Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2021


The likely cause for the amount of cruelty in American immigration policy is the utter divorce of government from ethics. When policymakers convene and concoct strategies to curb illegal movement, there is no consideration of ethics. The discussion is of economics, public opinion, numbers, human beings by the headcount. If ethnographic evidence is cited at all, politicians spice up the rhetoric with the image of cut chain link fences – nationalized orifices open to invasion, and invasion by brown people no less. But otherwise, it’s just business. If people die? If people disappear? If children never return home? If people limp through the desert and die of dehydration over days and carrion dismember their carcasses…? Well, they should have migrated legally. We only punish the illegal, the undocumented, and it’s just a coincidence who we label as such.

The air that permeates this conversation is humid with the assumption that the government is structural and therefore guiltless. It’s a bureaucracy; a big ship, by design, is hard to turn; it’s just the way things are. The government keeps illegals out and if they die, that’s for journalists and ethnographers and anyone else with a bleeding heart to analyze. Sure, they may admit it’s sad, a bit upsetting the scale of avoidable and manufactured death and loss, but… What is the government to do? Just let them in anyways? The only reasons in defense of that are in the annals of philosophy textbooks and activist Twitter threads. In other words: they don’t see ethics as a good enough reason.


Winner of the 2021 Prindle Prize for Ethics from a First-Year Seminar.

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Sociology Commons



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