Topic: Society

Licenses for Illegal Aliens: Invalid Theory, Invalid Ethics

This is the theory, as The Ethics Scoreboard understands it:

A particular act is wrongÂ…perhaps even illegal. People insist on doing it anyway, endangering themselves and others in the process. Society has a difficult time persuading these people to stop doing the act it has concluded is wrongful, usually because the people who engage in the conduct benefit from doing it (at least in their own minds), and don’t care sufficiently about the danger to themselves or the harm to others. So the way to solve this knotty problem, or so the theory goes, is for society to declare that the troublesome conduct isn’t wrong after all.

This approach to problems usually is defended as “common sense’ and “practical.” It is neither. It is, in fact, an acceptance of unethical conduct for no good reason other than the fact that many indulge in it and it seems easier to accept and regulate it than to declare it wrong. Once the government, the voice of the society, declares that penalties no longer apply, the conduct becomes more common. It is now “OK.”

Underage premarital sex causes societal havoc and human tragedy, but communities are increasingly choosing to aid and abet the conduct by distributing condoms in schools rather than to send a clear and unequivocal message that it is irresponsible and wrong. Although we know that births to unmarried couples contribute to neglect, poverty and crime, America finally decided that sending a clear message by imposing social sanctions on the behavior was not compassionate. Now wealthy celebrities have children out of wedlock openly, proudly, and without fear of public disapproval, showing the way for non-celebrities for whom the choice could be disastrous. Recreational drug use causes addiction, broken families and financial ruin. Because it also causes disease, communities have decided that it is more important to make the practice safer by handing out needles to junkies than to unequivocally condemn the behavior.

Steroids in professional sports and illegal downloading of music and movies from the Internet are currently inspiring the argument that so many people are doing it that we might as well make it easy for them. Next up for passive acceptance? It’s hard to say, for the candidates are many: student-teacher romances in the public schools, perhaps. Tax evasion, maybe. Bribery.

None of these would be significantly more illogical than the movement to allow illegal immigrants drivers licenses, a policy that has prevailed in eight states and that narrowly missed implementation in New York after negative public opinion frightened off Gov. Elliott Spitzer. This infuriated the Washington Post’s editors, who managed to include the full spectrum of rationalizations in their arguments for letting those who aren’t in the country legally get legal access to the roads. A couple of Washington Post points:

  • “Illegal immigrants already drive. The real question is whether to promote safety.”

    Oh, that’s the real question, is it? I’d say the real question is why illegal immigrants’ continued and widespread contempt for American laws, like the requirement of a driver’s license, shouldn’t add to the already powerful case that they should be neither welcomed, encouraged nor tolerated. The Post’s statement is simply a version of “everybody does it.”

  • “By making licenses available to them, states are not enabling them to drive more; they are encouraging them to get the insurance and training that will allow them to drive safely.”

    No, by making licenses available to them, we are sending the incorrect message that they should be here at all without complying with immigration laws. Imagine the Post’s logic applied to drunk drivers who have forfeited their licenses. What’s the difference? Such drivers also often drive illegally and lack driving skill and insurance. Why not encourage them “to get the insurance and training that will allow them to drive safely”? It’s obvious why: this would completely neutralize the penalty for driving drunk. Not being able to drive as an illegal immigrant is part of the penalty for breaking the law.

  • “People who sneak into the country or overstay their visas do so for jobs, not licenses.”

    Now there is a prize-winning half-truth, the specialty of so many journalists. Sure, illegals come for jobs, not hospital care; jobs, not scholarships to state universities; jobs, not welfare and assistance problems. But all of these, as the Post well knows, are further incentives to “sneak” (the Post’s own word, and one that implies unethical action) into the U.S. The statement is intellectually dishonest: illegal immigrants do not come here to drive, but they need to drive to get and keep the jobs they did come here for.

So here’s the ethically correct theory, as the Ethics Scoreboard understands it, and one that should be consistently applied to all conduct society believes is significantly harmful, unethical, and wrong:

Those who violate a culture’s ethical norms, including laws, should suffer the consequences, including the sometimes harsh consequences directly brought about by their own actions. Society’s willingness to impose those consequences should not be lessened by the number of people who are engaging in the conduct, or society’s discomfort with imposing them.

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