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29.6.05

Love Your Aliens As Yourself

I knock Hugo Schwyzer here a lot, so it's only fair that I point out occasionally when he posts something I like. Such is the case with his recent post defending his decision to ignore immigration/citizenship status when hiring day laborers. He is right that the Bible is strikingly clear on the need to welcome foreigners, and here the Bible seems certainly right -- as I argued before, it's the facual entanglement of people's lives, not permission from the pre-existing in-group, that is the moral basis of the rights of community membership. (I wouldn't, however, go so far as to call this form of civil disobedience obligatory.) Schwyzer's commitment to paying his employees a fair wage nicely circumvents the "stealing American jobs" argument, as well as being morally laudatory regardless of the person's status.

What was particularly interesting was when he pointed out the beneficial effects on immigrants' communities of origin, due to the money that is sent back there. (Though I think he is mistaken in implying that this is important to the question of whether to check his employees' status -- legal immigrants send money back home too.) There's a longstanding philosophical disagreement about the proper objects of charity. One school of thought holds that we should help those most in need, even if they are strangers in faraway lands, while the other asserts that we have a special duty to those who are close to us. (Peter Singer has notably been criticized for advocating the former but practicing the latter.) Pragmatic arguments showing that charity to those close to us is more efficient only go so far in reconciling the gap. Hiring immigrants from poor countries bridges the dilemma in an interesting way. Hugo is able to support and strengthen his local community while also getting resources to the faraway needy* -- and because those resources are sent through the "thick" ties between immigrants and their families, the problems of the coldness and wastefulness of direct foreign charity are alleviated.

*Though not, perhaps, the very neediest, as financial and social poverty ultimately inhibits the ability to take advantage of the immigration-and-remittances strategy.

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