A Philosopher's Blog

Illegal Immigrants & Law Enforcement

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Race, Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on May 26, 2017

While Trump has kept his promise to crack down on illegal immigrants, this increased enforcement has apparently made life easier for criminals and more difficult for police. This is because illegal immigrants are now far less likely to report crimes to the police or assist in police investigations.

While Trump and others have claimed that immigrants come here to commit crimes (and steal jobs), the evidence shows that native citizens commit crimes at a higher rate than immigrants. Immigrants are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators, which is one reason why some police departments are reluctant to serve as agents of federal immigration policy. After all, they need the cooperation of victims and witnesses to investigate crimes. This is not to say that illegal immigrants do not commit crimes; they do and this is a matter of legitimate concern. While the legal issues of immigration are obviously a matter of law, there are important moral issues here as well.

As noted above, one compelling reason for the local police and officials to not work as enforcers for federal immigration policy is that illegal immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crimes will be far less likely to cooperate with the police. From a utilitarian standpoint, this would morally problematic because it would result in more harm than good by allowing criminals to remain at large. As an example, illegal immigrants have been picked up at courthouses after serving as witnesses for the prosecution. This practice will certainly deter illegal immigrants from coming forward as witnesses. As such, this would seem to provide a moral justification for local governments to ignore the immigration status of people who have otherwise not broken any laws.

The easy and obvious counter to this line of reasoning is to point out that illegal immigrants are, by definition, all criminals. As such, ignoring their immigration status would allow criminals to remain in the community engaging in criminal activities. To add in a utilitarian element, it can be argued that while tolerating illegals who do not engage in other crimes would be a small thing, the damage to the rule of law would be significant in its harms.

One reply to this is to point out that lesser criminals are often given immunity to encourage them to testify against more important criminals. This same sort of justification could be applied here: the extremely minor crime of being an illegal immigrant can be justly ignored to ensure that the illegal immigrants are able to report serious crimes and serve as witnesses in prosecutions of such crimes. The obvious problem with this reply is that it justifies ongoing criminal activity. To use an analogy, it would be like allowing people to continuously violate minor traffic laws in the hopes that they would be more amenable to cooperating with the police regarding more significant crimes. The absurdity of this would seem to show that allowing one crime in the hopes of getting more cooperation combating other crimes is not a reasonable idea.

Another reply is that the illegal immigrants are only criminals because of bad immigration law and a defective immigration system. The gist of this approach is to argue that the immigrants who do not commit other crimes should not be classified as criminals in the first place and that enforcing such bad laws is morally wrong. It could be argued that there is a crude integrity in mindlessly obeying the law, but history has shown that “just following orders” is not an adequate moral defense. The challenge here is, of course, working out whether the immigration laws are bad laws. On the face of it, there does seem to be considerable agreement that they are not very good laws. However, it is still reasonable to consider whether the laws are bad enough to warrant regarding them as unjust laws. My own view is that the laws are bad laws but that by leaving them on the books and not enforcing them, we encourage a disrespect for the law. As such, I favor changing the laws so that they are just laws that are right to enforce.

One way to look at the matter is to consider the history of the United States: European immigrants simply showed up on the shores and started expanding into already inhabited lands. Almost any argument advanced in defense of European immigration into the New World could be dusted off and refurbished into arguments justifying the new illegal immigrants. Of course, the new illegal immigrants have a stronger moral case: they mostly coming here just to work rather than to kill the current inhabitants and take their land.

There is also the practical argument regarding law enforcement. As others have noted, the police have limited resources and it makes more sense to use those on serious crimes rather than on people who are merely here illegally and otherwise law-abiding. The moral aspect of this argument is that focusing on the more serious crimes will create more benefits than using resources to go after illegal immigrants.

My own view is that the current laws and practices regarding illegal immigration are morally unacceptable. The obvious solution involves changing the laws to match the ethics and reality of the situation and for politicians to stop making excuses and, worse, to stop exploiting the matter for short term political advantages at the expense of both the illegals and the local communities.

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3 Responses

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  1. DH said, on May 26, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    I think that on the face of it, I agree with you – that the laws and practices regarding illegal immigration are morally unacceptable. I’m not sure that we agree for the same reasons, but the fact that politicians on both sides exploit the matter for their own advantage and at the expense of both the illegals and the local communities is enough for me to want to take a hard look at the laws themselves.
    You bring up some points, I think, that are either irrelevant or entirely one-sided. When it comes to Trump, you rarely fail to disappoint – you are very eager to abandon any skills or instinct you might have toward real critical thinking in favor of left-wing “Never Trump” talking points. On all sides of the political spectrum it is this kind of attitude that sparks so much rancor and outright hatred among the citizens of this country, and a big reason that we are unable to engage in reasonable, well-thought-out, critical debate.
    “While Trump and others have claimed that immigrants come here to commit crimes and steal jobs”
    Trump has been painted as a bigoted xenophobe for this interpretation of his comments. He has said that there are many violent criminals, drug dealers, and rapists among those who cross the border illegally – he has never said that they are all of that stripe. The implication of nearly every left-leaning publication is that he did say that – and (as long as you are bringing up the History of America) is called “Yellow Journalism” – misrepresenting or exaggerating statements that are rooted in fact, but positioned in such a way as to incite passion.
    An interesting point of view and presentation of factual data was provided to The Hill by Dr. Ron Martinelli, a Spanish-speaking forensic investigator who lives and works in the American Southwest.
    http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/crime/329589-the-truth-about-crime-illegal-immigrants-and-sanctuary-cities
    There is another fatal flaw not only in your arguments but in the articles you cite, which go on to cite research done at the Cato institute on crime rates among immigrants. In so many debates, your own included, there is an immediate conflation of the terms “illegal immigrant” and “immigrant”. The research done at the Cato institute makes it very clear that the research that they report is based on ALL immigrants; pointing out that among this group there is a self-selection process by which these citizens make an extra effort to stay out of trouble. Part of this, says the article, is because of the perception that Mexicans and Hispanics in general tend to be treated more harshly in the criminal justice system, so they make a point of staying out. To the point of illegal versus documented immigrants, the Cato article says this:
    The public focus is on the crime rates of unauthorized or illegal immigrants. The research papers above mostly include all immigrants regardless of legal status. However, every problem with gathering data on immigrant criminality is multiplied for unauthorized immigrants.
    https://www.cato.org/blog/immigration-crime-what-research-says
    As for the history of this country, the so-called “illegal immigrants” of the time (the Europeans) who “simply showed up on the shores and started expanding into already inhabited lands” were treated far more harshly by the natural born citizens than we treat the illegals of today. No mere deportation for them – they were set upon and killed, tortured, kidnapped, their homes set on fire, their children massacred and their hearts ripped from their bodies and eaten raw. I’m not making a judgement here – will not say who was right or wrong, only that it wasn’t the “open border” situation that the left is calling for. Nor am I insensitive to the habit of mainstream American History of calling Indian attacks “Massacres” while calling settler attacks on Indians “raids”, but I would not refer to the period from 1500 – 1850 one of “immigration”, but rather one of “conquest”, which was happening all over the globe at the time. Even before the white settlers came to this country, tribal wars of conquest were rampant in North America.
    I seriously doubt that this kind of pushback is what the Trump administration is calling for.
    As for your opening argument, about illegals being more likely to be the victims of crime and less likely to report it, well, there’s an obvious tautology here. If they weren’t here in the first place, they wouldn’t be victims. If they weren’t here illegally, they would not be as reluctant to report the crimes committed against them.
    I say “as reluctant” because this argument is very similar to those posed in some scholarly research done on the relatively high incidence of domestic violence against African American women. The same situation exists in that demographic as well. Paraphrasing, the research indicates that the incidence and degree of domestic violence perpetrated against African American women in this country is rooted in a mistrust of the system – that in their world of “us” vs “them”, it is better to live with the abuse than to trust the system. To them, racism is worse than sexism, and their perception is that once in the system, racism is a near-guarantee.
    Racism on the part of the police is another example of modern “Yellow Journalism” – it is over-reported, tweeted and re-tweeted, and kept alive and magnified because it arouses passion and sells newspapers. Not that it does not exist, of course, but it is not the rampant institutional racism that the media would have us believe.
    http://time.com/3313343/ray-rice-black-women-domestic-violence/
    There is a difference between illegal immigrants coming forward and black women coming forward, though. In this case the illegals are probably correct – if they do come forward, they run a significant risk of having their status at least questioned, whereas in the case of the domestic violence I would have to say that racism works both ways.
    So in the end, I do agree that we need to be dealing with facts here, not hyperbole or skewed rhetoric lacking in facts. It is disingenuous to conflate “Illegal Immigrants” with “Immigrants”, and to purposely cite statistics based on the latter – ignoring the inherent difficulties in compiling data for either group. It is particularly disingenuous to take either side for political gain and forget everything we have been taught about “Critical Thinking”.

  2. TJB said, on May 27, 2017 at 10:09 am

    So, open boarders, right?

    • TJB said, on May 27, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Of course That should read “borders”


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