Sunday, May 21, 2006

Immigration "reform" (Sean)

On a recent visit to the department building’s cafeteria, I realized that the regular cashier, a young Brazilian woman, was not there and had not been there for at least a week. I asked one of the other workers where she was and learned that she had been fired because she lacked proper papers. If other businesses are also purging their staff of undocumented workers in anticipation of more exacting penalties from the government for violating the law, she will probably have a tough time finding work. Assuming, as seems safe, that she does not have a nest egg saved up to travel south of the border to find work, her choices are probably between prostitution, theft, or dependency on friends or family. Since most illegal immigrants’ friends and family are either themselves illegal immigrants or too poor to support multiple dependents, the last option may not be a real option, if a crackdown on illegal immigrant labor really is underway. Perhaps it is not, but I’m interested to know if anyone thinks that it should be, and, if like me they think that it should not, how they think borders should be regulated, if at all. Any successful attempt to enforce a prohibition on employing illegal immigrants would ruin or at least make extremely difficult the lives of the estimated seven to nine other million illegal immigrants in this country. I invite anyone who is aware of redeeming aspects of such a policy to mention them.


Josh Cherniss said...

Well, Sean -- I'm glad, framing the issue, that you make it easy to take the opposite position!
I'm not sure if you intend to, but your concluding set of questions do seem to link, if not lump, together two issues which I think can be discussed separately -- though they're harder to separate in practice. One is the question of how 'borders should be regulated', which seems to me a question about immigration policy generally; the other is a question about the prohibition on illegal immigrants already in the US. I'm not sure that a proposal for a stringent immigration policy, such as many are pushing for, would necessarily fall afoul of the moral objection you suggest if it were combined with a comprehensive amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the US, say.
It does also seem to me, in principle, desirable to penalize those who employ undocumented workers secretly so as to avoid having to pay minimum wage. The employment of undocumented workers who are given the (in themselves, pretty scant) workers' benefits required by law, on the other hand, doesn't seem to me something that should be punished.
But perhaps someone who is actually in favour of tougher border control should weigh in?...

Anonymous said...

I respect Sodexho for taking steps to follow immigration and employment law.

One redeeming aspect of a tough border policy is that it maintains the integrity of our borders and makes clear who is entitled to legal protection as a United States citizen. It is not that such workers are simply undocumented. They are willfully violating immigration laws. They knew this when they came here and I don't know why deportation is considered such a harsh penalty.

Perhaps we should be addressing why this sort of immigration is occurring in the first place. Namely, Mexicans and other Latin Americans are coming here because their own countries are not well developed. We should be concerned with ending the flow of illegal immigrants by promoting development elsewhere.

Sean said...

Anonymous wrote: "One redeeming aspect of a tough border policy is that it maintains the integrity of our borders and makes clear who is entitled to legal protection as a United States citizen." I don't get your point. A lax border policy could also make this clear. Maybe your point was that if we don't enforce the immigration laws on the books, confusion will arise about the entitlements of noncitizens. That may be so; all the more reason to scrap the existing law in favor of more lax immigration law.

"They are willfully violating immigration laws. They knew this when they came here and I don't know why deportation is considered such a harsh penalty." Are you suggesting that the fact that they knew they were violating the law justifies deporting them or punishing them in whatever way the law states? That would be a bad way to evaluate the current policy. By that reasoning, a policy of executing illegal immigrants also would not be "such a harsh penalty" if the immigrants knowingly violated the law.

"We should be concerned with ending the flow of illegal immigrants by promoting development elsewhere." I agree, and I'm sure almost all illegal immigrants would also prefer to find work in their own country rather than emigrate to a country where they form an exploited underclass and are the objects of xenophobia and racism. But promoting development in their own countries is not incompatible with permitting them easy and legal entry into this one.

Josh Cherniss said...

I think that there are two issues that have gotten somewhat run-together here, such that Sean and anonymous are to some extent speaking past one another, and neither issue is really getting fully addressed.
The first issue is the question of granting citizenship rights. Anonymous seems to be in favour of more stringent immigration laws because s/he is in favour of granting citizenship rights to a narrower range of people; Sean is in favour o less restrictive laws because he wants to grant citizenship rights to a wider range of people. These positions seem to me to have been simply asserted: I can't make out arguments for why wider or narrower granting of citizenship rights is desirable or correct policy -- and I'd welcome arguments on either side.
The other issue is the treatment of illegal immigrants already in the US. Sean's original post made a case -- albeit one that was more implied than directly argued for -- about the harshness, and therefore [arguably] undesirability, of punishing undocumented workers already in the US; anonymous asserted that the punishment was not unduly harsh. Sean responded that anonymous's argument -- that undocumented workers, having willfully broken the law, are appropriately subject to punishment -- does not (even if correct) prove that the particular punishment in question is not unduly harsh. This seems to me correct: whether punishment is justified, and whether a particular punishment is undesirably harsh, are different questions. (It's also worth noting that Sean and anonymous don't even seem to be talking about the same punishment: anonymous refers to deportation, Sean to, primarilly, inflicting economic hardship, and consequent misery and degradation, on immigrants within the US). So, I think that anonymous still needs to make a substantive case for why the particular punishment(s) meted out to illegal immigrants are appropriate; Sean, on the other hand, doesn't need to respond to the point that it is appropriate for illegal immigrants to be subject to SOME form of punishment for breaking the law -- but I'd be interested to hear his response to that point anyway.
(It also just occured to me that my great-grandmother may technically have been an illegal immigrant, to the extent that, while she was legally admitted into the country, she was admitted under false pretenses [she lied about her age]. I'm rather glad that she was not subsequently subjected to deportation or economic chastisement. This of course isn't any sort of argument for any position on this issue; but it does perhaps explain why my own emotional response is in favour of a more inclusive policy.)

Sean said...

I think citizenship rights should be granted and immigration policies formed with a view to advancing some cosmopolitan conception of global justice. As I see it, there are at best instrumental justifications for them. To the extent that a laxer immigration policy and making citizenship more easily attained improve the lot of the world's poor--as I believe they do in the present circumstances--plausible cosmopolitan conceptions of global justice speak in their favor.


Interesting discussion. Sean, does your vision of a "cosmopolitan immigration policy" involve completely open borders? And what do you mean by the "instrumental justifications" that are being advanced by those who support a more restrictive immigration policy? Are you arguing that United States immigration policy should be determined by global justice, and not some formulation of the national interest? Or do you think the national interest is advanced by implementing a more globally oriented policy?

Sean said...

The reference to "instrumental justifications" meant just this: immigration policy should be viewed as an instrument to achieving goals specified by some conception of global justice. Proponents of a restrictive immigration policy should frame their arguments in this way, too, and show how global justice is compatible with granting people different rights and privileges--such as the right to participate in the U.S. labor market--depending on the geographic location of their birth (or whatever facts determine citizenship status, all of which are likely to be arbitrary). My view is that since a just world would not be characterized by the socioeconomic inequalities to which a restrictive border policy contributes, we should not have a restrictive border policy.

"Are you arguing that United States immigration policy should be determined by global justice, and not some formulation of the national interest?" Yes.

The wisdom of completely open borders would depend on how well it improves the lot of the global poor (if we accept some global version of Rawls's difference principle, for example).

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