The ethical challenges of immigration activism

Activists for illegal immigrants often seem to assume that they occupy the ethical high ground. To a degree, that’s true; after all, trying to help those in need is obviously a highly-commendable enterprise. That said, they are also sometimes too quick to characterize those who see things different as moral bankrupts. Allow me to suggest that the issues are more complicated than they might seem at first blush, and that activists ought to at least consider what may be the unintended consequences of their actions.

A new report from the Gallup Organization, What If There Were 42 Million at the Border?”, ought to give everyone pause. It shows that of the 120 million people in Latin American and the Caribbean who want to migrate elsewhere, Gallup analytics estimates “42 million want to come to the U.S.”

Of that number, Gallup says that a “full 5 million [of those] planning to move in the next 12 months say they are moving to the U.S…” (Emphasis added.)

America must treat fairly all of the 158 million people around the world who want to migrate to the U.S.

No nation – not even the U.S. – can handle an influx of five million people from one region in a single year.  This is particularly so given that there are 158 million people around the globe want to come to this country. If the rule of law is to be maintained, the U.S. also needs to be respectful of those who are trying to immigrate in a lawful fashion. Didn’t then-Senator Barack Obama make an important moral and ethical point in 2005 when he called for fairness to the “line of people” wanting to come to the U.S.? Recall that he said:

“We are a generous and welcoming people, here in the United States, but those who enter the country illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law and they are showing disregard for those who are following the law.

We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States, undetected, undocumented, unchecked and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently and lawfully to become immigrants in this country.” (Emphasis added.)

We must be fair to all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and not seem to privilege those who enter – or try to enter – the country illegally. Why would we want to favor those who are breaking the law over immigrants who are supporting the rule of law?

Most everyone agrees that the process needs improvement, but shouldn’t we follow current law while it’s in place? Or should we imprint on the minds of thousands – perhaps millions – of people that the law isn’t taken seriously here – and that you can break it without consequences? Is that the message we want people living in our country to think – that the law doesn’t matter? What would that portend for the future?

Looting of human capital?

Any discussion of immigration needs to address a difficult moral question: is there a point where the facilitation of migration – legal or illegal – becomes, de facto, the looting of human capital from countries which desperately need it? We are told – and the facts seem to support it – that most of the Latin American countries from which the migrants who are trying to enter the U.S. illegally are leaving are ones overwhelmed by violent crime, poverty, and political corruption.

Here’s a corollary dilemma: if those coming to the U.S. from these desperate locations really are themselves law-abiding and industrious as the activists insist, who will be left to build (or rebuild) a decent society in their home countries?

Shouldn’t we ask ourselves these questions: is it really the right thing to do to be part of a process that helps to deprive a nation of some of its best talent? Aren’t such people the very ones who are needed to end the cycles of misery that, we are told, make their home nations such untenable places to live that parents are sending their children by the tens of thousands to make the dangerous trip to the U.S. unaccompanied? (Vox reported in late January that the “number of migrants under 18 apprehended in 2018 likely approached its previous peak in the mid-2000s.”)

America’s moral obligations

Of course, the U.S. should be helping our neighbors build institutions and take other measures that can help address the root causes of the chaos that is driving illegal immigration to the U.S.

This isn’t a matter of American benevolence, but rather a recognition by the U.S. that many of the problems in Central America are, as General John Kelly concluded,fueled by the U.S. demand for drugs.”

Thus, the recent announcement that the U.S. is committing billions of dollars toward development in Central America and Mexico as part of a plan to strengthen economies in the region and curb illegal immigration,” is a step in the right direction, but we need even more creative thinking to find permanent answers.

The challenge: addressing humanitarian needs while avoiding unintended consequences

We also, however, need the right people to still be in the countries in question to accept the help the U.S. can and should offer. Yes, there are certainly some number – perhaps hundreds of thousands (and particularly children) – to whom we must grant asylum, refugee, and other immigration statuses in this country.  No question about that.

And make no mistake about it, in the long run, studies show that immigrants are good for the U.S. economy – especially when the second-generation is included in the statistics.

Nevertheless, we all need to be conscious of the potential moral cost of what may, in effect, be the expropriation of intellectual wealth from Latin America.  Avoiding the unintended consequences of stripping too much talent from a region that too often has suffered exploitation of its people is an ethical issue of the first order and one with which we all must grapple.

We owe our neighbors to the south nothing less.

Still, as we like to say at Lawfire®, check the facts, assess the law and the arguments, and decide for yourself!



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