a COTD. I especially like how you break down the use of the Lazarus poem into low and high interpretations.

    Jack – this morning before I checked your site, it crossed my mind that you might have missed “No human is illegal.” You’re right that it is indeed a spectacularly stupid argument, but I’m not sure it’s much stupider than “They aren’t really criminals” or “Illegal immigration is an act of love.” It fell out of the Elie Wiesel. The full(er) quote is:

    “You who are called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illlegal? How can a human being be illegal?”

    Wiesel should know what he’s talking about, right? He survived a regime in which his people were regarded as “illegal” and rounded up for systematic extermination, he wrote a well-known book about it that most of us have read, and he’s a Nobel laureate!

    But the whole thing is a non sequitur. Immigration law doesn’t outlaw human beings. It establishes how foreigners may legally enter and stay in the country, and how they will be penalized if they do not abide by the legal immigration process. In short, it outlaws acts, not persons. “Illegal alien” is basically a term of art for a foreigner who has entered or stayed in our country by violating our laws.

    Even though it’s a non sequitur, Wiesel’s argument is made more egregious because of his own experience as a well-known Holocaust survivor. Without having to say it, those who quote him this way implicitly compare the treatment of illegal aliens in America to the fate of European Jewry under Nazi rule. It’s more outrageous than “You’re a racist/xenophobe!”

    Another bad argument, a perhaps less intelligent variation of “We stole their land,” is “The border crossed them before they crossed it.” It’s literally false—Mexicans who remained in the territory ceded to the US became American citizens, and none of those who illegally cross into the US over our southern border were around when the land was ceded.

  4. ““We stole their country, so it’s really theirs to use as they please.”
    I’ve never heard this in regards to immigration in general. I’ve heard it used in regards to Mexicans, and only in regards to the frontier states: California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. So, this is another one I’ll refrain from ranking. Though it’s a pretty stupid argument.”

    Agreed. I interpret that as the same as the argument that we ripped off the Indians, so we have no right to insist that our immigration laws be enforced.

    • A variation I have heard is, “Our ancestors stole the country and wiped out native populations with war, disease, and oppression, so we have no right to impose rules and regulations on those coming here, either legally or illegally”. It is idiotic and nihilistic.


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