Just To Review: The Ethics Of Illegal Immigration Doesn’t Change

Honduras caravan

Yes, that’s the Honduras caravan above, headed to the U.S. with the encouragement of Joe Biden.

President Biden, predictably, is making illegal immigration (or as progressives like to call it to confuse the public and call people racists, “immigration”) a priority, thus immediately resurrecting an ethics debate that has been relatively quiet lately. As background for the discussions here that will necessarily come, here is one of the articles on the topic from The Ethics Scoreboard—as long as it has mysteriously re-appeared from cyber-limbo, we might as well take advantage of it. This post is from March 27, 2006; the impetus was a bill in Congress that sought to address the illegal immigration mess, and that anyone could tell was doomed to fail, which indeed it did. Nearly 14 years later, we are having the same arguments, with the same deceit regarding the same facts and issues. It’s depressing, but the subject cannot be ducked just because it is difficult and unpleasant. The post below, then titled H.R. 4437: Impossible But Ethical” is presented as a helpful primer. (Also worth reading, “Advocate Deceit And Illegal Immigration”, from 2007.)


There are few national controversies where an ethical analysis leads so relentlessly to one conclusion. This has not stopped various commentators from using blatant rationalizations to reach other conclusions, but the following facts continue to present daunting obstacles to that exercise:

  • All nations have a right to control their borders.
  • The U.S. government has set out a legal process whereby residents of other nations can migrate to this country.
  • Those who enter the country without abiding by that process are willful lawbreakers.
  • Those citizens who harbor or otherwise assist lawbreakers are aiding and abetting unlawful activity, and therefore are also lawbreakers.
  • Because the United States has extremely generous social support policies regarding illegal immigrants and their families, the large illegal population creates an unwanted and unfair burden on communities and taxpayers.
  • The lack of political will to enforce existing immigration laws combined with minimal penalties and financial incentives has caused and will continue to cause the volume of illegal immigration to increase.
  • It is unfair for foreign citizens who enter the country illegally to benefit from their crime, and to gain advantages over foreign citizens who obey the immigration laws.
  • It is unjust for nations whose governments’ persistent corruption and failures in natural and human resource management have led to widespread poverty to demand that the U.S. open its borders.
  • It is necessary, appropriate, sensible and fair for the U.S. government to take action to eliminate the incentives for illegal immigration, increase penalties and improve enforcement.

Ethical analysis is one thing, of course, and practicalities are another. It is simply not possible to deport all of the millions of illegal immigrants currently in this country. Many of them have children who were born here, making them American citizens. Torn between the unacceptable alternatives of making virtual orphans out of American children by deporting their parents and exiling native-born children along with their parents, the country must find some approach that will allow long-time illegals to stay here, though they do not deserve to. Similarly, it is not politically realistic to arouse the emotions and enmity of millions of American citizens who have emotional ties to illegal immigrants. But these factors only make strict enforcement of the immigration laws impossible. They don’t make enforcement wrong.

The House of Representatives has passed H.R. 4437, an unrealistically tough statute that includes amendments that require construction of a wall along the Mexico border and authorize state and local police to enforce the immigration laws, along with the statute’s other tough provisions, including increased penalties for illegal immigrants and those who hire and assist them. The proposed law is on the way to the Senate, and it has sparked huge demonstrations in California and elsewhere, with protesters claiming that the law embodies racism and the violation of basic human rights. The National Council of La Raza has its spokespersons out in force, arguing against the bill by claiming that it will “criminalize immigrants, deny due process rights, and harm U.S. businesses, communities, and families.”

Like all bills, H.R. 4437 ought to be debated on its fairness, effectiveness and practicality, and it fails on all three counts. But the protesters and illegal immigrant advocacy groups like La Raza are attacking the law by making the argument that immigration laws should not be enforced-— that it is wrong to enforce them. La Raza’s deceitful description of the bill quoted above is a good example. The bill will “criminalize immigrants” only in the sense that it will designate illegal immigrants as criminal; the statement is intentionally misleading. It will “harm U.S. businesses” that depend on illegal workers; it will harm “communities” that include illegal immigrants, and “families” that consist of, depend upon, or harbor illegal immigrants. Substitute the word “criminals” for “illegal immigrants” (for that is what they are) and the criticism is exposed as stating the obvious. All law enforcement involves collateral injury to those who depend upon or are connected to lawbreakers. Accepting La Raza’s arguments would mean abandoning most enforcement of any laws.

The more sweeping ethical arguments advanced in the mass demonstrations against illegal immigration enforcement were epitomized by the many impassioned demonstrators who put themselves in front of TV cameras to say that “people have a right to make a better life for themselves,” and similar sentiments.

No, people have a right to make a better life for themselves within the boundaries of the law. Thieves are usually trying to make better lives for themselves. So are kidnappers and drug-dealers, child-molesters, counterfeiters, extortionists, sex-slave traffickers, pirates and car-jackers. The Enron executives were trying to make better lives for themselves; so was convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. Many of these people are disadvantaged, poor, desperate and needy, just like illegal immigrants, but nobody is advocating that we ignore the laws they break because they were trying to “make a better life.”

The other prominent argument coming from the demonstrators was that strict enforcement of illegal immigration laws is “racist.” This is a classic employment of a logical fallacy, which most parents reading this article will recognize as closely akin to the charge of favoritism registered by the constantly misbehaving child. “You never punish her,” the mischievous son says, pointing to his obedient sister. “You always liked her best.” Just as his parents punish the misbehaving son more frequently because of his repeated offenses and not because he is less loved, so the fact that increased penalties against illegal immigrants will disproportionately affect those of Hispanic heritage does not indicate any governmental bias against them. The bias is against lawbreakers, and that is one bias American society needs to maintain.

Also without ethical merit are arguments against punishing those who provide food, shelter, water and other “humane” assistance to illegal immigrants while shielding them from authorities. The legal duty of citizens is to report lawbreakers; the ethical duty is to protect them from physical discomfort and harm if possible. The duties exist simultaneously, however, and performing one does not eliminate the other. Permitting humanitarian assistance to lawbreakers without requiring the humanitarians to reportthem to authorities simply creates a further incentive to break the law. Those who violate immigration laws do not deserve less compassionate treatment than other human beings, but they also do not deserve to escape the consequences of their illegal activities. Dr. Samuel Mudd was imprisoned not for setting John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg while he was trying to escape after shooting Lincoln, but for harboring Booth and not reporting his location to the Federal troops. Compassion must co-exist with enforcement.

H.R. 4437 is almost certainly doomed to fail because it is unrealistic in its goals. Since it is not a good statute, does it really matter whether ethical arguments or pragmatic ones bring it down? Absolutely. The flawed ethical arguments being used to attack the law must not achieve legitimacy by being perceived as having any policy impact whatsoever. America must not adopt ethical norms that it is right for an individual to break laws “to make a better life,” or that it is wrong for a government to punish lawbreakers because their family members and communities will suffer as well. Long-standing illegals cannot be deported because of complicating factors stemming from their extended illegal conduct, but the nation must come to an ethical consensus that they deserve to be. The ethical lesson of this country’s illegal immigration fiasco is not that enforcing the immigration laws is wrong, but that when laws go unenforced for too long, it may become impossible to do right.

13 thoughts on “Just To Review: The Ethics Of Illegal Immigration Doesn’t Change

  1. My step-mother is an immigrant from Lebanon. I work with a coworker who is an immigrant from Canada. Their stances on immigration are in line with mine, as we have discussed it at length.

    The only form of immigration that should be allowed is legal immigration. The channels are clearly made and should be followed by all. Maybe it should be streamlined and made cheaper. but that is another argument that should be had once our borders are secured and current populations of illegal immigrants are transported back home. Illegal immigrants cause a lot of damage in our society by cheapening labor, stealing help that should be for citizens, and encouraging law breaking.

  2. Joe Biden just had a bust of Cesar Chavez placed in the Oval Office. Yes, Cesar Chavez who organized a militia to form ‘wet lines’ at the border to beat back illegals. And a portrait of that racist, antiSemite FDR. It’s great to finally have a real racist back in the big chair.

  3. The idea that it’s racist to keep people from crossing our border illegally flies in the face of all of our immigration policies. Africans, Asians and Europeans have to follow the same guidelines. What these advocates are really asking for is special treatment for Latinas.

  4. Illegal immigration and eventual amnesty is ultimately using people to further one’s own objectives. Make no mistake the ultimate goal is to make more voters beholden to Democrats.

    • Bullseye. Create a new underclass who are dependent on Democrat largesse. The Democratic Party is notorious for using people as pawns

      • Yes BUT. The presumption that the new Americans will all be complacent progressives and Democrats is naive and historically false. First, most of the 11 million (I bet it’s more than that) won’t venture to go through all the steps. Second, the cloud of “amnesty” will turn many moderate Americans, especially those whose jobs are at risk, against the policy. Third, by the time the illegals are legal and can vote, they will have other concerns. In this respect, illegal immigrants won’t be any different from the legal kind. A lot of them are natural conservatives.

  5. OUR children are too fat, or starving to death (depending on the narrative du jour), aren’t well-educated enough, don’t get adequate health care, won’t have the life expectancy/economic opportunities of their parents.

    Speaking of the parents: they have wage stagnation, no savings, poor job prospects, are two days away from the dole themselves, and the ones that aren’t already homeless will be by the end of the month, ad infinitum ad nauseum.

    Yet Lefty wants the U.S. to take on mucho más more that will need services several orders of magnitude greater?

    I’m not a math/macro-economics guy, but harsh as it appears, picking up strays isn’t a viable long-term strategy, regardless of how deftly it ramps one’s Messiah Complex endorphins.

    How much longer do you believe the leader and friend to free people and people seeking freedom can afford to continue as:
    *the world’s free haberdasher,
    *the world’s free clinic,
    *the world’s free landlord,
    *the world’s free smorgasbord,
    *the world’s free babysitter,
    *the world’s free mental health provider,
    *the world’s free jobs training/placement provider
    *the world’s free educator,
    *the world’s free transportation service,
    *the world’s free police force,
    *the world’s free disaster relief repository, etc., etc., etc.?

    Free (frē) adverb: At _The_Expense_Of_Others.

  6. Don’t worry. As soon as one commits a felony (in the US)… and is caught…and tried and convicted…and gone through all his appeals, Puppetjoe will consider deporting THAT one.

    • They are not prosecuting illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities and states for most crimes. Illegal immigrants seem to be placed in a special category that makes them above the law. Prosecuting them might lead to them being deported, so they do not prosecute. This is creating a 2 tiered justice system that says only citizens will be punished for breaking the law.

  7. Just so we understand the positions, “Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urged incoming President Joe Biden to provide legal immigration status to Mexican nationals working in the U.S.” Think about that for a moment. How awesome is that? Pretty frickin’ awesome, if you ask me. Mexico can’t control its own country and cannot provide a system where social mobility exists. In fact, Mexico relies on illegal immigration as an escape valve: If not for illegally entering the US, those without jobs and money to feed themselves and their families would riot in the streets (yeah, and not just in Portland, OR). Mexico’s two biggest sources of money are oil and money transferred to Mexico from the US. Check out this article from The Hill:


    And, then there is this interview with a “migrant” from Honduras (my wife thinks he is not Latin American but from the Middle East.


    He said, “I just want patience and prayers that we can get to the U.S. because they [will] have a new president, Biden,” the migrant said. “He’s going to help all of us, he’s giving us 100 days to get to the U.S. and give us [legal] papers, so we can get a better life for our kids, and for our families.”


  8. I don’t reply often because I’m not as educated or worldly wise as you and most of your followers. I follow you to learn things I would never learn except through you. But this time I decided to put in my two cents worth of questions. 1) If all laws are not enforced how can any law be? 2) If lawbreakers are judged on motive instead of action, then murderers, thieves, etc. should be given a pass as well if their motives evoke sympathy for them, right?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.