Ethics, Undocumented Immigrants and the Issue of Integration: Making a Better Life for Everyone in New York City

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STUDENT VOICES

By: Yohan Garcia

This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video clip “Nisha Agarwal: IDNYC & the Undocumented Community.”  

According to a study conducted by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an estimated 643,000 undocumented immigrants live within the five boroughs of New York City. Advocates of the New York City Municipal ID card hoped that government-issued photo identification would bring many of those undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. With the newly elected President of the United States, Donald Trump, many are wondering whether the NYC Municipal ID was the right thing to do as the cards can put undocumented cardholders at greater risk of being harassed by government authorities and even of deportation.

Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, argues that the NYC Municipal ID card has helped many undocumented immigrants do things such as pick up their kids from school, access public and government buildings, interact more easily with police officers, and open bank accounts. Furthermore, the Commissioner argues that the Municipal ID has helped many undocumented immigrants increase their sense of belonging to New York City and to the United States. Given that sixty percent of NYC’s population is foreign born and less than half of the city’s population has a driver’s license, the Municipal ID proves to be an effective legal response to cope with the need for identification in NYC.

One of the biggest misconceptions about undocumented immigrants is that they take job opportunities away from American citizens. Many believe that immigrants do not pay any taxes and that they do not want to assimilate to the United States. However, studies conducted by the Pew Research Center suggests that these opinions are a product of anti-immigrant context which has been sustained and reproduced by the political climate. It is both unethical and immoral to punish individuals for choosing to migrate to another country without having the proper documents. The United States takes in a certain number of refugees per year, would it not be morally wrong to ignore and punish those already living in the country?

Additionally, many undocumented immigrants living in the United States migrated from their native countries due to the negative impact of United States interventions in their homelands. For instance, there are immigrants from Central America and Mexico who have migrated after the United States government’s political, military, or economic intervention. In particular, the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) lead to considerable levels of unemployment in central and southern Mexico. Thus, the right to survive and to thrive both socially and economically justifies the actions of the undocumented community and those helping them with their cause.

Moreover, from a theological perspective, it can be morally right to disobey certain laws. Many biblical heroes such as Prophet Daniel, and Saints like Saint Peter and Saint Paul, became martyrs by refusing to obey unjust human laws. Even though most people will argue that disobeying the law is morally wrong, it is morally right to disobey human laws when they are not in accordance with the Natural Law principles of justice and fairness. Thus, legislators who condemn undocumented immigrants and choose to close the doors of opportunities for these members of our society act negligently, unethically, and immorally.

There is no doubt that Trump’s presidency, with his lack of ethical and moral rhetoric and behavior, poses a greater risk to undocumented immigrants. His narrative fails to acknowledge the tremendous contributions of immigrants in the United States. Is escaping crime and poverty an illegal offense? Is it a moral offense to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities? Is it an unethical offense to give undocumented immigrants a sense of belonging and security? Is it a criminal offense to safeguard immigrant families from harassment and discrimination? These families are already in the United States; therefore, our government officials should enact legislation to provide them with a prosperous future.

Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have vowed to protect cardholders’ personal records by deleting their information if it is requested by the Trump’s administration. It is both the legal and moral obligation of New York elected officials to protect the most vulnerable members in our communities. Even though critics might claim that these actions are completely irresponsible because undocumented immigrants have broken the law, the end justifies the means. In addition, it is important to recognize our moral obligation in helping the most vulnerable members within our communities and giving each other the support we need to get through these difficult times of uncertainty and sense of insecurity.

Given that many undocumented immigrants live invisibly for a long time, the Municipal ID card truly acknowledges their existence. The NYC Municipal ID card was, and still is, worth the risk and the right thing to do. We owe undocumented immigrants a certain obligation of hospitality. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “the right which nature has given to all men of departing from the country in which choice, not chance has placed them” (1774). Whether critics like it or not, the NYC Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio acted as responsible politicians by doing the fair thing for undocumented immigrants with the creation of the NYC Municipal ID card.

Yohan Garcia is completing his M.A. in Ethics & Society at Fordham University.

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Process or End Goal: When to Begin Genocide Prevention

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STUDENT VOICES

By: Megan Gray

This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video clip “When to Begin Genocide Prevention.”  

In the Carnegie Council video, “When to Begin Genocide Prevention,” led by Tibi Galis from the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, Galis discusses the process and end goals of seeking to prevent genocide today, in relation to its origins in Nazi Germany. He begins by stating that “genocide is not only the moment when people are killed; it’s also the moment, if we take, for example, the Holocaust, when people had to wear a star to identify them as being Jewish. That has already set in place the dynamics that were necessary for achieving the killing at a later stage.” Galis expresses that both the process and end goal of understanding and achieving the prevention of genocide are equally important, and that if the end goal is to stop the mass killings, it will not simply come from preparing and taking action once the killings have begun. He emphasizes that preventative action needs must take place before the issue arises in order to prevent tragedies such as genocide from starting in the first place.

As Galis continues to discuss this notion, he brings into the bigger picture the comparison of the U.S. military to that of genocide prevention. He gives us the example of instances in which the military has been sent on missions to end violence in other parts of the world once killing has begun. He establishes that it is expected to make a difference in the long run in regard to the number of deaths occuring and reduction of violence, however it still does not prevent the genocide from ultimately happening.  Galis also brings into focus another simpler example of alcoholism. He discusses a hypothetical situation in which an individual may be seeking to prevent alcoholism, and as a result he or she is “talking about going into the bars and knocking out people’s drinks while they are there.” Obviously this has the potential to make a possible impact, but overall it is an ineffective way of solving this problem. He continues that prevention is to be sought and acquired long before the actual spree of killing has commenced; that an intervention should be considered a last resort when all else has failed.

The real question is then, what is the true focus of this underlying objective: the process or end goal? In the studies of Deontology, most notably established by the philosopher Kant, and Teleology, established by philosophers Sandel, Aristotle, Hegel, and Marx, the studies take sides in exploring the differences between the importance of whether or not a society should focus on being more ends-orientated or process/fairness centered. Galis stresses that in order to prevent genocide, action needs to take place before the genocide even begins.  Galis states “just like in the case of an alcoholic where the actual solution has to come from that individual staying on track, similarly the long-term solutions to preventing genocide have to come from within the society where the risk is high” meaning that preventative action needs to come from within the society’s understanding that the risk of such events is always a possibility and that the course of action should result in long-term prevention in the sense that it should be a goal revolved around solving the problem once and for all, not just in a specific instance.

From the sound of it, Galis is taking a more deontological standpoint in establishing that the end goal will only be met if the process is focused on prevention specifically, not simply solving the problem once it has begun. However, he continuously emphasizes that the process in which we take preventative measures before the killings begin is only fueled by the ultimate end goal: the end of genocide. The question then comes into play: what approach might be more effective in helping to relay the message to society in the hopes that more will join in together to make this prevention a reality? In order to get society to come together in agreement and willing to join forces for a common goal, the emphasis of an end goal is what is going to encourage the public to take these pre-preventative measures and focus on the categorical imperative.

A journal article that comes to mind in the context of discrimination and the possibility of a mass genocide is Douglas C. Haldeman’s article, Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy, in which he explores the history of sexual orientation conversion therapy and its “ethical” implications and provocative anti-homosexual prejudice, as explained by scientists, LGB theorists and activists, and religious officials. In this article, the author studies and discusses the act of conversion therapy on those of varying sexual identities in the hopes that they will convert back to heterosexual orientation. In Galis’s discussion he brings to our attention that the genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany did not begin with a mass killing spree, but by labeling them with stars, to indicate their religious affiliation and to bring to the forefront those whom society considered to be the “ideal” people.

Throughout history, those of differentiating sexual orientations were considered to be a sin to God. Their sexual orientation was not considered to be a social norm, but rather a mental illness and as a result, they were expected to be “cured” of their disease or killed in the process. Many individuals underwent this kind of sexual orientation therapy for many reasons: Pressures from society, the church, their family, or simply the desire to be like everyone else. As a result of society’s misperception that homosexuality was evil, many killings occurred. Although this is not necessarily the magnitude of a genocide like that of Nazi Germany, the underlying premise is still the same and the potential for unjust retaliation or killings remains.

When being labeled and exiled from society for being different, tensions and violence grow as a result because many people are afraid of what they don’t understand. If prevention had begun, as Galis stated, before the killings occurred, such as helping society understand that homosexuality is not a choice and that conversion therapy is an ineffective strategy to change the sexual identity from the way people were born, then much of the violence and deaths could have been replaced by acceptance.

This discussion ultimately will help the public to understand that preventative actions need to take place if violence is to be thwarted.  We can’t wait until we are in the midst of a war to resolve conflict. Through conflict one group wins at the expense of another which does not resolve the issue but rather buries it, and perhaps the resolution is only temporarily. By communicating and taking initiative, society can come together as a more unified population in helping to cooperate and connect so an end goal will be reached without a genocide occurring in the first place.

Megan Gray is completing her MA in Public Media in the Graduate School of Arts and Science at Fordham University.

The Ethics of Climate Change Activism: Fear vs. Reality

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STUDENT VOICES

By: Chelsea Zantay

This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video clip “Global Ethics Forum: Ethics Matter: A Conversation with Bill McKibben.”  

Often when a problem is too big or too scary we throw up our hands and announce that “there is nothing we can do” to solve it.  Admittedly, climate change feels like one of those problems.  It seems like a quagmire of depressing facts and statistics.  It is now scientific fact that the polar ice caps are melting, our oceans are rising and becoming more acidic, and if we do not curb our consumption of fossil fuels, our planet will be rendered unlivable.  The plethora of disturbing information on climate change is enough to cause anyone to have a sleepless night or make them wish they had never heard the truth about our warming planet.  However, ostriches with their heads buried in the sand do not get much done, and once you know some truth, you cannot un-know it.  And so the question at hand is not “is climate change happening?” for that question has been answered in the affirmative (although climate change deniers would like to see this issue removed from our national political discourse).  The question right now is “what are we going to do about it, if anything?”

Bill McKibben, environmental scientist and founder of 350.org, has spent his career writing about climate change and mobilizing communities as an activist for the cause.  The mission of his website reads: “We believe in a safe climate and a better future – a just, prosperous, and equitable world built with the power of ordinary people.”  This statement is in no way frightening beyond the scope of comprehension.  In fact, it is probably what most people want out of the future.  Unfortunately, the direction we are headed in is not conducive to this safe and equal future.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  If we continue with our current rate of fossil fuel burning, we could be left with a planet that is ungovernable, uninhabitable and unrecognizable.  This is a terrifying thought, but should climate change activists refrain from telling the truth about our planet’s situation? 

At one point during the Carnegie Council’s featured video Global Ethics Forum: Ethics Matter: A Conversation with Bill McKibben, McKibben was asked about instilling fear in the general public so much so that the sheer magnitude of the problem may compel them not to act.  To this, McKibben replied, “reality is what it is, and we should describe it.”  In fact, it could be said that experts on ecology, such as environmentalists like McKibben and climate change scientists, have a duty to make this knowledge available to the public. 

Presently, we have seen enough “100-year” storms and floods to be convinced of the boundless power and undeniable truth of climate change.  Activists and scientists cannot be charged with attempting to use unwarranted scare tactics.  However, if they have been guilty of scaring the public into action in the past, is that such a bad thing? 

From a utilitarian perspective of ethics, the ends justify the means and thus, whatever actions are taken are ethical as long as they promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  Hence, even if information was disseminated in a frightening way, if it caused a positive change in society, it was ultimately a good.  Similarly, from a deontological view of ethics, individuals have a duty to promote moral ends for the common good.  From this perspective, ecological whistleblowers, because their intentions are good, are moral beings trying to enact positive changes in society. 

Certain professions, such as teachers and social workers, are mandated reporters.  This means that when they see a violation of human rights, such as a child who is clearly malnourished or abused, they must contact the authorities.  If they fail to contact the authorities, they can be held responsible for the well-being of the child and their job and licensure can be put in jeopardy.  In a way, scientists and activists are mandated reporters whose concern is not for the good of one individual or child, but for the good of all humanity and our entire planet.  However, now that we know unequivocally what is happening to our planet in terms of its changing climate, and what that will mean for humanity in the decades to come, the question is now posed to us: what will we do about it, if anything?     

The oil and gas industry is “the most powerful industry on Earth,” says McKibben.  Indeed, this industry not only decides what energy we use, but how it will be extracted and transported, what countries it is sold to, and how expensive it will be.  Oil and gas companies have huge sway in Congress and our government at large.  President Obama has said that we have enough energy to last us one hundred years, yet the industry spends “$100,000,000 a day looking for more sources of fuel.” Thus, McKibben calls them a “rogue industry” because they are now defying the laws of chemistry and physics, and are consciously altering the chemical makeup of our planet.  Moreover, when this industry makes a mistake, the world suffers.  On April 20th, 2010, a seal on a B.P. operated oil well in the Gulf of Mexico failed, and commenced “the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history,” as well as the worst marine environmental disaster in human history.  “For 87 straight days, oil and methane spewed” into the Gulf.  By the end of the ordeal, “an estimated 4.2 million barrels of oil” were released into the Gulf waters.  This disaster had serious and long-lasting consequences for the tourism and fishing industry of the Gulf.  One would think that after such disasters the human race would come together in a concerted effort to stop such atrocities against humans and nature, but apparently we do not learn from our mistakes. 

The time has come to act on climate because we can no longer afford not to.  We know what consequences are in store for us if we continue on our current trajectory.  Although there are many movements aimed at stopping individual projects, such as the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, we now need a comprehensive plan that curbs, and eventually stops, carbon emissions.  Bill McKibben suggests imposing a carbon tax on the energy industry.  This is probably the only way that will subdue the energy industry’s power. 

Not everyone is cut out for activism and certainly only a small portion of the population has the desire and ability to become a scientist.  However, if we are to leave a habitable planet to our successors, if we are to protect the non-human species living on our planet (some of which have lifesaving potential for humans), and if we are to sleep soundly at night knowing that we did everything that we could, then we must act now.  The human race now has an opportunity to come together to protect our planet, and really, what do we have to lose?  Best case scenario: we save our world.  Worst case scenario: we foster a culture of fraternity and brotherhood– the scope of which humanity has never seen before.

Chelsea Zantay is completing her M.A. in Ethics & Society at Fordham University.

Finding the Questions: The Ethics of Voluntourism

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STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE THIRD-PLACE WINNER

By Margaret Desmond

It is almost two in the morning and I am standing on the side of street in Guatemala while the driver rings the bell for what must be the sixth time. No one is answering the door. This house is supposed to be my home for the next two weeks. Internally I feel there is some universal karmic force at work which is punishing me for falling into the trap of “voluntourism.” I could have just come on vacation and explored but instead I chose to set up volunteer work. While a common choice among other college students, I really struggled with the ethical dilemmas that voluntourism presents.

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Suppression of Necessary Gun Violence Research

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STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE SECOND-PLACE WINNER

By Colette Berg

Late in July 2015, my mother asked a surgeon friend of hers his opinion on gun control. He shook his head sadly and said, “I’ve operated on good guys shot by burglars, I’ve operated on parents accidentally shot by their children and children accidentally shot by their parents. But never have I once operated on a bad guy shot by a good guy.” He does not buy the popular notion that “good guys” with guns can defend themselves from “bad guys” with guns. Of course, this an anecdote from the life of one surgeon. However, most peoples’ opinions on gun control are based on intuition and personal experience rather than data. Good data about gun violence is hard to find, because Congress has refused to provide funding for gun violence research since 1996.

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Beyond Partisan: Voting While Catholic in 2016

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STUDENT VOICES

By Tim Colvin

For many faithful Catholics and Christians of all denominations, even for many Americans who are not religious, this election has painted a very stark picture: we are forced to choose between the two most flawed and disliked candidates in recent political memory. Many Americans have chosen to vote for third parties as a way to vent their frustration, while others, including myself, have decided that no candidate is fit to lead our country and have decided to not vote at all. I am particularly disappointed that I feel the need to abstain from voting, as this is the first presidential election I can participate in, but I feel as I have a greater duty to my principles and conscience.

But perhaps there is also an opportunity in this election, an opportunity for creative destruction, for new philosophies and ideas to emerge. For the past several decades it has felt like Christians have become more or less clients of the Republican Party; Republicans will take a stand (or will at least pay lip-service) to those particular issues (especially social issues) and Christians will get in line to pull the lever for the Republican candidate.

And now that the culture wars are over for the most part – gay rights and the sexual revolution are arguably, mostly settled issues – the rise of Donald Trump represents a post- culture war Republican Party, where issues of sexual morality have taken a back seat, and issues dealing with economics and immigration have come to the fore. Many faithful Christians have latched themselves, in my view wrongly, to Trump in the hope that he will protect in the battles to come over religious liberty. But as I mentioned, Trump is a candidate who sees social issues as almost second tier, and hardly ever mentions them; even on some occasions taking the side traditionally seen as liberal.

But perhaps out of the creative destruction left behind by the 2016 election, there is a chance to come up with a more Catholic, communitarian political philosophy. Communitarianism, which places an emphasis on the individual’s connection to a wider community, has never been popular in the United States, which has always preferred to have the individual as the most basic unit in its politics. There are already some on the right who have begun to retool the Republican ideology to fit a 21st century context, who see the current Republican outlook mired down in the Reaganism of the 1980s.

Known as “reform conservatives” or “reformicons,” these conservative intellectuals have a lot to offer the Republican Party, such as making the over-encumbered welfare system more pro-family and shifting the party away from its titans of industry image. Of course this revival in Christian thinking should not take place in only one party, and Christians should not feel pigeonholed into supporting just one party. There seems to be a search for a political messiah, a single leader who will save our nation from its political troubles and lead it towards salvation, but this hope is deeply misguided and hopelessly idealistic.

Not all of our problems can or will be solved by politics, and should not dare to hope that politics can deliver us from the evils of this life. I believe a Christian mindset, which accepts that man is a fallen creature, can introduce a healthy dose of realism into the political community.

Tim Colvin is a senior at Fordham University.  He is currently enrolled in Fordham University’s Center for Ethics Education Five Year BA-BS/MA Ethics and Society Program, and is a dual major in Political Science and Classical Civilization with a minor in Philosophy. 

Ethical Implications of Victim Blaming in Cases of Police Brutality

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STUDENT VOICES 

By Emily Jenab, M.A.

Another black man has been shot and, subsequently, another case of character assassination post-death has begun.  Alfred Okwera Olango, 38, was killed as he pulled out “a three inch long vape” and allegedly pointed it at the police of El Cajun, California. The shooting of Olango, an “emotionally disturbed” man who was shot after his sister called 911 for help, has already resulted in justifications of why he deserved to die. Yes, he was holding a vape, but why did it look like a gun? Why was he standing like that? Why did he hold his vaporizer between his hands? Efforts to legitimize another murder, and state implicated violence, will be taken. The cycle repeats and ethical and emotional discussions surrounding these murders, along with the issues embedded in police systems, will continue to be ignored.

Respectability politics are pertinent for people of color, and for marginalized persons, the respectability of their very identity is questioned when they are victims of police misconducts. There is, for our cultural purposes, no “good” black man; if he is unarmed, as Eric Garner was, he still deserves to die and his murderer will not be charged. If he is armed in an open carry state, as Philando Castle was, it is asked why he even had a gun, or what he was doing prior to being pulled over. These men – employed, fathers, worthwhile members of their communities – are reduced to “thugs” in the wake of their deaths. As the horrific deaths play across screens, the feeling of inequality and shame arises in some while others choose to dehumanize and delegitimize the lives of victims. Even one’s commitment to serve his or her country is ignored, like the case of Anthony Hill, a veteran of the US Air forces who was killed in Georgia. There is no shield from pervasive racism, even serving our country, something that is normally highly venerated.

Perhaps “bad cops” and those who support them unwaveringly are engaging in some form of culturally disseminated ‘gaslighting’. The methods behind this tactic, normally perpetrated by domestic abusers, can be used to warp reality for the masses. As Shea Emma Fett notes, “every time an obvious hate crime is portrayed as an isolated case of mental illness, this is gaslighting. The media is saying to you, ‘What you know to be true is not true’.” The media, police departments and their ardent supporters present the same message: a victim of police violence becomes a criminal; a father becomes a criminal, a teenager becomes a man and a boy like Tamir Rice, barely 12, becomes a threat.

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