Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Immigration Policy and Principles of Humanity

By Suruchi Bhutani

Listen to an audio of Bill Ong Hing

Bill Ong Hing, author of Deporting Our Souls: Values, Morality, and Immigration Policy, questioned current U.S. immigration policies in a recent presentation for the Ethics at Noon program. Above all, he urged the audience to understand the reasons that prompt immigrants to enter the United States illegally. Arguing that immigrants are very useful to this country and that they deserve respect, Hing recommended an immigration policy based on principles of common humanity.

Hing, professor of law at University of California-Davis, started the discussion by exposing a particular plight of many immigrants from countries such as Cambodia and Mexico. He explained that many of these immigrants are forced into illegal activities, either to protect themselves from crime or due to factors such as lack of education. Current U.S. immigration law treats them very harshly by deporting them and not giving them a second chance to improve.

Hing asked why illegal immigrants continue to enter the U.S. in large numbers, especially from neighboring Latin American countries. He explained that they come primarily for economic prosperity but that certain U.S. policies, such as subsidizing farmers and allowing unlimited Chinese imports, have led to a collapse of local industries within Mexico and other Latin American countries. As a result, the illegal movement immigrants to the United States has further increased.

Hing criticized Operation Gatekeeper, which was designed to deter illegal border crossings from Mexico, but which has resulted in at least one death per day. He called this program inhuman and urged the United States to solve the problem at its core; that is, by implementing proper labor migration rules.

Hing cited the example of the European Union, which has successfully included several poor countries without initiating an exodus of labor to the richer countries. The key in achieving this was for the EU to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure and education for its poorer members. He urged the United States to consider a similar approach.

Another issue discussed was family immigration. U.S. lawmakers are currently considering a policy change that would no longer extend as strong a preference to the admission of siblings of already legalized immigrants. But Hing argued that most of the family members who would immigrate if siblings and other indirect family were allowed would be working age and law abiding, and would actually help the economy.

Hing also stressed the need to integrate the immigrant population with U.S. society. Citing the bipartisan Little Hoover Commission Report “Creating Common Ground
California's Strategies For Integrating Newcomers,” he urged implementing social programs that integrate immigrants. When immigrants do well, he said, the society benefits.

Suruchi Bhutani is a media intern at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

May 2007


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