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Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Here in Southern California, there is obviously a huge disconnect between how elites view immigration and how the masses (especially whites) view it. This can be seen every time the Los Angeles Times runs a sympathetic story about an illegal immigrant. The paper have run several stories about the heartbreaking lives of undocumented children, who are abused by alien smugglers and treated harshly by the INS (including imprisonment with the most dangerous criminals in squalid jails, as well as being denied access to counsel, even to the absurdity of a 1 1/2 year old child making an appearance in an immigration court without a lawyer). Each time, the paper gets letters (probably many more than are actually printed) stating that it is wrong for the paper to even run sympathetic stories about immigrants, that these people are criminals and the only solution is the harshest treatment possible along with immediate deportation and the sealing of our southern border.

Leaving aside the practical difficulties of this position, I think these letters are indicative of a public that is so viscerally offended by illegal immigration (I won't speculate on the reasons, but they could include racial stereotyping, fear of no longer being in the majority, fear of losing one's job to cheap labor, and fear of terrorism and crime) that there is no room left for ordinary human compassion. The idea that anyone can write a letter, as Laura Ellen Malkhoo, of Huntington Beach, California, does in the January 7, 2003 LA Times, responding to an article that told the story of the 1 1/2 year old illegal immigrant who made a court appearance without a lawyer, by saying, as Malkhoo does, that "[t]he children are just as much criminals as our own U.S.-citizen juvenile deliquents and should be housed in juvenile detention" reveals an open sore.

I wonder whether these folks have ever thought about the moral dimensions of the illegal immigration issue. (Note that this is a fine example of how religion and morality are two different things-- I would bet most of these letter-writers would claim to be religious, but few have read anything by Kant.) Malkhoo states, as most of the other letter-writers have, that "the key word here is 'illegal.'". No, Ms. Malkhoo, it isn't. As anyone who has thought about ethics knows, legality and morality are two different things. Martin Luther King and Gandhi famously demonstrated that not only is it sometimes ethical to disobey the law, but that sometimes one has a moral duty to do so. Similarly, and on a smaller scale, no parent would think twice about speeding and running red lights to get a gravely injured child to a hospital.

So what is so wrong with crossing borders to feed your family? Not legally-- I know perfectly well it is illegal. But morally. Would these people say that a people who stow away on a ship to escape famine in Kim Jong Il's North Korea are common criminals? Would they say that a starving kid who did so is the equivalent of a juvenile delinquent? So why is it that people who come here to build a better life for their families are seen as the moral equivalent of theives and muggers? There are only two possibilities: either the folks who repeat these mantras, over and over, have never really thought about the moral issue (and what they would do if they were in the immigrants' place-- a key moral consideration according to the late, great ethicist John Rawls), or they have thought about it and know that they have no moral argument and therefore resort to the only argument that they have, that it is illegal.

Either way, I don't see a democratic solution to this. The California voting public passed vast sanctions against illegal immigrants in 1994, and they would do it again if they could. Thankfully, the measure, Proposition 187, was thrown out by the courts. Only the undemocratic courts stand between where we are now and simple barbarism on the issue of the treatment of immigrants.

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