Aiding and Abetting

Is it unethical to make money by facilitating illegal immigration?
See this story from Reuters: Mexico town booms as “Wal-Mart for migrants”

Ignore the Wal-Mart reference in the headline. It’s a red herring: the story has nothing to do with Wal-Mart. It’s about a small town on the south side of the US/Mexico border where a lot of businesses make a good deal of money catering to Mexicans who are about to make an illegal dash across the border.

Illegal immigration to the United States via the Sonoran Desert is big business in the town of Altar in northern Mexico, the last major settlement before the U.S. border, 60 miles away.

Around half a million people pass through Altar every year before the dangerous walk northward.

With few activities other than helping migrants, Altar offers services from money transfers and doctors to people smuggling and prostitution.

Pharmacies specialize in electrolyte solutions to avoid dehydration on the walk north, as well as caffeine and ephedrine stimulants to increase stamina and overcome fatigue.

Gallon water bottles are on sale at almost every corner and a Mexican bank has opened a branch in Altar to service migrants who receive money from U.S. relatives for their trip.

So, are these businesses doing anything wrong? Are they facilitating illegal immigration? Are they doing something exploitative? The article says little about prices, but it’s easy to imagine that prices in Altar reflect the desperation of its customers. On the other hayd, are these businesses indeed doing something positive by helping make the deadly treck through the Arizona desert a little safer? After all, at least one reputable charity seems to think so:

A Red Cross unit gives migrants pre-trek check ups and helps with the injuries of those who did not make it through the desert and were sent back by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

“This is the gateway to hell,” said Red Cross volunteer Amado Marcelo Coello. “They don’t know what awaits them out there,” he added, holding up a photo of a desert scorpion.

Food for thought: there’s a whole spectrum of goods and services being offered in Altar. Some merely could be used in an illegal border crossing. Others are likely to be used in an illegal border crossing. Still others ar almost certain to be used that way. And at least some services (i.e., human-smuggling) are directly implicated. Is there a clear bright line between the ethical and the unethical businesses in Alta?

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