Snitching on those in breach of immigration law

by Chris Bertram on January 31, 2017

Kwame Anthony Appiah, of whom I have only had positive feelings up to now, has produced an opinion for the Ethicist column for the New York Times that it is “a good thing” when citizens report violations of immigration law to the US authorities. He produces this opinion in the context of a question about “green-card marriage” entered into merely in order to gain an immigration advantage, so it is unclear how far he relies on the specific features of the case he describes to generate a more general moral conclusion, but I, for one, find his reasons highly problematic.

First, he operates on the assumption that US migration policy is reasonable and reasonably fair and that states have the right to set their immigration controls unilaterally. Whether or not legitimate states have the right to set their immigration controls unilaterally (I’m a sceptic), I think it hard to argue that US policies are currently fair given who they exclude (and a fortiori who they are now excluding). Appiah argues that people who enter by unlawful means are queue jumpers who thereby act unfairly towards others. But the very idea that there is an immigration queue that people can join and wait their turn is preposterous. There is no such queue and many many people will never be in a position where they can realistically have a chance of a visa. The claim of unfairness to other would-be migrants is therefore unfounded.

Then there’s the whole question of “sham” or “bogus” marriages. There’s hardly any other context where states intrude into marriages to inquire whether the relationship matches up to some officially sanctioned view of what a genuine romantic partnership amounts to. Where people enter into marriages to gain a tax advantage or to avoid giving evidence or to have a trophy Slovenian former model to show of for business or political purposes, the state isn’t interested. But with immigration, suddenly, a highly prescriptive set of norms is backed up by the full power of the state.

There’s also the issue of snitching on your neighbours and what happens when there’s a culture of doing so. Sometimes, where specific harms are clear, there’s a duty to do so: child abuse, for example. But the idea that it is a good thing when people go reporting their neighbours for being stoners, for minor zoning infractions or for overstaying their visas….

Immigration is an area where states are increasingly placing enforcement and surveillance obligations on ordinary people. That’s a process that’s gone much further in the UK than it has in the US, though no doubt Trump will learn from May. But this is a bad thing, and it leads to fear, mutual suspicion and the erosion of trust.

{ 66 comments }

1

Matt 01.31.17 at 12:14 pm

For what it’s worth, the “queue jumping” bit is probably less applicable in this case, in the US, than it is in other possible cases. (This leaves aside the question of whether it is really ever applicable.) In the US, spouses fall in the “immediate relative” category, for which there is (so far!) no numerical limit. So, a person entering on this status, even if fraudulently, is not taking the place of anyone else. If no one else is displaced, it’s hard for me to see how the action is properly called “queue jumping”. If there is a harm here, it’s something else, related to the idea that there is a distinct obligation for states to allow citizens to bring in spouses and other immediate relatives, as I have argued , and then the claim that, if enough people fraudulently take advantage of this right, there is good reason to think that the right will be limited or restricted in a way that harms those who would rightfully make use of it. I’m not sure how strong of an argument that is, but it seems like a better one than the queue jumping one to me.

(For anyone considering such things, it’s also worth knowing that immigration marriage fraud in the US is a crime that carries potentially very serious penalties. Few people are caught, but it’s probably not worth the risk!)

There is a lot more that could be said here, but I will have to leave it at that for now.

2

James 01.31.17 at 12:54 pm

I agree with you that the immigration system is fundamentally broken so I don’t feel any moral obligation to uphold it – I feel like we treat the country like a white’s only diner counter and it is time to integrate. While I am for open boarders in general – I have lived and worked in three countries only because I am an educated, white privileged elite – my critique of the current system comes more from my actual personal experience with it.

I met my wife when I was living abroad. We were still dating when she came to visit me back in the U.S. on a tourist visa (I had returned to the U.S. for work). After a few months we decided to get married. While you can get married on a tourist visa and apply for a change in status, you run the risk of being charged with fraud, since if you had planned to get married your spouse should have come on a fiance visa. Rather than take that risk (and potential 5 year ban from the U.S.) my new wife went back home when her tourist visa was going to expire to wait for our paperwork to be processed. We spent our first year of marriage 1,000s of miles apart in different countries waiting for that to happen. Quite the honeymoon sponsored by ICE. While we sacrificed to do everything right, I have no less respect for those that would instead choose to go around such a faulty system.

3

Collin Street 01.31.17 at 1:28 pm

If a legal marriage isn’t absolute proof of the existence of a true/genuine relationship… what exact legal import does a marriage actually have?

4

Pretendous 01.31.17 at 1:43 pm

A slight diversion, but your critique of Appiah’s “queue-jumping” heuristic has put me in mind of other applications of this metaphor as it pertains to relations between the public and the state. In particular, I am reminded of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s recent book Strangers in their Own Land in which she describes some Trump supporters’ “deep story” of their current situation vis-à-vis the government and other demographic groups in the US. Their “deep story” also involves placing themselves in a queue on the way to the American Dream and their resentment is borne of perceiving other groups of people jumping the queue in front of them.

I wonder if one potentially powerful way to reach these Trump supporters without derogating them is to try to disseminate a less zero-sum heuristic, than queue jumping, about how resources are distributed by the state across the populace. Unfortunately, this is where my imagination flags and I have difficulty offering more concretely constructive alternatives.

5

novakant 01.31.17 at 1:47 pm

There’s also the issue of snitching on your neighbours and what happens when there’s a culture of doing so.

Indeed, cf. the damage this did to large parts of society in East Germany.

6

engels 01.31.17 at 2:12 pm

I think this column helps to understand why some people might hate ‘moral philosophers’ (the same reason 100 years ago they hated priests…)

7

Chris Bertram 01.31.17 at 2:13 pm

Kwame Anthony Appiah has just blocked me on twitter. My only interaction with him ever was writing this post disagreeing with him. (I had a long term plan to get him to unveil some memorial in Bristol to his grandfather Stafford Cripps and to give a talk – I guess I can forget that). What a remarkable reaction.

8

Marc 01.31.17 at 2:21 pm

If you don’t accept open borders as a moral imperative, you then view breaking immigration laws as being comparable to breaking other laws. And open borders are far from being a consensus position.

9

Matt 01.31.17 at 2:43 pm

If you don’t accept open borders as a moral imperative, you then view breaking immigration laws as being comparable to breaking other laws.

Well, I don’t accept “open borders” (in the strong sense that makes that a distinct and interesting position) as a moral imperative, but am not sure that the rest follows, at least not without a careful discussion of what “comparable to breaking other laws” means. For one, it’s not clear that many, perhaps most, instances of breaking immigration laws shows contempt or even disrespect for the rights, persons, or property of others in the way that many crimes do. Breaking immigration laws also doesn’t (or at least ought not, for any semi-reasonable person) instill fear in the larger society in the way that breaking most criminal laws does. By itself, these facts don’t imply that immigration law ought not be enforced, or that some non-trivial penalties cannot be justified in some cases, (comparison with regulatory offenses that involve collective action problems are possible, for example) but it does show that a lot more care, specificity, and nuance is going to be needed for a helpful discussion, even if open borders are not assumed.

10

Daniel Butt 01.31.17 at 2:44 pm

“If you don’t accept open borders as a moral imperative, you then view breaking immigration laws as being comparable to breaking other laws. And open borders are far from being a consensus position.”

Well that simply doesn’t follow. One can oppose existing immigration laws as unjust while thinking that a reformed set of laws would be justifiable, for one thing. One can also think that particular laws are justifiable, but that they don’t impose a correlative duty to obey. And one can also think that even if there is a correlative duty to obey, that not obeying is excusable in relation to some laws but not others, particularly when obedience is particularly demanding.

Matt notes that “it’s also worth knowing that immigration marriage fraud in the US is a crime that carries potentially very serious penalties”. Bruno Leipold noted on Twitter that being caught can get you ‘imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or fined not more than $250,000, or both’, referencing http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/fiance-marriage-visa-book/chapter1-9.html

This context is critical. Purportedly, a real person has written in to the New York Times for advice, and a leading moral philosopher has encouraged them to expose another real person to the manifold and well-known injustices of the US criminal justice system for trying to buck the US immigration system. For shame.

11

Jon Weinberg 01.31.17 at 2:45 pm

One more point on queue-jumping: for the vast majority of people seeking to enter the US, there is no queue. That is, with minor exceptions, the only way to get on a “queue” for lawful permanent residence is to be a close family relative of a US citizen, the spouse or child of a green card holder, or a refugee/asylee, or to have a job offer from a US employer for a job for which no qualified US persons are available. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you don’t get to wait your “turn”; you are simply SOL. If you find a way around those restrictions, then whatever you’re doing, it’s not “queue-jumping.”

12

Sam Dodsworth 01.31.17 at 3:07 pm

If you don’t accept open borders as a moral imperative, you then view breaking immigration laws as being comparable to breaking other laws.

Which is to say that we might or might not think the laws are just, and might or might not feel a duty to help enforce them. Not only is this not a clincher – it’s a point addressed in the original post.

13

Henry (not the famous one) 01.31.17 at 3:27 pm

To make the issue tougher: in the 1970s the United Farm Workers started reporting strikebreakers to the INS. The National Lawyers Guild, which had been sponsoring law students to work for the Union, pulled out of the program, saying that it would only resume the program if and when the Union stopped snitching on scabs. Jerry Cohen, the Union’s General Counsel shot back, saying “The workers run this Union,” or words to that effect.

At the time I sided with the Union and stayed out of the Guild; today I would side with the Guild. But Cohen had a point: the snitch program was one of the few initiatives that came from the membership, rather than the leadership, and responded to an age-old abuse by growers, namely using one group of workers to replace another. Solidarity is wonderful, but no union can afford to put solidarity with strikebreakers over winning a strike.

Those arguments look completely different in today’s political environment, however: solidarity is particularly critical now in the Trump era, in which Bannon and his crew are trying to win over the white working class with a nativist anti-immigrant platform. And the AFL-CIO is, for the most part, committed to organizing undocumented workers.

But the dilemma is still there: are there any times when it is appropriate to snitch on strikebreakers? Discuss among yourselves.

14

Bruno Leipold 01.31.17 at 3:31 pm

In addition to Chris, I was also blocked by Appiah on Twitter for asking him whether he knew about the potential punishment for the person if they were reported. I’ve also seen that two others have been blocked. None of the people blocked were abusive towards him in their tweets. On top of everything else, this is really an extraordinary way for a public philosopher to respond to criticism.

15

engels 01.31.17 at 4:08 pm

Can’t prove it (time for some experimental philosophy?) but in my limited experience there tends to be a marked bias towards authoritarianism in these kinds of dilemmas among philosophers compared to the general public. It’s almost as if the structure of such an academic field might select for people who will instinctively share the perspective of administrators of state power rather than its victims…

16

Yankee 01.31.17 at 4:15 pm

@13:

I don’t know why you would always need to choose whom to “side with” (assuming you’re not an agriculturalist personally?). This isn’t the NFL. It seems to me that the workers and the lawyers are both engaging in valid moral thought within their respective tactical realms, and more power to them.

17

Theophylact 01.31.17 at 4:27 pm

There certainly can be ethical, if illegal, “sham” marriages. To give just one example, W. H. Auden married Erika Mann to provide her with a British passport to escape the Nazis — a sham marriage if there ever was one.

18

LFC 01.31.17 at 4:42 pm

@engels
‘Moral philosopher’ is a very broad term, encompassing people who write about completely different topics and have completely different interests. There’s also a range of different inclinations among them about politics, attitudes toward authority, etc. etc. Hard to see how your generalizations are anything much more than the product of some bad experiences you evidently had when you were studying philosophy or taking philosophy courses — I don’t doubt the bad experiences were genuine and I have no particular interest in defending the field (not being a philosopher), but I tend to doubt that your own experiences are a sufficient basis for these generalizations.

19

Sebastian 01.31.17 at 5:03 pm

I think Appiah’s view on immigration snitching is awful for all the reasons stated above.

I don’t think blocking people on Twitter is something to criticize though. Many people with some prominence (i.e. lots of mentions) do so very liberally with anyone whose opinions they don’t find interesting. I think that’s an entirely legit way to manage social media.

20

David Miller 01.31.17 at 5:36 pm

The phrase “snitching” seems to me rather emotive and unedifying with respect to the major moral intuitions at play here. To wit, citizens of the US are entitled to protect their national culture by appealing to the full force of the law to control borders democratically.

21

David Owen 01.31.17 at 6:07 pm

“To wit, citizens of the US are entitled to protect their national culture by appealing to the full force of the law to control borders democratically.”

I think the problem is Appiah’s quick move to the claim it would be good to do so. No one is denying that a US citizen is entitled to do so but that one is entitled to do x does not imply that it would be good to do x. That evaluative judgment means taking into account that context – and not misdescribing its ‘queue-jumping’ – and considering whereby reporting is a reasonable or proportionate response. So I’d have preferred to see a response by Appiah that drew the enquirer’s attentions to the range of issues in play rather than simply recommending reporting.

22

Chris Bertram 01.31.17 at 6:14 pm

@David Miller – it may be your view that the major moral intuition behind the right of the US to exclude is that they are entitled to defend their national culture. I don’t know that this is Appiah’s view, and he doesn’t refer to anything like that in the linked piece. As you know, many liberal defenders of such exclusionary rights do not agree with you about the ground of such rights. I don’t think any of the substance of my post would be changed by substituting “informing” for “snitching”, and I agree with the points made by others about proportionality.

23

Layman 01.31.17 at 6:15 pm

“To wit, citizens of the US are entitled to protect their national culture by appealing to the full force of the law to control borders democratically.”

How different culturally can someone be and still successfully conceal their presence? If you need to point them out, they can’t be too bloody obviously strange.

Also, too: What does ‘democratically’ mean in this context? How are the borders being ‘democratically’ controlled by snitching out one’s neighbor? I think the ‘democratically’ has been pasted on, like lipstick, to improve the appearance of the pig.

24

Yan 01.31.17 at 6:22 pm

LFC @18

“‘Moral philosopher’ is a very broad term, encompassing people who write about completely different topics and have completely different interests.”

If engels’ intended extension of the term was professional moral philosophers, then here’s some modest evidence in its support: the editor of the most read blogs of the profession sides with Appiah and hasn’t received much pushback: http://dailynous.com/2017/01/31/reporting-green-card-marriages/

As a professional philosopher, predominantly on topics related to moral philosophy, I can say my modest experience agrees with engels’ suspicions, and there are a great many philosophers who frequently do express similar suspicions.

Nietzsche, of course, was the voice the suspicion that “moral philosophers” are largely just moral*ists*. But there is a respectable history of philosophers who have complained on reasonable evidentiary grounds that not only in its contemporary professionalized form but frequently throughout history, philosophy has served a largely conservative function as the rationalization of the status quo.

25

Mike Furlan 01.31.17 at 6:58 pm

1. I believe everybody has the right to block anyone for any reason on Twitter or any other medium. Block me here, if you want I will not complain.
2. You do know that you can find and read his tweets even if he blocks you.

26

Dr. Hilarius 01.31.17 at 7:01 pm

As others have pointed out, there is no queue. But Appiah’s point seems to be that US citizenship imposes a moral duty to snitch on a sham marriage. Does this apply to all laws? Do I get to consider the potential harm of the violation or must I leave that to the proper authorities? Legally, there is no duty to report any crime or to cooperate with law enforcement (caveat: you don’t have to answer a cop’s questions but lying is a crime, obstruction or worse). Given the morally dubious activities of the proper authorities in the US I’m comfortable minding my own business.

27

oldster 01.31.17 at 7:35 pm

I’d just like to point out that if queue-jumping is immoral, then the comments-threads on CT posts are dens of immorality. You can never tell where things are in the queue, and when you come back it has all changed.

As I said earlier in my comment #5 #7 #12….

28

Chris Bertram 01.31.17 at 7:40 pm

I’d like people to play nicely and avoid insulting other commenters please. I just had to delete one comment and tried emailing the miscreant to explain, only to find out that the email address was fake (which is also a violation of CT comments policy).

29

Mike Furlan 01.31.17 at 7:40 pm

“. . .to have a trophy Slovenian former model to show of for business or political purposes”

Which reminds me of the protest sign:”2/3 of Donald Trump’s wives were immigrants proving, once again that immigrants do jobs that Americans don’t want.”

Seriously, ratting out an immigration violation is a good example of how the 1% gets the rest of us to fight and ignore the far greater crimes that they are perpetrating.

30

Phil 01.31.17 at 7:53 pm

The point about the asymmetry between immigrants and natives when it comes to their marriage arrangements – and perhaps when it comes to encouraging neighbours to inform – is really interesting. If the purpose of a system is what it does, perhaps the purpose of immigration controls is to mark immigrants out as lesser beings, in part by treating them accordingly.

31

engels 01.31.17 at 8:00 pm

Yan, thanks.

there is a respectable history of philosophers who have complained on reasonable evidentiary grounds that not only in its contemporary professionalized form but frequently throughout history, philosophy has served a largely conservative function as the rationalization of the status quo.

Agreed. To be clear, I was suggesting an administrative outlook in moral philosophy (if such there is), rather than a conservative one, could be connected with professionalisation—unfortunately I don’t have time now to do this topic justice.

32

Collin Street 01.31.17 at 8:27 pm

To wit, citizens of the US are entitled to protect their national culture by appealing to the full force of the law to control borders democratically.

… but a national culture isn’t your property. It’s a communal result of individual actions and preferences: to “protect” — that is, “maintain unchanged” — your national culture is
ipso facto to put impositions on what those around you are allowed to want to do.

I really can’t see any way you can construct a general right that lets you do that, not if you start from general reasonably-accepted moral principles.

[and, ffs! The moral force of law derives from moral concerns, not from its status as “law”: “legally” has no place in a moral argument, and renders legal arguments trite: using the word “legally’ in any sort of load-bearing sense pretty much always renders the conclusion either false or vacuous.]

[ditto “democratically”. Societies are allowed to make certain collective decisions, but this does not include — in the general case — decisions about membership, for well-established practical and moral reasons.]

33

Sebastian_H 01.31.17 at 8:48 pm

“If you don’t accept open borders as a moral imperative, you then view breaking immigration laws as being comparable to breaking other laws. And open borders are far from being a consensus position.”

That’s fine, but in the spirit of analyzing it like other laws, there are of comparable reasons not to go out of your way to report the breaking of other laws. I might think that certain types of drug use (say heroin) are bad and that they should be illegal, but also think that the legal penalty is far too harsh. That would stop me from reporting it.

34

Trader Joe 01.31.17 at 9:47 pm

Even apart from the immigration matter….who am I or any other duly naturalized citizen to say which marriages are sham and which are not? I can point to any number of marriages where one of the spouses gained far less than a piece of paper as a door prize for their “commitment.”

Likewise there are plenty of sham marriages between full citizens that don’t earn nearly the same penalty once they are exposed.

Gotta side with Chris here. Let the authorities enforce this one, if they can. Its not a law that’s ripe for citizen interpretation.

35

Helen 01.31.17 at 10:06 pm

Appiah argues that people who enter by unlawful means are queue jumpers who thereby act unfairly towards others. But the very idea that there is an immigration queue that people can join and wait their turn is preposterous. There is no such queue and many many people will never be in a position where they can realistically have a chance of a visa. The claim of unfairness to other would-be migrants is therefore unfounded.

Preach it. People have been trying to explain that to our (Australian) government and their supporters on talkback radio / internet fora / news comments for decades now. It was the no. 1 factoid argument (now replaced by “We must turn back all boats because people will drown otherwise; we’re so full of compassion”.)*
Sadly, that factoid will never die.

*In reality, “we must turn back all boats so that asylum seekers quietly die elsewhere and out of our sight”.

36

engels 01.31.17 at 10:25 pm

I might think that certain types of drug use (say heroin) are bad and that they should be illegal, but also think that the legal penalty is far too harsh. That would stop me from reporting it.

Yup. My impression is a lot of people would feel this way generally about ‘victimless’ crimes (drug use, seat-belt abstention?), those with no immediate harm (minor traffic violations?) and maybe even those where the ‘victim’ was impersonal or unsympathetic (watching TV without a licence, maybe even petty theft from a large company?)

As I say, just speculating—it would be nice to have data.

37

Peach 01.31.17 at 10:37 pm

(Not that it’s unprecedented for cosmopolitan philosophers to violate their own morals…)

What on earth was Appiah thinking here? Is he simply getting comfortable in his position? Does he regret this statement?

Also re: the above discussion — what gives US citizens the right to impose border controls in a land that their ancestors stole from Native Americans?

38

Leo Casey 01.31.17 at 10:50 pm

Doesn’t the term “snitch” — as opposed to say, “report” — carry with it a negative moral judgment? Further, isn’t the term commonly employed to suggest that there is no justification of reporting a crime? Just as there are violations of law that should not be reported to authorities, there are also cases where there is moral imperative to report such knowledge — murder and rape coming to mind immediately.

39

engels 01.31.17 at 10:58 pm

I suppose we could do a straw poll (if it isn’t OT): how many people here would think reporting a stranger or acquaintance for stealing a sandwich from Tesco was the right thing to do?

40

Tom Hurka 02.01.17 at 12:01 am

I don’t get the complaints about Appiah’s talk of queue-jumping. Among other things, they take the term far too literally.

Matt@1 says a fake-marriage immigrant isn’t taking anyone else’s place, because there’s no limit on immediate-relative immigrants. Why is that the only relevant consideration? I’m pretty sure applying to immigrate to the U.S. is a complex and tedious process. (Americans have a genius for making bureaucracy maximally bureaucratic.) You have to submit multiple forms, go for interviews at a consulate, pay probably significant fees, wait months or more for approval, and God knows what else. The person Appiah writes about managed to avoid all that by in effect lying. If I’m going through the tedious process, why can’t I resent her behaviour even if I do eventually get to immigrate? It’s not what I didn’t get that bothers me; it’s what she didn’t have to do.

Chris says there isn’t a queue, but (not taking that word literally) there’s certainly a tedious process, which actually involves a lot of waiting, that other people have to go through and this person, by in effect lying, managed to skip. Why isn’t that at least process-jumping, or process-skipping? She wouldn’t have faked the marriage if it wasn’t going to save her from something she wanted to avoid and that other people have to to through. Why isn’t it perfectly reasonable to mind that? Chris also says lots of people will never be in a position where they’ll have a realistic chance at a visa, but why is that relevant? Why can’t there be fairness and unfairness among the people who are in that position? That most people in the world can’t go to a movie at my neighbourhood cinema doesn’t mean that if, among the people who can go, one lies his way into not paying the admission the rest of us have to pay, there’s nothing to object to in what he did.

41

engels 02.01.17 at 12:21 am

If I’m going through the tedious process, why can’t I resent her behaviour even if I do eventually get to immigrate?

What I am finding odd is the leap from resenting someone and snitching on her when you know it could get her a 5-year prison sentence.

42

Sebastian H 02.01.17 at 12:21 am

I want to go a little further. Who the hell are random people to be judging that someone has a ‘sham marriage’ anyway? I see a lot of relationships that I don’t really understand and certainly would not choose for myself. That doesn’t mean they are shams. Busybodies already get in to too many people’s lives. We shouldn’t encourage them to sit in judgment on an immigrant’s marriage. As a practical matter you just aren’t in a position to know.

43

Suzanne 02.01.17 at 12:36 am

@38: Further, isn’t the term commonly employed to suggest that there is no justification of reporting a crime?

It suggests that the act of “reporting” has an unsavory element about it, depending on the circumstances. I don’t think anyone would call David Kaczynski a snitch, even though he did report a close family member to the authorities. Snitching, informing, grassing, or reporting may sometimes be necessary, justified, or even dead right, but in general nobody likes a snitch or a tattle-tale, and not without reason.

@40: Resenting her behavior is one thing. Are you going to report her? The stakes are rather bigger than those involved in informing the proprietor of your local movie house that the fellow in front of you isn’t really entitled to the senior citizen discount.

. At the height of the McCarthyite scare, colleagues and close friends Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan fell out over Kazan’s friendly testimony before the Un-American Activities Committee. Subsequently Miller wrote a play called “A View from the Bridge” in which an informer comes to a very bad end (coincidentally, the play also involved a “report” to the immigration authorities, if I remember correctly). Kazan directed a picture written by fellow snitch Budd Schulberg called “On the Waterfront,” which showed informing as an heroic act. Sometimes a lot can depend on where you’re standing.

44

Jon Weinberg 02.01.17 at 12:44 am

Tom Hurka@40,
Calling the subject’s actions “queue-jumping” does work in two ways. First, it indicates that she’s getting the benefit ahead of others who are more morally worthy. That may well be so, but it’s not self-evident; it’s contingent on one’s judgment about the moral validity of the lines that U.S. immigration law draws. Second, it indicates that her actions are in some real sense gratuitous, because if she had only waited her turn (or, in your version, been willing to endure the tedious process) she would have gotten the benefit anyway. But there’s no reason to think that’s so in this case — absent lying, no amount of process-enduring would have gotten her in.
To use your example, it’s sort of like your neighborhood cinema making a rule that only neighborhood residents can buy tickets. I’m not a neighborhood resident, so I sneak in without a ticket. You can resent me for undercutting the neighborhood-residents-only rule (which rule I think is morally invalid), but don’t make the focus my not paying — I’d have been happy to pay had you given me the opportunity to do so.

45

Matt 02.01.17 at 1:32 am

Tom Hurka said: (Americans have a genius for making bureaucracy maximally bureaucratic.) You have to submit multiple forms, go for interviews at a consulate, pay probably significant fees, wait months or more for approval, and God knows what else. The person Appiah writes about managed to avoid all that by in effect lying. If I’m going through the tedious process, why can’t I resent her behaviour even if I do eventually get to immigrate? It’s not what I didn’t get that bothers me; it’s what she didn’t have to do.

You know, it would really be good to have some idea of what you’re talking about before posting thing on the internet. Someone who gets a visa via marriage must do all of the things you list, and so doesn’t “avoid” any of them. (I know this from the inside and outside – my wife is an immigrant, and I am a lawyer who works on immigration.) I am willing to agree that there are problems here, but this isn’t one of them. (Also, have you seen Canadian immigration processes? They also have all of these feature! I mean really, try to know something here. You would not stand for someone saying such silly stuff if your own fields of expertise. Your post here is like saying, “Sidgwick, the well-known Hegelian philosopher who attacked intuitionism and utilitarianism…”)

Even if the person in question did avoid these things (which they do not!) by committing fraud, why should that matter to the person who doesn’t avoid them? Does it make them do more than they would have to do? No. Does it hurt them? No. So, the argument you make on that point is just completely wrong.

As for your argument against Chris, in this case it’s even worse than Jon Weinberg makes it seem. The real comparison would be if the person in question were somehow able to watch the movie for free at home. He isn’t playing by the rules – but in a way that disadvantages no one. No seat is taken, and, by this act itself, no one is made worse off. Now, there can be systematic effects of this. This is what I suggest above. But, that’s a different argument from the one you provide. You need to think through the case more carefully.

46

Moz of Yarramulla 02.01.17 at 1:34 am

One easy question to ask Kwame Anthony Appiah would be whether they consider reporting themselves for breaking traffic laws to also be an obligation. That brings up two points: just how far does this “obligation to report” go, and just how widely broken can the law be before violations are irrelevant? Forget whether the law is just, moral or whatever, if we focus on the British legal tradition of “everyone breaks the law, the question is who gets prosecuted” instead a giant hole appears in the argument: the sheer volume of reporting. Also, the difficulty of writing laws that can be rigorously enforced.

There are also interesting questions of consent to think about. In the extreme, if someone in the US military meets someone while out there killing civilians and offers them the choice of marriage or death, can that person reasonably be considered to have consented to marriage? How far up the chain do we go before we say “yes, that consent is valid” – all the way to the mythical “all sex is rape”?

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Moz of Yarramulla 02.01.17 at 1:37 am

(also, for what it’s worth I don’t seem able to escape auto-moderation whether I use functioning email addresses or not, and I often forget which one I’m supposed to use from the little drop-down list of remembered ones. So sorry, and I will try to remember to use a real one in future)

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J-D 02.01.17 at 1:57 am

Tom Hurka

If I’m going through the tedious process, why can’t I resent her behaviour even if I do eventually get to immigrate?

If I’m being detained, why can’t I resent people who escape detention, even if I do eventually get released?

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engels 02.01.17 at 2:13 am

Even if the person in question did avoid these things… by committing fraud, why should that matter to the person who doesn’t avoid them? Does it make them do more than they would have to do? No. Does it hurt them? No.

I thought Hurka acknowledged that

It’s not what I didn’t get that bothers me; it’s what she didn’t have to do.

The resentment in some sense may not be rational, but it’s stil real.

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nastywoman 02.01.17 at 3:50 am

Please – let’s report every queue jumpers who thereby act unfairly towards others – by buying a residency in the US.

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nastywoman 02.01.17 at 3:52 am

– and I just read:
‘White House Considers Deporting Legal Immigrants for Being Poor
A draft executive order would allow the government to deport visa holders who receive public benefits.’

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ZM 02.01.17 at 3:57 am

“Where people enter into marriages to gain a tax advantage or to avoid giving evidence or to have a trophy Slovenian former model to show of for business or political purposes, the state isn’t interested. But with immigration, suddenly, a highly prescriptive set of norms is backed up by the full power of the state.”

Sham marriages entered into for the purposes of not giving evidence are actually discouraged with the full power of the State too – if the lawyers show the marriage is a sham marriage in the court case then marital privilege doesn’t apply and the people can be made to testify against each other.

I think whether a culture of neighborhood surveillance is positive or negative is a bit dependent on what sort of surveillance and what sort of crimes – like walking at night you feel safer if there are more people about and if you have an expectation they would intervene if someone tried to attack you, on the other hand there are probably other areas where the crime might be judged to be non-harmful or where you might have disagreements with the existing laws like eg drug laws and not intervene almost like civil disobedience for not agreeing with the laws.

Chris Bertram disagrees with the migration laws and thinks there should be open borders so I guess it is like civil disobedience his argument in the OP.

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Matt 02.01.17 at 4:36 am

The resentment in some sense may not be rational, but it’s still real.

This seems to suggest that there may be some sense in which is is rational. But, in which sense is it rational? It’s obviously real, but more than that, I don’t see. Hurka, of course, is defending the argument that is supposed to support the claim that it’s okay to turn this person in. I hope that this is based on more than an irrational (and, on Hurka’s description, false) belief about what other people have to do or not.

On another issue, to engels, about number 15 above, because this is an area I work in, I talk to lots of people about immigration. In my experience, the most common position among philosophers is, by far, as sort of simple-minded (meaning, poorly thought out, not [necessarily] stupid or wrong) support for open borders. Support for the status quo or for stricter borders is much less common. Perhaps things are different in the UK, but at least in North America, when I talk with philosophers about the issue, this is the most common default.

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Longtooth 02.01.17 at 4:41 am

Two Points:

1. Civil marriage is a contract for economic support, parental rights if children ensue, and privileges (tax advantages for example). There is no contract to “love, honor, obey (cherish, protect, whatever), ’til death do us part”, which is a purely religious condition. If the state makes it their business to regulate marriage by it’s purpose(s) which are only those between the contractual partners, then it is deciding the contracted terms for the contracting parties or perhaps what it considers “moral” conditions for such marriage contracts. If either of these are a state’s business then anything regards a partnership condition can be the state’s business rather than the partners’ business.

2. Closed borders are a manifestation of territorial rule which stems directly from the right-makes-right premise. While I can’t say right-makes-right isn’t the obvious condition of human reality, it inherently supports tribalism as an inevitability which thus also maintains it as inevitable as well. Interestingly the EU experiment is (was?) an attempt to eliminate that inevitability at least in great part.

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Saguaro 02.01.17 at 5:27 am

Because we … must grow the police state?
Appiah’s questioner asked if they should “speak out about marriage fraud” – “speak out” does not have to be interpreted mean “report” or “snitch”, but Appiah seems to leap at the opportunity to conclude that the answer is to appeal to the coercive power of the state to remedy the perceived (victimless) wrong. The kneejerk response to apply forces of state coercion rather than build bonds of community cohesion to remedy a perceived offense explains a lot about what’s up in U.S. politics today. Appiah could have recommended that the questioner have a sincere and confidential discussion about their concerns with the confessing bride which could include suggesting a non-public display of contrition followed by some symbolic amends, e.g. through providing voluntary assistance to migrants in the queue. Instead, the recommendation is to become … yes, a snitch – with all the trust- and community-destroying malice that term justly implies.

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engels 02.01.17 at 6:51 am

This seems to suggest that there may be some sense in which is is rational.

Maybe poor phrasing on my part: I just meant I’m sure it’s right to say it’s not rational (ie. the concept of rationality may not be applicable to a feeling of resentment). Either it’s irrational or it’s something to which rationality doesn’t apply.

I think people can feel resentment, and a need for punishment, when norms are violated even if they’re not harmed personally and perhaps when nobody is. Sometimes it’s a feeling of ‘I had to do that so those buggers should damn well too’. It’s probably not human nature at it’s best but I don’t it’s confined to immigration issues.

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engels 02.01.17 at 6:53 am

S/b “I just meant I’m not sure it’s right to say it’s not rational…”

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Chris Bertram 02.01.17 at 8:49 am

@engels – some of what you say about the administrative attitude of philosophers reminded me of recent work by Gerald Gaus.

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Chris Bertram 02.01.17 at 8:53 am

@ZM “Chris Bertram disagrees with the migration laws and thinks there should be open borders so I guess it is like civil disobedience his argument in the OP.”

Not exactly, I was asked for a summary of my views in the previous thread, and here they are:

http://crookedtimber.org/2017/01/29/trumps-migration-ban/#comment-703174

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nastywoman 02.01.17 at 11:29 am

In conclusion – this ‘ethicist’ person lists the different ways how somebody can get a US Green Card and forgets:
‘Entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) who make an investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States and who plan to create or preserve ten permanent full time jobs for qualified United States workers, are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence).
Up to 10,000 visas may be authorized each fiscal year for eligible entrepreneurs.
You must invest $1,000,000, or at least $500,000 in a targeted employment area (high unemployment or rural area). In return, USCIS may grant conditional permanent residence to the individual.’

And then this ‘ethicist’ person argues: ‘The laws are designed to meet both our moral obligations, as in the case of asylum, and our national needs.’
AND
– ‘You may disagree with one feature or another of our system, but over all it is fairer than many others.’ And then this ‘ethicist’ person says: ‘It would be a good thing to report what (WE) you know.
And we know that a American woman pretended to marry a man in order to get him a Green Card.-(and he probably payed her for it?)

Is that ‘fairer’ then paying US a million bucks to get a Green Card?
And what if – somebody who knows a bit about subtext knows – that the whole deal of this getting a Green Card might NOT be about any type of law at all – and it is just about ‘the money’? – and the fact that our new President seems to think that Rich Saudis should be excluded from his ban of Muslims – and poor ‘Legal Immigrants’ should be deported – shouldn’t a ‘Ethicist’ report that?

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novakant 02.01.17 at 11:35 am

It’s not what I didn’t get that bothers me; it’s what she didn’t have to do.

So if she was not an immigrant, but a citizen instead and she married a rich guy so she will never have to work – would you make the same argument?

I’m sure there’s some resentment towards people who marry into money, but it’s certainly not the noblest of sentiments. And in general, economic considerations play a role in many marriages, however much we would like to pretend that they do not.

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novakant 02.01.17 at 11:39 am

Also, this has all been covered 25 years ago in “Green Card”:

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Chris Bertram 02.01.17 at 11:54 am

Some people find it quite easy to “jump the queue” (not that I’m endorsing the metaphor). The repulsive Peter Thiel has bought himself citizenship of New Zealand:

https://www.ft.com/content/0a279acc-e83c-11e6-893c-082c54a7f539

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engels 02.01.17 at 4:44 pm

Chris—thanks, I’ll look it up.

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nastywoman 02.01.17 at 6:03 pm

‘The repulsive Peter Thiel has bought himself citizenship of New Zealand’

That might be some kind of… subtext? – As Thiel was granted ”citizenship due to his exceptional circumstances” and because it was believed to be in the public interest.
And supposedly Thiel’s “exceptional circumstances” related to “his skills as an entrepreneur and his philanthropy”, which were deemed to be of potential benefit to New Zealanders and the country.
And as part of his application, Thiel wrote: “I have studied extensively New Zealand’s entrepreneurial environment, the current venture capital market and the prerequisites for, and economic advantages of, developing successful technology companies in a New Zealand context … I have concluded that the New Zealand government supports capital expansion, scientific research and international investment.
“All of these traits make New Zealand a great place to a start a business. It is a stable country with one of the highest ratings in the world for honesty and a…

non-corrupt culture…

As you can’t buy any citizenship in New Zealand. You only can buy it in 11 countries:
1. Malta
2. Singapur
3. St. Kitts & Nevis
4. Österreich
5. Zypern
6. Montenegro
7. Antigua & Barbuda
8. Dominica
9. Grenada
10. Belgien
and 11. the US

And if you can buy a citizenship – why in the world does it become a ethical problem in the US – if you buy it from a citizen instead of from the government?

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Moz of Yarramulla 02.01.17 at 9:21 pm

And if you can buy a citizenship – why in the world does it become a ethical problem in the US – if you buy it from a citizen instead of from the government?

Just in case that’s rhetorical: because the government doesn’t get a cut if it’s sold by a citizen. As will the “illegal drugs” problem, there’s an argument that legalising it and taxing it might be a better approach. But the issue is that the government charges a higher price than most citizens do. Buying Australian citizenship, for example, requires investing $10M or more in the country for a few year but the going rate for a private sale is about $100k. Or about 3 months income from that $10M.

I suspect but don’t know that the gift of $100k would incentivise the relevant minister, if the giver was someone who could reasonably be described as a good citizen (in the eyes of the government, not the citizenry). Whereas a private sale doesn’t have the same problems, for the most part all that’s required is a lack of criminal convictions. If you’re someone who can come up with $100k once but not $10M, that’s an easy question to answer.

The complications for the seller are that marriage law makes “who gets the money” a complex question to answer. One solution is that the foreigner brings $200k and buys a house, that the “couple” then split a few years later when they divorce. With the way house prices have been going here that is a win for both sides.

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