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April 15, 2003

Immigration: The Ethical Balance

Conference To Look At Issues Of Fairness, Failure And America's Future

DALLAS (SMU) -- Cheap labor or potential terrorist? Somewhere in between is the human face of America's immigrant population, estimated to be about 28 million people.

With war raging in the Middle East and U.S. citizens concerned about domestic security, immigration presents a challenge for policymakers. How to control U.S. borders and yet maintain a humane immigration policy? Various proposals ranging from amnesty to a guest worker program have stalled since Sept. 11. At the same time, national security is driving the hard ethical choices:

  • Do individuals have a right to immigrate to foreign shores?
  • Do countries have an ethical obligation to admit everyone?
  • Who should be admitted and should immigrants be accorded the same rights as U.S. citizens?

With a special focus on Mexico, immigration scholars and officials from both sides of the border will explore these ethical dilemmas from 8:30 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 22, at SMU in the Marion G. Tower International Conference, "The Ethics of Immigration Policy: Seeking the Common Good." For a complete list of the speakers, times and places, access the program at

  • Geronimo Guiterrez, Undersecretary for North America in the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will talk about the status of a guest worker program between Mexico and the United States.
  • Former U.S. Senators Alan Simpson and Paul Simon, both instrumental in passing the last major U.S. immigration reform law, will reflect on the current law's effectiveness.
  • U.S. Congressman Martin Frost, who helped to introduce a new version of the Family Reunification Act, will discuss current issues.
  • Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, will discuss border control.

Mexico is the single largest source of both legal and undocumented immigration into the United States. Census data report about 8.8 million people living in the United States in 2000 were born in Mexico, according to the Population Reference Bureau.

"When we talk about guest workers and temporary migration, we're actually talking about permanent migration because some come and go back, but others take their place," said Richard O. Mason, director of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, one of four organizations sponsoring the conference. With stricter enforcement on the border these days, hundreds of undocumented immigrants have perished in Southwest desert areas, presenting a new ethical problem for policymakers.

Other conference organizers include the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, the Institute for Research on Public Policy in Montreal and the Jno. E. Owens Memorial Foundation in Dallas.