Licenses for Illegal Aliens: Invalid Theory, Invalid Ethics
This is the theory, as The Ethics Scoreboard understands it:
A particular act is wrong…perhaps even illegal. People insist on doing it anyway, endangering themselves and others in the process. Society has a difficult time persuading these people to stop doing the act it has concluded is wrongful, usually because the people who engage in the conduct benefit from doing it (at least in their own minds), and don't care sufficiently about the danger to themselves or the harm to others. So the way to solve this knotty problem, or so the theory goes, is for society to declare that the troublesome conduct isn't wrong after all.
This approach to problems usually is defended as "common sense' and "practical." It is neither. It is, in fact, an acceptance of unethical conduct for no good reason other than the fact that many indulge in it and it seems easier to accept and regulate it than to declare it wrong. Once the government, the voice of the society, declares that penalties no longer apply, the conduct becomes more common. It is now "OK."
Underage premarital sex causes societal havoc and human tragedy, but communities are increasingly choosing to aid and abet the conduct by distributing condoms in schools rather than to send a clear and unequivocal message that it is irresponsible and wrong. Although we know that births to unmarried couples contribute to neglect, poverty and crime, America finally decided that sending a clear message by imposing social sanctions on the behavior was not compassionate. Now wealthy celebrities have children out of wedlock openly, proudly, and without fear of public disapproval, showing the way for non-celebrities for whom the choice could be disastrous. Recreational drug use causes addiction, broken families and financial ruin. Because it also causes disease, communities have decided that it is more important to make the practice safer by handing out needles to junkies than to unequivocally condemn the behavior.
Steroids in professional sports and illegal downloading of music and movies from the Internet are currently inspiring the argument that so many people are doing it that we might as well make it easy for them. Next up for passive acceptance? It's hard to say, for the candidates are many: student-teacher romances in the public schools, perhaps. Tax evasion, maybe. Bribery.
None of these would be significantly more illogical than the movement to allow illegal immigrants drivers licenses, a policy that has prevailed in eight states and that narrowly missed implementation in New York after negative public opinion frightened off Gov. Elliott Spitzer. This infuriated the Washington Post's editors, who managed to include the full spectrum of rationalizations in their arguments for letting those who aren't in the country legally get legal access to the roads. A couple of Washington Post points:
So here's the ethically correct theory, as the Ethics Scoreboard understands it, and one that should be consistently applied to all conduct society believes is significantly harmful, unethical, and wrong:
Those who violate a culture's ethical norms, including laws, should suffer the consequences, including the sometimes harsh consequences directly brought about by their own actions. Society's willingness to impose those consequences should not be lessened by the number of people who are engaging in the conduct, or society's discomfort with imposing them.