This essay discusses ethical implications of the immigration issue. The main idea of this paper is based on a thought that immigration may be justified within the framework of deontological approach and ethical egoism, whereas utilitarian ethics may find more drawbacks than positive consequences in immigration.
Immigration is a deliberate act of people moving from their motherland and settling in a place, which is not their native. The reasons behind immigration are different. These include economic and political factors, family reunification, poverty caused either by natural disasters or by low economical development of the country of origin, educational or other personal reasons. Immigration theory can be explained with the help of push and pull theory. According to Guido Dorigo and Waldo Tobler (1983), the 'push' factors of immigration relate to those life conditions that make a person dissatisfied with their present place of residence. The 'pull' factors include appealing conditions of distant places. In this light, poverty is one of the most common push factors, which is supported by pull factors of availability of jobs and higher living standards. Another push factor may be poor educational system, whereas corresponding pull factor is high educational possibilities in other countries. Put in simple terms, people try to find something they are missing in their home countries in some places abroad.
There are many essential issues regarding morality of immigration. These include complex questions concerning specification and moral status of refugees, circumstances and justification of the permission to use guest workers, duties of a receiving country when it actively attracts skilled workers from less developed states, and whether there should be any limitations on assessment criteria that a country may use in the selection of immigrants.
Thus, in terms of deontological ethics, immigration can be perceived as beneficial due to two main reasons. First and foremost, opening borders for immigrants implies acting in morally right way as it is a duty of prospective nations to take care of those, who are in need. Secondly, the act of immigration, by nature, is caused by good motives to find a better job, education, reunite with a family, or hide from racial or religion persecution.
According to the views of utilitarianism, the moral worth of an action is defined only by its resulting outcome. So, neither moral obligations and duties, nor virtues are effective criteria in determining the character of an action. Utilitarian ethics evaluates actions and things with regard to their consequences. Presenting the utopia model of borderless society, utilitarianism suggests that opening borders will lead to economically efficient organization of workers. Therefore, every member of a society will be better-off. The main negative consequence of a restricted movement is that talented foreigners could bring more benefits to the state if they were free to move, whereas excluding outsiders results in capital losses. Nonetheless, universal utilitarian view on immigration issue presented above is historically impossible and has no real chance to exist. This is because opening of borders means there would be no separate states. Using utilitarian approach within a particular country leads to a directly opposed view on immigration. From the perspective of a country accepting immigrants, utilitarian ethics may judge immigration as it leads to numerous subsequent in-state problems. Immigration laws and policies of the USA are relatively mild, while living conditions are good. Thus, according to studies of Neli Esipova, Julie Ray, and Rajesh Srinivasan (2010), the USA is the most desired destination for potential migrants. Hereafter, examples of US immigration side effects are provided.
Early immigrants to USA filled a niche in the labor market with professions and jobs “Americans won’t do”. Illegal workers took specific occupations, particularly drywall/ceiling tile installers, gardeners, housekeepers, maids, and construction workers. While this principle denied equal opportunities and rights of immigrants, it turned out later that the tendency to hire cheap non-American labor played a cruel trick on the native middle class. In fact, neither immigrants who were initially underpaid by their employers, nor native citizens, who were left out of the labor market, benefitted from mass immigration. The ones who really did were the stakeholders, who earned increased profits on capital by cutting labor costs. Consequently, excessive population of immigrants created a problem of income disparity. Distribution of income becomes more unequal year after year. According to Vernon M. Briggs, since 1968 top 10% of families in the US have increased their average family real income by 57%, whereas average real income of families of the bottom 10% decreased by 40%. This tendency is striking, and, therefore, the ethical issue of equal opportunities should be addressed. Generally, moral principles require to provide help to those in need, while citizens of a particular country should not suffer from decreased wages due to this help. Analysis of Harvard economist George Borjas showed that each 1% increase in labor force from immigrants’ population decreases average wage of domestic workers by 0.35% (1996).
Illegal immigration contributes to the increase of fiscal deficits on the state level because illegal workers pay less taxes than officially employed citizens. This decreases budget revenues. Thus, the fiscal burden is taken by native citizens, who have to pay increased taxes.
Another negative consequence of immigration for the USA is overpopulation, which leads to abnormal consumption of natural resources. In fact, increased population is damaging vital resources of water, cropland, and fuels putting future generations at a threat. Thus, overpopulation creates an ethical problem by increasing vulnerability of future generations.
Additionally, US educational and healthcare systems are organized in accordance to values and traditions of American society emphasizing on taking care of the sick and offering public education to all. The inflow of immigrants created serious problems in these spheres. Hospitals have a duty to provide non-reimbursed health service to uninsured citizens, major part of which are low-income immigrants. Thus, the duty of caring for the sick endangers existence of hospitals that have restricted budgets. Moreover, increased number of visitors of the same institutions suffer from low quality services, where schools provide poor knowledge and hospital's medical treatment starts to fail. These consequences of immigrants’ inflow raise an ethical issue regarding what duties and obligations are primary for the state: to serve immigrants or to provide descent quality of services for native citizens.
Another ethical problem related to immigration results from the controversial nature of the immigration. Whereas the motivation behind immigration is to escape from poverty or to find the better living conditions, immigration cannot solve the problem of poverty in undeveloped countries and is not a remedy for life troubles. Therefore, it is important that countries develop well-thought fair and unbiased immigration laws and policies securing the rights of both native citizens and immigrants.
Apart from economical issues, countries accepting immigrants suffer from cultural and religious misunderstandings. Immigrants from different nations bring their views, customs, cultural beliefs, and rules, which may be contradictory to national ones. The most negative example of such misunderstanding are terroristic acts of Islamic extremists, Indian and Chinese sex-selected abortion, and rape attacks of European and Australian women by Islamic men. Different nations have their own native languages, consequently creating many problems with English assimilation and preserving their language rights. The ethical point is that mass immigration may override the cultural carrying capacity, where cultural variety neglects values and traditions of the accepting state.
Thus, the US example of numerous negative mass immigration consequences proves that looking at immigration through the prism of utilitarian ethics within the unit (socioeconomic, geographic, and political) finds more negative than positive aspects.
Contrary to consequentialism, ethical egoism is a theory that approves immigration issue. According to Shaver (2010), the action could be treated as morally right and justified in case it maximizes one’s self-interest. This theory differs from other classical approaches as it assesses feelings of one individual and does not refer to interests and gains of others. Utilitarian and virtue ethics sometimes place interests of one person at a lower position than interests of the whole society. Contrary to this, ethical egoism pays more attention to individual benefits. Thus, in terms of ethical egoism, immigration issue is absolutely justified as it solves problems of some individuals (not the whole population) and this is enough to be morally right.
First, immigration allows solving a problem of refugees. Thus people who were persecuted in their native countries based on their race, religion, political views, nationality or pertaining to some social group may find salvation through immigration. Second, immigration of low cost labor to wealthy countries enables stakeholders to maximize their profits due to decreased labor expenses. Therefore, employers are those who benefit from imported labor recruitment possibilities. Third, poor and uneducated people from undeveloped states find the only right way to improve their life by immigrating to prospering countries. Thus, they have a chance to enter a successful society, where the sick are provided with health care and treatment, the uneducated have an opportunity to enter school and get knowledge, and where the unemployed may find a job. Therefore, immigration is a way for people to escape from poverty. Next, science and industry of accepting country enjoy benefits from imported knowledge workers. Prominent scientists in physics, engineering, architecture, medicine, and many other spheres are of high demand in any country. Thus, the state that managed to attract this kind of workers makes long-lasting investments and receives substantial benefits.
In conclusion, it is important to note that immigration issue creates a variety of questions and ethical dilemmas. These problems include definition and status of refugees, laws and policies for immigration that should regulate selection criteria and rights of immigrants, environmental and cultural problems related to overpopulation in attractive countries, and, finally, subsequent economical problems of unemployment and unequal income distribution. Deontological approach may excuse immigration, as it is an obligation of wealthy states to help needy, and thus they let in immigrants who need their help. On the other hand, utilitarian point of view may view immigration as negative because losses related to the issue exceed benefits on a state’s level. Ethical egoism is classical theory that finds proper explanation for immigration ethics as it measures morality of the fact by evaluating the utility of particular individual. Therefore, immigration allows people to solve their personal problems like unemployment, persecution, low quality of education, family unification etc and, subsequently, is the ethically justified issue.
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