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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The Ethics of Migration and Immigration

Key Questions for Policy Makers

Lynette M. Parker

Migration is The Human Story
Reasons for Migration
Evolving Migration Characteristics
Impacts on Sending Countries
Impacts on Transit Countries
Impacts on Receiving Countries
Responses to Immigrants
International Policies and Conventions



The United States, the European Union, and countless other nation-states and political bodies are struggling to define attitudes and policies towards immigrants and immigration for the 21st Century. This national and global debate usually revolves around economic impacts and the legal status of individual or groups of immigrants.

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University believes another perspective on these critical policy questions is needed - a perspective which seeks to understand the ethics of migration and immigration. Only by adding this human perspective can policy makers shape solutions which achieve the most good in the short run and create policies which are themselves most stable in the long run.

The ethics of migration are complex. There are many perspectives on why people migrate, how people migrate, what impact migration has on receiving, transit and sending countries, and whether countries should encourage, discourage, or limit migration. This paper raises some issues and questions in order to encourage a thoughtful, in-depth discussion of the ethics of migration.

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Migration is The Human Story

The Story of the Human Race
Migration is fundamentally the story of the human race from its origins to the present. Migration is an integral aspect of life on this planet. People move to survive. They move in search of food. They move away from danger and death. They move towards opportunities for life. Migration is tied to the human spirit, which seeks adventure, pursues dreams, and finds reasons to hope even in the most adverse circumstances. Such movement affects the communities migrants leave and the communities that receive these migrants. This movement also impacts communities along the route of transit.

Is migration inevitable?

Is migration necessary for the survival of the human race?

Can migration be controlled?

Should migration be controlled? By whom?

Is migration systematic or is it organic?

Would migration respond to planning or are there times when migration is the product of unpredictable factors?

See also:
* Wilford, John Noble, "Skull Supports Theory of Human Migration," The New York Times, Science Section, January 12, 2007


Ethical Issues of Migration
When discussing ethics in the context of migration, it is important to remember first and foremost that migration is about the movement of people. Because the ethics of migration hi-lite the tension between individuals and nations, these discussions should always begin and end with the acknowledgement of the humanity of those who are moving and those who do not move. The human condition is complex, as are the reasons for migration. To simplify and objectify the issues does not serve any useful purpose. Information and discussions on migration should be honest conversations, where the interests, agendas and concerns of all members of the affected communities are addressed in the context of the collective humanity.

What are the costs of migration? What is the cost in terms of lives lost?

What are the financial costs both to the migrant and to the countries involved?

How does society measure the risks and benefits of migration? Can these risks and benefits be measured?

Do nations have an ethical obligation to do the least harm to migrants when establishing and enforcing immigration laws?

How should discussions about migration be conducted?

Whose voices should be included in such discussions?

* Cook, Martin, "Immigration and Ethics," Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, v. 7, n. 2 Spring 1996
* Bhutani, Suruchi, "The Ethics of Immigration," Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
* Morton, Dr. Adam, "The Ethics of Immigration Law: Are Controls on Who Can Live & Work in Canada Justifiable? Philosophers' Café 2005-06
* Hing, Bill Ong, Deporting Our Souls: Values, Morality, and Immigration Policy, Cambridge University Press, 2006

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Reasons for Migration

An Overview
Human beings have migrated since their origin. This migration has ranged from journeys of a few miles to epic travels across oceans and continents. Drought, plagues, floods, or other natural disasters have triggered migration. Slavery, escape from slavery, invasions, and exile have created forced migration. Adventurers have sought new land, fame, fortune, or power. Formation of empires, colonies, and nation states have taken people across Asia, Africa, Europe, Russia, the Americas, New Zealand, Australia, and Iceland.

What are the demographics of migration?

Does it matter who is migrating and whether one person or one family is migrating versus whether an entire community is migrating?

What are the migration routes?

How does distance factor into the methods, costs, and success of migration?

* "History of International Migration," Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, The University of Warwick
* "In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience," The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
* Schrover, Dr. Marlou, "Migration: A historical perspective," BBC News (March 23, 2004)

Traditional Explanation for Migration
Age old debates about migration frequently point to "push" and "pull" factors. This debate continues today in public policy circles, with a focus on such "pull" factors as family, employment and public benefits and "push" factors such as poverty, conflict and disaster.
With the exception of human trafficking and refugee flight, migration is generally viewed as a choice. The "push" and "pull" theory of migration looks at individuals and their decisions to migrate.

But who is choosing? Who is deciding?

While in some cases the migrant may have freely chosen his or her journey and destination, could the reality be much more complicated?

Could there have been forces pushing the migrant to leave his or her community, such as loss of land, natural or man-made disasters, instability, or poverty?

Could there have been forces pulling the migrant to certain destinations, such as family ties, romantic relationships, opportunities to purse a field of study, or opportunities to move to another socio-economic level?

Is it possible that economic and political policies and actions of the local government, neighboring governments, or super-powers may create a domino effect that results in decisions to migrate?

If migration is seen as a means of survival, is survival a choice or a necessity?

What if migration is viewed as an effort to build a better life?

Is seeking change and pursuing dreams a choice or a necessity for the human spirit?

Is being chosen to represent or blaze a trail for one's family or community a choice or an obligation?

* Islas, Lisette O., "Beyond Economic Remuneration: A Study of Mexican Immigration," citing Todaro, Michael P. 1976. International Migration In Developing Countries: A Review of Theory (Tech. Rep.) International Labour Office; Piore, Michael J. 1979. Birds of Passage: Migrant Labor and Industrial Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press; and Marshall, Ray. 1978. "Economic Factors Influencing the International Migration of Workers." In Stanley Ross (Ed.), Views Across the Border. Albuquerque, New Mexico: Weatherhead Foundation and University of New Mexico Press.
* "Why Do They Leave Their Homes?" U.S. Department of State.

Theories of Migration
One author, Peter Stalker, describes migration theory in terms of individual approach, structural perspective, and networks or systems theory. The individual approach focuses on individual choices, including family or group choices. It is also labeled the 'human capital' approach, according to this scholar, because it is looked at in terms of education, skills, and health investments in persons. The structural approach deals with influences that are more social, economic, or political, such as population pressures and unemployment. Networks and systems theory involves more than individual decisions and structural forces. It combines movement of goods and capital with political and cultural elements.
Migration theory has also been challenged in the context of gender. Scholars have argued that traditional migration theory does not help explain "the circumstances that encourage women to become transnational migrants, to enter into trafficking channels, or to seek refugee resettlement." According to these scholars, gender influences the migration process, in particular pre-migration, transition across state boundaries, and experiences in the receiving country.

What are the political benefits to each side of the immigration debate?

Is it ethical to use immigration as a political tool, whether to denounce human suffering or to promote national security, in order to gain political capital?

Should theories of migration incorporate cultural diversity, including gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status?

Must a discussion of migration incorporate a myriad of theories, or is policy best served by identifying the principal reasons for migration?

What are those principal reasons, and from whose perspective?

How do these theories dictate current immigration policies?

See also:
* Islas, Lisette O., "Beyond Economic Remuneration: A Study of Mexican Immigration," citing Melville, Margarita. 1978. "Mexican Women Adapt to Migration." International Migration Review 12: 225-235; Sullivan, Teresa. 1984. "The Occupational Prestige of Women Immigrants: A Comparison of Cubans and Mexicans." International Migration Review 18: 1045-1062; Curry-Rodríguez, Julia. 1988. "Reconceptualizing Undocumented Labor Immigration: The Causes, Impact and Consequences in Mexican Women's Lives." Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin; Segura, Denise. A. 1989. "Chicana and Mexican Immigrant Women at Work: The Impact of Class, Race and Gender on Occupational Mobility." Gender and Society: 3: 37-52; and Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierette. 1995. "Beyond `The Longer They Stay' (And Say They Will Stay): Women and Mexican Immigrant Settlement." Qualitative Sociology 18: 21-43.
* Migration Theory, AngliaCampus
* Brettell, Caroline, et. al (eds.), Migration Theory: Talking across Disciplines, Routledge, New York, 2000.
* Hefti, Anny Misa, "Globalization and Migration," European Solidarity Conference on the Philippines: Responding to Globalization, 19-21 September 1997, Boldern House, Mannedorf, Zurich, Switzerland

Complexity of Migration
Migration is discussed in terms of "push" and "pull" factors most often. Yet, there are other scholars who point to a more complex set of factors affecting migration and immigration. Sometimes migration is addressed in terms of broader forces such as structural or social factors. Some would argue that the reality is much more complex.

How important is it to fully comprehend the reasons for migration?

Can the studies of migration and the statistics of migration accurately explain the reasons for migration?

Does discussing migration in terms of one theory or multiple theories impact the types of policies designed to address migration?

How can studies and statistics focused on defining the factors that motivate and impact migration best serve policy makers?

Does the information itself become a source contention and debate in light of divergent or conflicting interpretation of these studies and statistics?

Do these studies and statistics address ethical concerns, or exacerbate them?

* Udogu, E. Ike, "African Development and the Immigration of Its Intelligentsia: An Overview"
* Brettell, Caroline, et. al (eds.), Migration Theory: Talking across Disciplines, Routledge, New York, 2000.
* Hefti, Anny Misa, "Globalization and Migration," European Solidarity Conference on the Philippines: Responding to Globalization, 19-21 September 1997, Boldern House, Mannedorf, Zurich, Switzerland

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Evolving Migration Characteristics

Impact of Global Economic and Environmental Interdependence on Migration
Globalization is frequently viewed in economic and environmental terms. Goods and services move easily across regions and national boundaries. With this growing economic interdependence, some would argue that it is only natural that people (labor) follow the capital, wherever that might take them. Similarly, some argue that people should not have to move for jobs, but instead governments should encourage capital to remain in the nation and should protect jobs for citizens. Global warming and resource depletion have no boundaries. Some feel that these environmental issues cannot be addressed by nations acting individually. Thus, they might argue that the movement of people around the globe becomes the province of the world, not that of individual nations. Others believe that in order for countries to protect their environment they need to restrict immigration.

How has out-sourcing and re-location of businesses affected migration?

How can nations balance businesses' need for additional labor with concerns about departure or arrival of large numbers of migrants?

Do businesses prefer to hire and train immigrant workers because it creates a labor force beholden to the employers?

Is it ethical to deny safe haven or opportunities for a better life to migrants in order to protect the environment of a particular country?

How should policy makers balance the concerns of environmentalists with the need for a growing supply of labor?

Does it matter that while demand for labor fluctuates, the environment is less able to change or recover?

As the population of receiving countries age, how do nations best address the need for a young labor force and a need for care providers for an older population?

Does increasing the labor force through immigration to care for an aging population create an exponential need for future immigrants to care for this labor force as it ages?

* Hatzipanayotou, Panos, Sajal Lahiri, and Michael S. Michael, "Globalization, Cross-Border Pollution and Welfare," SSRN, CESifo Working Paper No. 1479, June 2005
* Hefti, Anny Misa, "Globalization and Migration," European Solidarity Conference on the Philippines: Responding to Globalization, 19-21 September 1997, Boldern House, Mannedorf, Zurich, Switzerland
* "Globalization & Migration," Women & The Economy: A project of UNPAC (UN Platform for Action Committee Manitoba 2003-2006
* Duvell, Franck, "The globalisation of migration control"
* Orozco, Manuel, "Globalization and Migration: The Impact of Family Remittances in Latin America"
* Salazar Parrenas, Rhacel, Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work. Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2001.

Shifting Destinations
While migration trends used to be from developing countries to industrialized countries, those patterns do not necessarily hold today. With the "dot com" bust many professionals have left the United States and returned to India. Small farmers in the U.S. are moving to Latin America. As businesses expand to sites abroad, migration among developing countries increases.
There are also "new" considerations in determining destination. Language and customs have a significant role in determining destinations. For example, human rights organizations in Colombia prefer to send their persecuted members to Spanish-speaking countries. Second, they choose to send their members to more "welcoming" nations. Indonesian women are going to Saudia Arabia to work, because the Muslim families in Saudia Arabia want Muslim women working in their homes and caring for their children.

Does the focus on industrialized countries' response to immigrants divert attention from a shifting movement of people to non-traditional receiving countries?

As patterns of migration shift and change, do the ethical issues and concerns also shift and change?

Does the destination of migrants make a significant difference in the discussion of migration generally?

* Pieke, Frank, "Chinese Globalization and Migration to Europe," The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California, San Diego, March 2004
* "Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia"
* Solimano, Andres, "Globalization and international migration: the Latin American experience," Revista de la CEPAL (English version), No. 80, 53-70, August 2003

Methods of Movement
Many methods of migration are similar to ancient methods of travel. People continue to migrate on foot and by rickety boats. More recently, movement of people has occurred via containers on ships and trucks. Attempts to migrate have also included hiding in the wheel-wells of airplanes. Ships and airplanes account for much of the migration that occurs legally across borders.
The methods of movement mean that migration can take place at a much faster rate. The newer methods of moving surreptitiously across borders are proving to be more risky and dangerous. As movement is restricted by the building of walls and increasing use of technology, people turn to those who are sophisticated, organized, and possess the resources to move them around the barriers. This reality leads to increased vulnerability to human trafficking. People find themselves in situations of debt bondage forced to pay off the large debts incurred to those transporting them, while others fall victim to human traffickers who make false promises.

How does technology impact migration?

Does the increased speed of migration or the increased dangers to persons migrating raise new or different ethical concerns?

If larger numbers of persons can migrate more quickly, how does this impact sending, transit and receiving nations?

Can these countries absorb the impact of migration at the speed that migration can occur?

Must nations take extra precautions to monitor and control the flow of migration?

Do nations have additional obligations to minimize the risks and dangers to those persons migrating?

* "Globalization & Migration," Women & The Economy: A project of UNPAC (UN Platform for Action Committee Manitoba 2003-2006
* "INS: Border, Smuggling," Migration News, Vol. 7, No. 4, February 2000
*Chamie, Joseph, "Knock, Knock… Who's there? Many Migrants! YaleGlobal, 5 August 2003
* "Online News Hour with Jim Lehrer: Human Cargo," PBS, June 20, 2000
* "Three illegal migrants die in shipping container," CBC News, November 11, 2000
* "Body found in wheel well of passenger jet," Business, 29 Jan 2007
* "Body found in wheel well of plane," BBC News/UK, 31 December 2003
* "Stowaway's body found in plane," BBC News/England, 15 April 2002
* "Dead man 'may have fallen from plane,'" BBC News/UK, 14 June 2001
* "Desperate cargo," BBC News/UK, 22 March 2001
* "Stowaway dies over the Atlantic," BBC News/Americas, 21 February 2001
* "UK plane stowaways were Cuban," BBC News/Americas/UK, 28 December 2000
* "Stowaways freeze to death," BBC News/Asia-Pacific, 4 October 2000
* "747 stowaway survives Pacific flight," BBC News/Americas, 5 August 2000
* "Trafficking in Human Beings," United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 7 March 2007
* Jordan, Ann, "Human Trafficking and Globalization," Center for American Progress

Ability to Adapt to Changes in Migration

The growing interdependence of economies regionally and globally is a good predictor that migration will not be stagnant and that it will follow increasingly more complex patterns. Some might argue that this trend is a positive one. Others might disagree and would urge the use of national resources to stem the tide of globalization in order to protect the integrity of nation states, their boundaries, and their economies. Some might posit that globalization is occurring in spite of nation-states, while others would argue that globalization is the product of decisions and actions taken by nation-states.

If changes in the movement of goods and services mean the movement of people will also change, are leaders and policy makers prepared to periodically re-assess their assumptions and theories in order for policy to keep pace with shifting migration patterns?

Can policy change at the speed that migration can now occur?

What investments must nations make to keep pace with the technology, the speed, and the changing methods of migration?

* Jordan, Ann, "Human Trafficking and Globalization," Center for American Progress
* "Globalization & Migration," Women & The Economy: A project of UNPAC (UN Platform for Action Committee Manitoba 2003-2006
* "Globalization," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Jun 21, 2002, revised Jun 16, 2006
* Zedillo, Ernesto, "Globalization and the Changing Roles of States," The Trilateral Commission
* "Globalization and Labor's Response," Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations

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Impacts on Sending Countries

Decisions Regarding Emigration
Some sending countries believe that borders should be monitored and exit permits should be restricted in order to stem the flow of labor and intellectuals. Other sending countries choose to offer incentives to those who pursue overseas employment and travel. Sending countries also struggle with issues of citizenship of their nationals who adopt a new country. There are countries such as Mexico and Ireland that recognize dual or multiple citizenship. In other words, a citizen of Mexico or Ireland retains that nationality even if she or he obtains citizenship in another country. Other countries do not recognize dual citizenship, so once their citizens obtain citizenship in another country they lose all rights of nationality in their home country. Another question facing sending countries is the extent to which they will protect their citizens who are residing in another country. There are rights of embassies to protect and advocate for their citizens in another country. But such exercise of protection requires use of political capital and resources to commit to effective advocacy of their citizens abroad.

Does a sending country have an ethical obligation to allow dual citizenship?

Is it unethical for a country to cancel citizenship for anyone who emigrates elsewhere?

What ethical obligations do countries have to advocate for the rights of their citizens in receiving countries?

Should sending countries actively advocate for the rights of their citizens abroad?

How should sending countries deal with conflicts between the interest of their citizens abroad and the interests of another sovereign nation?

Is it unethical for a sending country to disregard the risks and dangers that migration poses to its citizens because the country has a stake in future remittances that its citizens will eventually send home?

What ethical obligations, therefore, do sending countries have to stop human trafficking or to protect citizens in transit?

Does a sending country have an ethical duty to allow a receiving country to return citizens of the sending country when those citizens have violated the laws of the receiving country?

* Udogu, E. Ike, "African Development and the Immigration of Its Intelligentsia: An Overview"
* Sawahel, Wagdy, "Head of African Union attacks 'brain trade,'" Science and Development Network, 5 April 2006
* Orozco, Manuel, "Globalization and Migration: The Impact of Family Remittances in Latin America"
* "Dual Nationality," US State Department Services Dual Nationality
* "Dual Citizenship," Australians Overseas, Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship
* "Armenia Adopts Dual-Citizenship Law," Radio Free Europe, February 26, 2007
* "Dual Citizenship," Access to Justice Network
* "Immigration: Dual Citizenship," CBC News, July 20, 2006
* Calpotura, Francis, "What Can Foreign Embassies Do for Immigrants?" Race Wire, Color Lines, May 2003
* "Consular Registration of U.S. Citizens and U.S. Non-Citizen Nationals," US Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual, Vol. 7, No. 040


Benefits of Emigration
Some benefits of emigration include a reduction in population stress. This in turn reduces stress on the land - land needed for food production and land needed for homes. It also reduces stress on resources such as water, heating oil or wood, and services. Emigration brings to the sending country capital in the form of remittances. It serves as an inexpensive form of foreign aid. Emigrants also send new ideas, culture, technology, and products home to family. Emigration rids a country of malcontents, dissension, and criminal elements. The government can use emigration as a mechanism to maintain its political control. Emigration also shifts the care of elderly to receiving countries.

What ethical issues arise when one country encourages its citizens to emigrate shifting its responsibility to feed, educate, and protect those citizens to another country?

Is it ethical to encourage citizens to emigrate knowing that such emigration will economically benefit the sending country and improve the standard of living of other citizens in the sending country, even if emigration means separation of families and loss of the "best and brightest"?

* Hefti, Anny Misa, "Globalization and Migration," European Solidarity Conference on the Philippines: Responding to Globalization, 19-21 September 1997, Boldern House, Mannedorf, Zurich, Switzerland.
* Orozco, Manuel, "Globalization and Migration: The Impact of Family Remittances in Latin America"
* Stalker, Peter, "Population and jobs," Peter Stalker's Guide to International Migration
* Stalker, Peter, "Remittances," Peter Stalker's Guide to International Migration

Losses from Emigration
The energy and strength of young people are often lost by the sending country through the process of emigration. There are "ghost" towns in countries such as Mexico, where the only residents for most of the year are women, young children, and older persons. Many also decry the "brain drain" that occurs with emigration. These persons note the investment that sending countries have made in education and health, only to lose these intellects in the prime of their lives. A further loss is the community infrastructure. Older people and children are left in many sending countries without mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. The traditional families and communities are disrupted, and this disruption, some would argue, dominos into other parts of the social structures in sending countries. Finally, some argue that there is a loss of capital that travels with labor and intellectuals abroad. Others see this departure as part of the necessary growth of intellectuals, and the natural result of capitalism.

To what extent can countries ethically discourage emigration in order to minimize the loss of professionals and educated citizens to other countries and other economies?

Is it ethical for receiving countries to accept immigrants, who in their country of origin would be the impetus for change or improvement?

Is it ethical for countries to try to protect their nationals from perceived dangers either in transit or on arrival in the receiving country by blocking emigration?

Can a sending country request a receiving country to reimburse the sending country for the cost of education and care of the migrants that are contributing to the growth of the receiving country?

* Hefti, Anny Misa, "Globalization and Migration," European Solidarity Conference on the Philippines: Responding to Globalization, 19-21 September 1997, Boldern House, Mannedorf, Zurich, Switzerland
* Udogu, E. Ike, "African Development and the Immigration of Its Intelligentsia: An Overview"
* Salazar Parrenas, Rhacel, Children of Global Migration: Transnational Families and Gendered Woes. Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2005.
* Lowell, B. Lindsay and Allan Findlay, "International Migration Papers 44: Migration of Highly Skilled Persons From Developing Countries: Impact and Policy Responses: Synthesis Report," International Labour Office (Geneva), International Migration Branch
* Stalker, Peter, "Social Impact," Peter Stalker's Guide to International Migration
* Stalker, Peter, "Return Migration," Peter Stalker's Guide to International Migration

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Impacts on Transit Countries

Decisions Regarding Transiting Migrants
Countries of transit also face important decisions in the face of migration. Some countries believe they must close their borders, especially when large numbers of persons are crossing into their countries. For example, Honduras posted soldiers at their border with El Salvador during the 1980's barring entry to Salvadorans who were attempting to flee the conflict by crossing the Sumpul River into Honduras. Countries hosting refugees in transit face a huge drain on their resources (food, water, land) and conflicts between refugees and the local population. They also are forced to deal with incursion by armed groups who are pursuing the refugees. Some of the refugees become permanent residents in these host countries, but many are in transit to a permanent resettlement country. Safe third country policies generally provide that the country of last presence of a refugee will be the country responsible for that refugee. Not all countries close borders to refugees. Many welcome and attempt to assist them even when facing shortages of food and water for their own people. Under other circumstances, transit countries welcome visitors because of the money they spend in the country while in transit help the economy of the transit countries.

What resources are needed to close borders?

What are the human costs to closing borders?

What international obligations do transit countries have?

Do countries have an ethical obligation to deal with human traffickers who transport people through their countries in route to destination countries?

What legal status, if any, does the transit country give to those transiting through their nation?

Is it better to encourage people to remain and become full members of the community, or to keep moving or not to enter at all?

What are the ethical obligations to house, feed and protect persons fleeing persecution while they are waiting for permanent resettlement?

How do transit countries, which are poor, make choices between caring for large numbers of refugees and their own poor?

There are many families that live along borders and transit back and forth. These families were split by shifting borders. These families are not transiting through, but are transiting back and forth, visiting family or doing business on both sides of the border. Historically, the United States has taken the position of encouraging this cross-border connection. Many who live along the border have been issued Border Crossing Cards to allow shopping, visiting, and work across the Mexico-United States border. But this situation is different from the transiting of large groups of refugees, and thus transit nations may develop different policies depending on the circumstances and numbers of transiting migrants.

How do transit countries address border issues in these circumstances?

Should this cross-border activity be encouraged or discouraged?

What ethical obligations do countries have to protect and preserve family and cultural ties the span both sides of their border?

Are there obligations to facilitate these ties, or at least not hinder these ties?

* "Human smuggling/trafficking: The trade in people," CBC News, April 13, 2006
* Icduygu, Ahmet, "The Politics of International Migratory Regimes: Transit Migration Flows in Turkey," International Social Science Journal, Vol. 52, Issue 165, Page 357, September 2000
* "At the Fringes of Europe: Transit Migration in Ukraine and Turkey," Centre on Migration Policy & Society (COMPAS)
* "Study on Transit Migration Through Azerbaijan," IOM International Organization for Migration
* Papdopoulou, Aspasia, "Smuggling into Europe: Transit Migrants in Greece," Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, June 2004, pp. 167-184(18)
* Duvell, Franck, "Crossing the fringes of Europe: Transit migration in the EU's neighborhood," Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), Working Paper No. 33, University of Oxford, 2006
* "Border Communities Decry Senate Approval of Yet Another Expansion of Border Militarization, Including Fencing Expansion and Increased Border Patrol," American Friends Service Committee, May 17 2006

Benefits of Transit Migration
Benefits from those transiting, as mentioned above, may be capital spent in tourism and shopping. Some other benefits include labor provided to local merchants and farmers. For families with members who live on both sides of a border, the benefits can include strengthening family ties. The transiting migrants are not likely to need long-term services, such as retirement, health care or schools. The migrants also bring technology and products with them and may leave them in route. Thus, countries of transit may encourage people to visit them in route to their final destination.

To what extent can transit countries compete for tourist or migrant capital?

Are high prices charged for goods and services to migrants a form of exploitation by transit countries or a source of legitimate capital for transit countries?

Do transiting countries have any ethical obligations to minimize the risks of migration and to investigate and prosecute human traffickers transiting their countries?

* "Senders Turned into Receivers: Transit Migration in the Middle East and North Africa," Mediterranean Programme, 8th Mediterranean Research Meeting, Florence & Monecatini Terme, 21-25 March 2007, Workshop 16
* "Study on Transit Migration Through Azerbaijan," IOM International Organization for Migration
* Tishkov, Valery, Zhanna Zayinchkovskaya, and Galina Vitkovskaya, "Migration in the countries of the former Soviet Union," Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM), September 2005

Losses from Transit Migration
Costs of services and stress on the land for long-term transiting populations, such as refugees, put a strain on the countries that host them. A current example is the country of Chad, which is hosting and caring for refugees from Darfur, Sudan. Long-term population increases may displace local populations or encroach on local land and water. There is a cost to insure the safety of transiting populations. There are expectations from the international community that countries, which are already poor and struggling to provide for their own people, will be able to find resources to care for the transiting population. Some transiting countries view this migrating population as violating their national sovereignty, and do everything to close borders or remove people in transit from their land.

What can transit countries ethically do to protect their citizens and the resources that their citizens need when large numbers of persons transit through their countries?

Do these countries have an ethical obligation to accept large numbers of people who are fleeing for their lives?

Is it ethical for the international community to insist that transit countries bear the burden of caring for persons fleeing conflict in a neighboring country without receiving international support and assistance?

To what extent do transit countries exploit migrants in terms of labor and capital?

* "Senders Turned into Receivers: Transit Migration in the Middle East and North Africa," Mediterranean Programme, 8th Mediterranean Research Meeting, Florence & Monecatini Terme, 21-25 March 2007, Workshop 16
* "Study on Transit Migration Through Azerbaijan," IOM International Organization for Migration
* Tishkov, Valery, Zhanna Zayinchkovskaya, and Galina Vitkovskaya, "Migration in the countries of the former Soviet Union," Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM), September 2005

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Impacts on Receiving Countries

Decisions Regarding Immigration
In some respects, receiving countries face decisions similar to countries of transit. In other respects, the decisions are much more complicated. The decision whether to close a border(s) and which border(s) depends on the relations the country has with the sending nation, the type and number of immigrants that arrive from that country, and the political, social and economic environment which exists at the time of the immigrant's arrival. Questions which factor into decisions about closing borders include the cost of closing the border (financial, technological, and human resources needed), the human cost (loss of life crossing deserts or seas), the geography and feasibility of closing the border(s), and the political will to close the border(s). Receiving countries must decide whether they will accept any immigrants at all. If they choose to accept immigrants but with limitations, then they must decide which immigrants will be given preference (ethnicity, education, skills, family already in the receiving country), how many immigrants will be allowed to enter over what period of time, and what process will be used to facilitate immigration (will it be rigid or will there be discretion).

What can receiving countries do ethically to limit the numbers of immigrants arriving at their borders?

Is it ethical to rescue persons on boats that are not seaworthy, if the country then chooses not to screen the persons about fear of returning to their country of origin but just sends them home?

May receiving countries arbitrarily choose what immigrants to accept and how many, or should they create a coherent, understandable, and publicized policy? In other words, do receiving countries have a duty to give notice to the world who will be allowed to immigrate and under what circumstances?

Can countries ethically limit migration by race, nationality, age, education, gender, sexual orientation, or any other similar classification or category?

To what extent may receiving countries defend their borders? Can borders be protected with lethal means?

What resources should a country divert to protect the borders from funds needed for services to the country's citizens?

* O'Hanlon, Michael, "Border Protection"
* Binswanger, Harry, "Immigration Quotas vs. Individual Rights: The Moral and Practical Case for Open Immigration," Capitalism Magazine, April 2, 2006
* Amegashie, J. Atsu, "A political economy model of immigration quotas," Economics of Governance, 2004, vol. 5, issue 3, papes 255-267
* Bhutani, Suruchi, "The Ethics of Immigration," Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
* Hing, Bill Ong, Deporting Our Souls: Values, Morality, and Immigration Policy, Cambridge University Press, 2006

Benefits of Immigration
The benefits of immigration include the influx of labor, capital, and innovation. Many countries find that new immigrants are willing to fight and die to protect their new homes, and so incorporate new immigrants into their military. New immigrants bring enthusiasm, energy, and culture to share with those already living in the country. They pay taxes which support services to those living in the country. Immigration also unites family members and promotes more stable families and communities.

What ethical responsibilities do receiving countries have to compensate sending countries for the education invested in immigrants who contribute to the receiving countries?

Is it ethical for businesses to hire foreign workers who are already trained, while at the same time refusing to train native workers and thus creating an "underclass" of unskilled citizens, while taking skilled labor away from other countries?

Is it ethical for receiving countries to require immigrants to pay taxes and yet deny immigrants benefits funded by those same taxes?

Can receiving countries ethically ask immigrants to fight and die for a country that chooses to exclude family members of those immigrants?

Is it ethical for countries to enjoy the labor and capital of immigrants and then deny them immigration benefits?

Can receiving countries in good conscience encourage migrants to leave their countries, thus, hindering the development of those countries?

* Hefti, Anny Misa, "Globalization and Migration," European Solidarity Conference on the Philippines: Responding to Globalization, 19-21 September 1997, Boldern House, Mannedorf, Zurich, Switzerland
* Stalker, Peter, "Economic Growth," Peter Stalker's Guide to International Migration
* Stalker, Peter, "Filling the Job Gaps," Peter Stalker's Guide to International Migration
* "Fact Sheet: Honoring Immigrant Members of America's Armed Services," The White House, July 2006
*Stock, Margaret D., "Essential to the Fight: Immigrants in the Military, Five Years After 9/11," Immigration Policy in Focus, Vol. 5, Issue 9, November 2006

Losses from Immigration
Others say that new immigrants strain already overburdened service providers. They need education, health care, housing, and support services. Some feel that immigrants disrupt existing practices and beliefs and power structures. There are some that feel national unity and cohesiveness disintegrate with the arrival of new people.

What obligations do receiving countries have to immigrants who entered their countries unlawfully?

Can receiving countries ethically deny health, education, or other basic necessities to persons within their borders whether the persons are present lawfully or unlawfully?

Is it ethical for entire groups of people to be excluded from the benefits of their labor because of the manner which they entered the receiving country?

How do countries choose to allocate resources when resources become limited?

What is the impact of immigration on poor native citizens? Should countries protect native jobs or embrace the free market?

Is it ethical to deny some family members the right to immigrate to join citizen family members in the name of immigration control?

* Hefti, Anny Misa, "Globalization and Migration," European Solidarity Conference on the Philippines: Responding to Globalization, 19-21 September 1997, Boldern House, Mannedorf, Zurich, Switzerland
* Stalker, Peter, "Employment," Peter Stalker's Guide to International Migration
* Stalker, Peter, "Welfare," Peter Stalker's Guide to International Migration
* Krikorian, Mark, "Green-Card Soldiers: Should the U.S. military be reserved for Americans?" National Review Online, April 22, 2003
* "The High Cost of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget: Executive Summary," Center for Immigration Studies

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Responses to Immigrants

Justice System
The justice system is one of the systems generally thought to be open to all. Yet, immigrants may not have the same rights or access to the justice system as those given to native-born persons. Some would argue that justice should apply equally to everyone who is found within the borders of a nation. Others argue that the laws cannot and should not apply the same to all.
There are those who caution that immigrants strain the criminal justice system. They point to the number of immigrants in jails and the amount of law enforcement resources dedicated to dealing with immigrant-related crimes. On the other hand, recent studies in the United States show that native-born citizens are more likely to commit a crime than immigrants.
Law enforcement is torn between needing the cooperation of immigrants to help solve crimes and the financial incentives and political pressures to help enforce immigration laws.

Can receiving countries ethically design laws that apply differently to citizens and noncitizens?

Are there some legal rights that should apply regardless of immigration status?

To what extent do countries need the cooperation of immigrant communities in maintaining law and order?

What is the impact on immigrant communities when the law enforcement officers who are supposed to protect them become the officers who hand them over to immigration officers?

Should countries dedicate resources to making the judicial process accessible to immigrants?

How much resources can be dedicated to protecting immigrants and insuring their access to the legal system?

Can receiving countries afford to incarcerate immigrants?

How long can countries detain immigrants for violations of immigration laws, and under what conditions?

Should immigrants be held separately from the general criminal population?

What standards are required for the condition of detention facilities and the training of detention personnel?

Should immigrant children be detained at all?

See also:
* Fisher, Marla Jo, "Immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born, study says," The Orange County Register, February 26, 2007
* Horowitz, Carl F., "An Examination of U.S. Immigration Policy and Serious Crime," Center for Immigration Studies, April 2001
* "Access to the Justice System for Immigrants: Equal Justice for All," Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
* Davis, Robert C., "Access to Justice for Immigrants Who Are Victimized: The Perspective of Police and Prosecutors," SAGE Journals, 2001

Social Benefits
The discussion of social benefits often occurs in the context of a cost-benefit analysis. How much will the programs cost the taxpayers and how much will be gained from them? Some would argue that availability of social services regardless of immigration status is a draw for people to enter the receiving nation. These persons believe that social services should be restricted or denied to those entering the country illegally and to recent immigrants in order to discourage immigration for the purposes of receiving benefits. They state that a nation cannot financially take on the burden of caring for large numbers of immigrants.
Others point out that immigrants, whether they have entered legally or not, pay taxes and thus contribute to the monies available to pay for these services. They also argue that immigrants are generally younger and healthier and are less likely to need social benefits.

What happens to the young mother of small children who is left homeless because of domestic violence?

Is it not in everyone's interest to support the families and communities, as some would suggest?

Can receiving countries ethically deny social benefits to immigrants?

Does it matter if the immigrant is part of a family which also has citizen family members?

Is it ethical to attempt to discourage immigration through denial of social benefits?

Can receiving countries ethically refuse entry to immigrants who are not at the prime of their lives (e.g. elderly, disabled, …)?

What ethical questions are raised when social workers are required to identify and report undocumented immigrants to immigration officials?

Is it right to distinguish between refugees and others entitled to public benefits and those not entitled to benefits such as business immigrants, in terms of socioeconomic value?

* "Immigrants and Social Services: Social Security," Affirmative Action and Diversity Project
* "The High Cost of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget: Executive Summary," Center for Immigration Studies
* Marietta, Melissa, "Undocumented immigrants should receive social services," International Social Science Review, Spring-Summer 2006

The debate over language is often a heated one. Most nations encourage newcomers to learn the national language. Language can be seen as a mechanism for integration and acculturation. For full participation in the national and political life of a country, immigrants benefit from knowledge of the language. Language is seen as a unifying force. Some see language differences as a matter of identity, cultural pride, diversity, and a connection with one's ancestors. Where language differences are accepted, there are costs such as bi-lingual education, multi-lingual signs and instructions, and a constant need for qualified interpreters.
Language is fluid and constantly changes. For language purists, the introduction of new languages may endanger the old form of the language. New hybrids are created, and for some these hybrids are the signs of the vitality and richness of language.

Are receiving countries responsible for providing services and resources in every language that is found within their borders?

If a receiving country benefits from the presence of the language, is it ethical to punish the immigrants who use that language on a daily basis?

Does it matter that a nation has a common language? If language is a unifying force and national identity is tied to language, should receiving countries encourage or force the use of a single language?

Who decides which language? Who decides the method for encouraging or forcing usage of one language?

* "Greek language training for immigrants"
* Palmieri, Genoveva T., "Becoming a 'Gringo' Immigrants, Language Learning and Acculturation," Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 1998
* Rae, Leah, "Pass along language skills, immigrant parents told; video," The Journal News, March 5, 2007
* Alba, Richard, "Bilingualism Persists, But English Still Dominates," Migration Information Source, February 1, 2005
* Lynn, Andrea, "Factors controlling immigrants' second language ability identified," University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau, February 1, 2000

Jobs have been zealously guarded during economic decline. Many argue that citizens cannot get jobs because immigrants are willing to work for less. Yet, there are employers who simply cannot find laborers and must recruit from abroad or move their companies abroad.
Legal rights for immigrants in the work place help some, but many do not know their rights or are too afraid to exercise them. While one could argue that immigrants should not be encouraged to work illegally by providing such workers with employment rights, others would point out that creating an underground, unequal labor force only undermines the rights and protections of all workers.

Do receiving countries have an obligation to protect all workers regardless of immigration status?

What are the ethical issues that arise when employers hold the power of determining whether someone gets legal immigration status?

Is it ethical for receiving countries to offer education but no employment opportunities to young immigrants?

Is it ethical to force employers to surreptitiously bring workers into the country or to ignore immigration laws in order to compete successfully with cheap products from abroad?

Does discrimination by employers of immigrant laborers undermine the rights of workers generally?

Is it ethical for consumers in a receiving country to demand cheap products and punish employers for hiring undocumented workers?

What are the costs and resources that are expended for monitoring employers to ensure they comply with immigration laws?

If these resources could be used for other needed services for citizens of the receiving countries, can receiving countries justify the diversion of these resources needed to monitor employers?

See also:
* Hurt, Charles, "Unions Worked Up Over Illegals," The Washington Times, April 15, 2006
* "Professor Investigates Labor Unions and Immigration Policy At European Union Center of California Event," SCRIPPS The Women's College, March 19, 2002
* Ho, Christopher, "Illegal Immigrants Deserve Protection of American Law Law," The Legal Aid Society: Employment Law Center, April 7, 2002
* Bacon, David, "Labor Fights for Immigrants," The Nation, May 21, 2001
* Krueger, Alan B., "Two Labor Economic Issues for the Immigration Debate"


Health care is a service generally provided to all, including immigrants. It is difficult to treat and care for only the native-born population, when dealing with contagious diseases. Diseases spread regardless of immigration status. Yet, the cost of providing even basic services is enormous. Often tax dollars are used to cover these services. It is true that immigrants pay taxes and thus help to pay for the health care services they receive. It is also true that much of medical care is being provided by health care providers from abroad. Nevertheless, a growing population from immigration puts an increased demand for services on health care providers.
Some have proposed to have healthcare providers report undocumented immigrants to immigration. Yet, others fear that parents will not take dying or sick children to the hospital if they are afraid that they or their children will be deported.

What cost does failure to care for the sick and dying have on communities as a whole?

How do communities pay for the cost of these services?

Is health care an inalienable right?

Can receiving countries ethically deny health services to immigrants?

What are the costs to the citizens of a receiving country if health care is provided to immigrants?

What are the costs if health care is not provided to immigrants?

Is it ethical for receiving countries to decide what health care will be provided and to which of the migrants?

See also:
* Rachlin, Andrew, "The Economic Impact of International Migration from India - Movement of Global Talent…
* Carrillo de Albornoz, Sara, "On a mission: how Cuba uses its doctors abroad," BMJ 2006:333;464 (2 September)
* "Health Care," The American Resistance
* "Denial of Care to Illegal Immigrants - Proposition 187 in California," The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 332:1095-1098, No. 16, April 20, 1995

Civil Disobedience
The immigration debate has historically spawned civil disobedience. Civil disobedience cuts both ways. At the time of Proposition 187 and as recent as 2006, many service providers have spoken in favor of committing civil disobedience rather than complying with laws that would require them to turn someone over to immigration or deny the person services. Cardinal Mahoney encouraged members of the Catholic Church to take such a stand. Then there are those who are taking a different stand. They feel that protection of the borders have failed and so they have taken up surveillance at the border between Mexico and the United States. They call themselves the "Minutemen." Beliefs are strongly held when it comes to immigration and immigrants.

Is civil disobedience the solution the solution to a nation divided on how to deal with immigration?

Are there other ways to institute change when the process of negotiating laws and policies takes so long and is so divided?

Is there a middle ground for the very divergent views on immigration and immigrants?

Is it possible to re-think implementation of immigration policy? For example, is it possible to make immigration policy and regulations a state issue? Could pro-immigration states allow more immigration, while conservative states regulate their own borders? How would the costs and benefits be dealt with nationally? What resources would be needed to monitor movement across borders within the nation?

* "Denial of Care to Illegal Immigrants - Proposition 187 in California," The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 332:1095-1098, No. 16, April 20, 1995
* "SOS Dominates California Campaign," Migration News, Vol. 1 No. 4, November 1994
* "Mahony Calls on Priests to Ignore Proposed Immigration Law," NBC4.TV, March 1, 2006
* Watanabe, Teresa, "Immigrants Gain the Pulpit: Cardinal Mahony says he will ask priests to provide aid without proof of documentation even if proposed restrictions become law," The Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2006
* "The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps Border Operations Headquarters"

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International Policies and Conventions

International policies and conventions are important to the discussion of migration because they illustrate migration priorities of countries generally, as well as solutions and concerns raised by the global community. These conventions and policies also offer opportunities to address migration on a broader policy scale. Since migration frequently involves more than the sending and receiving countries, bi-lateral agreements are insufficient.
There are numerous international conventions and agreements that deal with migration. Some among them specifically address migration, such as the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, as well as the International Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Others incorporate provisions dealing with migration, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Many believe these conventions and agreements should guide laws, policies and enforcement within individual nations. Others do not feel that international laws are in any way binding on sovereign nations.

Should international conventions legally bind sovereign nations?

Do countries have ethical obligations to follow international policies even when those policies conflict with the interests of their citizens?

Is it ethical for countries to address migration in isolation from world opinion and policy?

See also:
* "Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees," Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
* "Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees," Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
* "International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families," Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
* "The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and Its Protocols," United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
* "Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime"
* "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women," ["It affirms women's rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women."]
* "Globalization & Migration," Women & The Economy: A project of UNPAC (UN Platform for Action Committee Manitoba 2003-2006
* Hyland, Kelly E., "The Impact of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children," Human Rights Brief: A Legal Resource for the International Human Rights Community, Vol. 8 Issue 2

Coalition/Regional Approaches
Regions, such as the European Union (EU), have begun to address immigration law and policy on a broader scale. "The European Union has as one of its objectives the establishment of an area of freedom, justice and security. This includes, along with police and justice cooperation, the development of common European policies in the areas of immigration and asylum." Nevertheless, regional organizations often find themselves struggling to resolve conflicting national interests and goals. There are those who feel migration in the context of globalization is an issue that needs to be addressed on a global scale, while others believe that individual nation-states reserve the right and have the obligation to decide who crosses their borders, as well when and how.

Do the interests of one nation carry more weight than the interests of another nation within the region?

If a nation is more powerful, is it ethical for that nation to set the agenda and policy on migration for neighboring countries and the region?

Is it ethical for a nation to follow immigration policies that severely impact neighboring countries and economic partners?

If a nation cannot agree on immigration policy, is it realistic to devote resources towards devising a regional policy?

Are there benefits to having a uniform immigration policy in the region, including minimizing forum shopping by migrants and equally sharing the benefits and costs of migration among neighboring countries?

See also:
* "European Immigration Laws"
* Guild, Elspeth, "Immigration Law in the European Community," Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in Europe Book Series. Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2001.
* "North American Free Trade Agreement between the Government of Canada, the Government of the United Mexican States, and the Government of the United States of America," SICE Foreign Trade Information System
* "Immigration & Migration," Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
* "Request for Proposal Bid No. 10/06 for Port Security Assessment and Training Project in the Dominican Republic," Secretariat of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, General Secretariat of the Organization of American States ("GS/OAS/CICTE"), July 21, 2006
* "U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement: What is CAFTA?" Washington Office on Latin America, March 4, 2006
* Sawahel, Wagdy, "Head of African Union attacks 'brain trade,'" Science and Development Network, 5 April 2006
* "Constitutive Act of the African Union"

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The immigration debate is a timeless one. It can be divisive, or it can unite a country or a region. Interests of citizens and migrants may sometimes coincide and sometimes diverge. As discussed above, there are a myriad of ethical issues and questions which should be discussed and debated.

As a framework for this debate, there are some crucial questions. Who are the migrants of today? How do we understand the needs and rights of those who migrate? What rights do migrants have and how do those rights compare to the rights of those who do not migrate? How are the needs and rights of migrants to be balanced against those of the people from the sending, transit, and receiving countries? Do countries have obligations beyond those they owe their citizens? If so, what responsibilities do countries have to migrants? If not, then what entity has the power and will to protect migrants? Can countries to close their borders at all costs, or do they have some obligation to minimize the harm to persons crossing their borders? Are migration issues best served when addressed nationally, regionally, or internationally through orderly processes and clear laws? Or are there times that individual citizens or communities can and should address migration issues outside of national laws and legal processes? What are the limits on the power of countries to control or affect migration? Who decides what those limits are? Are there methods and forums to discuss and address migration issues? What format should these discussions take?

This paper attempts to raise some questions to begin this discussion. These questions and issues are illustrative and certainly not an exhaustive list. The hope is that any discussion will be open and creative in order to promote an ethical response to migration in the world today.

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Lynette M Parker is staff attorney with the Community Law Center of Santa Clara University School of Law.

May 1, 2007
All About Ethics