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In this paper I will use the ethical theories of utilitarianism and deontology, as well as the perspective of ethical egoism, as they pertain to the issue of immigration. Living in a state bordering Mexico [New Mexico], this is indeed becoming a pressing issue as tens of thousands of illegal immigrants flood my state and neighboring states. This issue brings up many questions such as: 1 – What is our moral obligation to these immigrants? 2- What is our moral obligation to U.S. citizens that are affected by this influx? 3- Is it morally right for smugglers to profit from the pain of those seeking safety, security, and a better life? 4- Is it morally/ethically right for parents to subject their children to the long, lonely, dangerous journey to the United States.

By applying the theories and perspective noted above, I will show that if this issue is not handled immediately, the consequences will be detrimental to both U.S. citizens and the immigrants as well. The desire of the immigrants to obtain a better life does not preclude them from following current laws and processes. While they act from a position of self -interest, their actions impact many others in the process. From October 2012 through September 2013, the Border Patrol has apprehended about 24,000 unaccompanied children at the border. Between October 2013 and the end of June 2014, the number rose to 57,000. It is estimated this number could reach 90,000 by the end of September 2014. Most are coming from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Once the immigrants arrive in the United States, what is our moral obligation to them? Under current law, these children are placed under the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services which works to place them with family members in the U.S. while awaiting a court date. The influx has created the largest backlog in immigration courts. “In the first half of the year there were 366,724 pending cases. As of March the average wait time for a case was 578 days, according to the Justice Department records.” Experience has shown many immigrants never show up to these hearings.” Deontology claims an act is to be evaluated in terms of its accordance with a set of rules. Consequently, it is clear that these immigrants have broken the immigration laws of the U.S. both in the way they entered the country and in their refusal to attend court hearings.

Their flight to this country clearly is done for the person’s self- interest. They hope to flee the dangers and poverty of their home countries to seek a better life in the United States. However, does the actions of the immigrant outweigh the effect of this influx on the population of the United States? Once here, national, state, local and charitable organizations are being used to house, feed, provide medical care, and other assistance to these immigrants. Meanwhile, United States veterans, homeless, mentally ill, and the elderly go without needed services. Should our own citizens not be our main focus? In my state of New Mexico, one of the poorest in the nation, we are currently housing and processing hundreds, if not thousands of these immigrants. My town of Las Cruces has opened its churches to house and care for the immigrants, even though many of the children here do not have enough to eat or a proper living environment themselves.

Once the immigrants arrive at our local shelter, they are given a cot, clean clothes, a shower, hot meals and health checks. After eating, they file into rooms to collect hygiene supplies, diapers, clothes, and suitcases. Children can choose one toy from a large box of donated stuffed animals. Down the hall, volunteers assist the immigrants to call their families across the country and book train, bus, and plane tickets, depending on how much the families can spare. With the system the church shelter has developed, most immigrants will be on their way to relatives within 2 days. President Obama is seeking billions of dollars to increase the number of facilities for these immigrants, to tighten border security, and expand the number of U.S. immigration judges.

Should huge amounts of U.S. money be expended to deal with illegal activity or more properly used to alleviate problems of legal U.S. citizens? Governor Rick Perry of Texas has ordered the National Guard to help protect the border because of Congress’s inability to act on this issue. Again, this is taking resources that might be needed elsewhere. While most Americans understand and empathize with the reasons for this influx, the cost to the American public is substantial. One of the less publicized sides of this immigration issue is the smuggler’s profiting from the distress/fear of others. The smugglers are referred to as ‘coyote’ smugglers. One smuggler described “shipments of thousands of dollars in human cargo from slums of Honduras and highlands of Guatemala to cities across the United States.

It is business; sometimes business is very good.” The vast majority of immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally do so with the help of a network of smugglers. It is a high risk, high yield business estimated to generate $6.6 billion a year. The immigrants pay $4,000 to $10,000 each for this illegal journey. The smugglers in turn pay off government officials, gangs operating on trains, and drug cartels. The experts estimate a profit of $3,500- $4,000 per person if the journey goes as planned. The smugglers are profiting from the rising violence in gang-ridden cities of Central America. Many of the immigrants travel to the U.S. because they believe they will be allowed to stay. The U.S. generally releases children to parents, relatives, or family friends. Their cases take years to go through the immigration courts. This gives rise to rumors of a new law or amnesty for children.

The coyote smugglers spread those rumors to drum up business. In a July 23, 2014 issue of the Las Cruces Sun-News it was reported that the Homeland Security Department arrested 192 people along the Mexico border in South Texas on immigration smuggling charges and seized more than $625,000. A crackdown called “Operation Coyote” took place over the last month, part of the 90 day effort to target smuggling groups. The White House stated that smugglers are exploiting U.S. policies and the crackdown was a message to the smugglers that “our borders are not open to illegal immigration.” Analyzing this issue from the perspective of ethical egoism, the immigrants and the smugglers are both looking out for themselves, one to seek freedom and a better life, the other to procure as much money as possible.

From a deontology perspective, clearly both the immigrants and smugglers are not following the law. The immigrants are entering the U.S. illegally while the smugglers are giving payoffs to drug cartels, gangs, and government leaders. Finally from a utilitarian standpoint the course of action of both the illegal immigrants and the smugglers certainly does not maximize the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. The illegal immigrants may benefit in the short run, but if eventually returned to their countries may indeed be subject to even greater hardship. The corruption supported/used by the smugglers does nothing to create a better life for the majority of people. And once again the financial and emotional effect on the U.S. is wide spread. Another question/ concern raised by this influx of mostly unaccompanied children is related to their safety, both in their home countries and related to their long journey to the United States.

Homicide, extortion, rape, and gang recruitment have risen to epidemic levels in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. “Immigrants’ rights advocates in the U.S. say they are seeing more children from Central America who are not only fleeing gang recruitment and random violence, but who have been targeted themselves.” This violence is seen as the key reason for driving immigrants north. But let’s look at the very imminent danger of death these immigrants face by not only placing themselves in the hands of smugglers [whose only concern is money] and the desert journey they face. The smugglers receive money from the immigrants and their families [both in their home country and in the U.S.] This in turn places more of a financial burden on these families, while a successful outcome is not assured.

Along the journey, these immigrants are still subjected to the threats of gangs, drug cartels, and corrupt government officials. They are subjected to the extreme heat of the desert with little food or water and often just the clothes on their backs. Recent news reports put a face to this crisis when Texas authorities identified a decomposed body found recently near the border with Mexico as that of an 11 year old Guatemalan boy, Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez. He was identified by calling a phone number etched into his belt buckle and by family members describing the clothes he was wearing when he left home. A recent interview of a rancher in Brownsville Texas reported him also finding a body on his ranch. He reports having to keep a constant vigil all day and night as illegal immigrants enter his land, approach his house and car, and seek aid.

Hector Espinal, the Honduras spokesman for UNICEF, stated “The message is that governments should do what they need to do to stop the violent conditions that are making these children leave.” How to stop violence in Honduras is a subject of much debate. Two major gangs- The Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, have grown into transnational criminal organizations. Drug cartels use Honduras as a point to move cocaine into the United States. First Lady Garcia of Honduras says her country needs its own U.S. funded anticrime program similar to Plan Colombia or Mexico’s Merida Initiative to fight the gangs and cartels. Vice President Joe Biden recently visited Guatemala. To coincide with that trip, President Obama has pledged $93 million in new programs to reduce violence in Central America.

This includes $40 million to reduce gang membership in Guatemala, $25 million to build 77 youth outreach centers in El Salvador and $18.5 million to build 77 outreach centers in Honduras. The White House is currently requesting approximately $3.7 billion in emergency funding with $300 million for international programs to aid Central America. However, the House Republicans recently passed legislation to address the crisis. The new $694 million version would send migrant youths back home without hearings, and contained a companion bill that could lead to deporting more than a half a million immigrants to whom the Obama administration granted temporary work permits. This companion bill could prevent more than 700,000 people who’ve already gotten work permits, from renewing them.

Lawmakers objected to sending any more money to President Obama without a strong stance against the two-year-old deportation relief program that they blame for causing the current border crisis by creating the perception that once here, young migrants would be allowed to stay. The new GOP border bill adds $35 million more for the National Guard, reimbursing states for guard deployment. It would increase spending for overwhelmed border agencies, add more immigration judges and detention centers, and alter a 2008 anti-trafficking law. We can apply the theories of utilitarianism and deontology and the perspective of ethical egoism to the above question much in the same way as we did before. Once again the immigrants, but also the smugglers, are acting in their own self-interest. One wants freedom, the other seeks money.

Both the illegal immigrants and the smugglers are breaking the law, both in their home countries as well as the United States. By focusing on their own interests, the illegal immigrants forget the bigger picture. Would it not benefit the greater number of people to focus on the root problems in Central America? No one doubts the dangerous conditions in these countries. However, other dangerous conditions face the immigrants on the journey to the United States. Is one danger greater than the other? If these immigrants indeed make it to the United States, most will be returned to their home countries to be placed in the same conditions, disillusioned from the loss of their hopes and dreams. Only by a concerted effort to improve conditions in their home countries, can the greatest benefit result for the greatest number of people. The issue of immigration is perhaps one of the hottest issues facing our country today. As tens of thousands of illegal immigrants make their way into the United States, many moral and ethical issues arise.

Do the individual rights of the immigrant to seek a better life, outweigh the negative effect their actions place on their own families as well as the citizens of the United States? Do the immigrants have a right to break laws, both in their home countries, as well as the United States, in order to obtain their dream? Is it the ethical/moral responsibility of the United States to care for the illegal immigrants once they arrive? And lastly, is it morally /ethically correct to send children from one dangerous situation into another one, rather than trying to fix the core issues precipitating their illegal journey to the United States? By applying the theories of utilitarianism and deontology, as well as the perspective of ethical egoism, I have attempted to answer these questions.

Utilitarianism stresses the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. In the case of illegal immigration that would seem to be that more effort should be aimed at correcting the core issues in Central America. Deontology stresses evaluating an issue in terms of its accordance with a specified set of rules. Obviously, in the case of illegal immigration, the laws are not being followed. And lastly, ethical egoism argues that acts should be done out of a person’s own self –interest. Clearly, this is what drives the immigrants. But the impact in the long run, both to the immigrants, their families, and the citizens of the United States, may be too big a price to pay.


1 Exporting Mayhem across the Border. [2014]. Bloomberg Businessweek, [4379], 10. [Permalink]:http://search.ebscohost.com.prox-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bsh&AN=96077008&site=eds-live 2 Grillo, Ioan [2014]. Honduran Children Deported From U.S. Back to World’s ‘Most Violent City. Time.Com, p1-1. 1p.

[Permalink]:http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bsh&AN=97074587&site=eds.-live. 3 LaFranchi, H. [2014July]. Border crisis: Kerry asks Central America to help combat ‘false information’. Christian Science Monitor. P.1. [Permalink]: http:// search.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=crh&AN=96897036&site=eds-live 4 Preston, Julia. The New York Times. U.S. looks to tide illegal border crossings-Biden goes to Central America to discourage illegal immigration- deportations of central americans will be accelerated. Accelerated by the Lexington- Herald [Ky.] [June 2014]. [Permalink]: http:// search.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsnbk&An=14E97D7C018E48F0&site=eds-live 5 Schearer, M. [2014]. Obama in Political Bind over Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors. Time. Com, 1.[Permalink]: http:// search.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bsh&AN=97059415&site=eds-live

6 Micheal,Shear, W.[2014 July 10]. Obama seeks $4 b for border crisis- United States- Immigration- 150,000 children projected to flee Central America. The Sydney Morning Herald [Australia]. P 17. [Permalink]: http:// search.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsnb&AN=14EF984EBA4C6788&site=eds-live 7 E. Edurado Castillo and Christopher Sherman of the Associated Press. Migration spotlights Mexican ‘coyote’ smugglers retrieved from The Las Cruces Sun – News [2014 July 22]. 8 Christopher Sherman and Will Weissert of the Associated Press. Gov. Rick Perry will send National Guard to border. Retrieved from The Las Cruces Sun –News [2014 July 22]. 9 Kuhnman, Jim The Associated Press. How a flood of kids upended immigration debate. Retrieved from The Las Cruces Sun –News [2014 July 21]. 10 Anderson, Lindsey The Las Cruces Sun News. Cots, Clothes and Compassion [2014 July21]. 11 The Associated Press. Gov’t arrests 192 for smuggling. Retrieved from The Las Cruces Sun –News [2014 July 23]. 12 Werner, Erica The Associated Press. Hose Oks border crisis bill. Retrieved from The Las Cruces Sun-News [2014 August 2].

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