My adult daughter met a nice young man. They went for a hike. He brought along a man from an Eastern European country here on a work visa. There was chemistry between my daughter and this man, and they started spending time together; the original guy immediately stepped aside.
Fast-forward: After a particularly fun hike and dinner, the Eastern European said they should plan a backpacking trip. They appeared to be on the path toward love, and my daughter was very happy. The next day, he asked her to marry him so he could get a green card. She was stunned and hurt. He was artless in his response to her, and then he ghosted her. My daughter is licking her wounds and embarrassed to have fallen for this scam.
I’m not normally a meddlesome mom, but this was cruel. He’s in the United States strictly for financial reasons; his country is peaceful but poor, and he’s part of the brain drain that is crippling their economy. I want to turn him in to immigration because we have ample homegrown jerks and don’t need to import more, and also because his work is a high-paying blue-collar job we probably don’t need to bring in workers to do. Should I let it drop or report him? Name Withheld
In your account, he’s trying to make a go of it in our rich country to gain prospects unavailable to him back home. What he saw in your daughter was a chance to secure permanent residency and move ahead with that plan. If you report him and the government finds that (in the statutory language) he “attempted or conspired to enter into a marriage for the purpose of evading the immigration laws,” he could be removed from this country and deemed permanently inadmissible. (Those who arrange sham marriages as a business can face prison.) Even if you think these statutes exist for a sound reason, in taking it upon yourself to bring down the full weight of the law, you will have radically reduced his prospects in a vindictive manner. The state has its own aims in establishing legal penalties; your aim is clearly to punish this man for hurting your daughter.
You mention more public-minded reasons for turning him in. You say that he’s a jerk. But you have a very limited basis on which to judge his overall character; and even if he is, in some respects, a jerk, you can’t seriously think reducing the number of jerks in the United States by one is a contribution to our national welfare. And though you refer to his expatriation as a loss to his home country (“brain drain”), you don’t suggest that the country in question is hard up for blue-collar workers with his particular skills — or, indeed, would benefit from reclaiming a jerk.
What about your observation that he’s doing a job that could be done by an American? First, the impact of immigrant labor can’t be reduced to a one-to-one effect like this: Increasing our work force flexibility can help companies grow and create jobs for other workers. Of course, there are debates among economists about how the welfare of American workers, at different skill levels, is affected by immigrants; I think most would agree that immigration has increased America’s total wealth, even if that wealth is unevenly distributed — there can be winners and losers. Yet these large policy issues don’t tell us what a person should do when she has the power to get one immigrant deported. Your aim is to exact retribution; it isn’t to advance the development of better policies in this area.
You can’t seriously think reducing the number of jerks in the United States by one is a contribution to our national welfare.
To be sure, anyone who toys with your daughter’s emotions out of self-interested calculation has done something reprehensible. But note that this person did, at least, come clean with her: He let her know what he was up to before she could commit herself in a more permanent way. And, though it seems a safe guess that her affection wasn’t fully reciprocated, we don’t know that his affection was entirely feigned. One more thing: Whatever you do, shouldn’t you ask your daughter what she thinks about all this before making a decision? The wrong that you’re responding to was done not to you but to her.
My friend and his wife went on vacation with another longtime friend and his wife. The four of them were in a beachside restaurant when they started chatting with two men. My friend left for an errand and saw his longtime friend’s wife making out with one of the men on the beach. My friend and his wife are tangentially friends with this woman, but the deeper friendship is between the two men. My friend was not aware that his longtime friend was experiencing any serious marital problems. He ultimately stayed mum about what he saw. Did he do the right thing? Kevin, New Jersey
Let’s figure that your friend’s friend would have expected him to pass on what he’d seen. Still, we can protect our friends from information that we think would hurt them without benefit, or lead them to act in regrettable ways. It wasn’t respectful of your friend to deprive the husband of the opportunity to make his own judgment about what happened and how to respond. But we may act out of concern for our friends in ways that don’t fully honor their autonomy. Caring and respect both matter. Sometimes they pull in opposite directions.
We have had the same gardeners for 15 years, and they were satisfactory until the owner turned the business over to his son-in-law, who does not do a good job. We have kept the relationship out of a sense of loyalty. Recently, they did not come because of having contracted Covid. We told them we would pay them anyway and hired another gardener in the meantime who does a much better job. I want to terminate the original gardener, but my wife is loath to do so. While it’s unfortunate that the original gardener and his crew got Covid, I would much prefer someone who does a good job. What is the ethical thing to do? Jeffrey Kravitz
It’s natural to develop a personal relationship with people who do a job for you over a long time — and ethically troubling if you don’t. But unless they become real friends, the central element of your relationship is still the job. What loyalty suggests is not continuing indefinitely with unsatisfactory work but consideration for the loss of income they will suffer. That could mean giving them a chance to improve or, if you think that’s not realistic, giving them either reasonable notice or a cushioning period of pay.
To submit a query: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.) Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.”
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