Aristotle and John Stuart Mill Unite on Illegal Immigration

Cindy Arrambide – Economics Afternoon

People are constantly searching for happiness. Whether people aspire to find the perfect job, establish a home, or even raise their own family, all people hope that by the end of their life they will be successful and happy. Since the Europeans arrived on the newly discovered lands of North America, people have been successful in escaping economic, social, or political hardships. Many of America’s first settlers risked their lives on month long journeys across the Atlantic Ocean in order to establish a new and better life for themselves and for their family. Today, we still see similar situations and experiences as the number of immigrants, particularly Latinos – both legal and illegal- continue to add to the population of the United States of America. The most important reason why immigrants abandon their homes and seek the United States is because they want to take advantage of any opportunity that will lead them to success and the ultimate goal of happiness. They are willing to go against the law and risk their lives in order to live in a place where they achieve their ultimate end goal –which is happiness. As the issue of illegal immigrants continues to increase in concern and debate, it is important to understand that immigrants come here seeking to escape hardships and live a better life, even if it means committing an act of violation in order to achieve that goal.

Even if we may not realize it, illegal immigrants are in our communities, schools, places of worship, and workforce. It is hard to deny that we cannot see the issue at hand in our everyday life. To this date, there are currently 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States of America, with more than half of these people coming from either Mexico or other Central American countries. [i]This statistic illustrates just how much Latinos see the United States as a safe haven and a place where they can contribute through working hard. As corruption and violence remains prevalent in many Latin American countries and also around the world, people’s only opportunity to escape such hardship is to risk their life by crossing the border, even if it means entering the country illegally. The Migration Policy Institute conducted a study and found that Central American immigrants, compared to other immigrant groups, were most likely to live in poverty. According to a 2013 statistic, nearly 7% of American children had at least one illegal immigrant parent, demonstrating just how much immigrants are risking in order to create a better life for their family.[ii] These facts and figures bring up one rising question: Why do many illegal immigrants, particularly Latinos, receive such criticism if many of their motives are only to escape a life which threatens their freedom and liberty? Isn’t their ultimate motive happiness?

In the United States, we can say that most of the population has a healthy and stable lifestyle. We have strong education systems, a wide variety of social programs enabled to help those in need, and an abundance of stores, shopping, and entertainment. Compared to many Latin American countries, the United States seems to be more invested in the welfare of their citizens. Because 31% of people in the Latin American region are living in poverty, the United States appears to be a place of endless dreams and opportunities. So much of Mexico’s population is living in extreme poverty, meaning that a person is earning less than $1.25 a day. If living in these circumstances, wouldn’t a person have a strong desire to move, even if it may mean entering illegally at the risk of deportation?  Despite much criticism from proponents of stricter immigration reform, many nonpartisan sources have discovered that illegal immigrants have had an important role in the American workforce and economy. Susan Combs’s research, a Texas Comptroller, showed that Texas’ work force would decrease by 6.3% without undocumented immigrants, which would make Texas’ gross state product decrease by 2.1%. [iii]Nearly half of the hired workers that the U.S. Department of Agriculture employs are unauthorized. The USDA stated that if immigration reform were to become stricter in the future, the national fruit and vegetable industry would be greatly affected. These facts and statistics illustrate just how much illegal immigrants are actually contributing to the United States economy. Putting aside emotions toward the issue, we can clearly see that illegal immigrants are actually helpful and contribute greatly to the economy of the United States. Besides helping themselves or their family live a better life with more opportunities, illegal immigrants are proving their loyalty to the United States by working hard and contributing significantly to the economy.

According to Aristotle, happiness is a human’s ultimate end goal.[iv]Happiness is both final and self-sufficing. We all desire for something greater or better in our lives, whether that is pursuing a college education to receive our degree at the completion, buying our own home, or even finding a partner to eventually create a family with. All of these ideas have an end goal. We go to college knowing that the degree we receive at the end will enable us to find a job, which will provide for our needs and eventually the needs of our future family if we choose to get married. This idea of an end goal is prevalent in many illegal immigrants’ desire to enter to the “Land of Opportunity”, even at the expense of being possibly being deported and never having the chance to come back again. Some type of circumstance, whether economic or social, has led these illegal immigrants to completely abandon their home in search of a new establishment in the United States.  The idea of leaving everything behind- family, friends, familiar roads and places- in order to settle in a foreign and unfamiliar land does not seem very enjoyable. Why would a person be willing to leave so much behind? The answer is simple. The place where they currently reside is an obstacle which is hindering them from achieving happiness. Something has drawn them abandon their home in search for a place which will provide them with opportunity and resources for establishing a better life. Otherwise, they could have simply taken advantage of the resources that they had in their previous home. In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle said that our actions are always for the sake of the end. His Greatest Happiness Principle explains that the end is an existence that is far as possible from pain, rich as possible in enjoyments, both in quantity and quality. Would not this statement fully support and defend illegal immigrants’ motives for coming here? Illegal immigrants are only committing an act against the law of the United States in order to live a life which brings them a healthy and successful life. Are humans not entitled to this desire? Aristotle’s ideas support the fact that immigrants are only coming in order to seek solstice in the United State as their final destination, even if it means entering illegally.

When an immigrant’s lifestyle or situation becomes difficult in their homeland, many decide that the only way to even have the possibility of having a better life is to cross the border illegally. The ideas of John Stuart Mill help to support the reasoning behind immigrant’s motive to enter the United States illegally. A proponent of Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill would believe that illegal immigrants are only doing what is necessary in order to attain a better life, even if it may mean committing an “evil” (crossing illegally) for a greater “good”. This greater good that they are aiming at is the opportunity to live free from violence, corruption, or lack of opportunities to better themselves in their previous home.  As humans, we desire to live a happy and sustainable life. For many, the United States symbolizes a place of opportunity and dreams. With the limited number of green cards available for low-skilled workers, people become desperate and find that the only other option is to enter illegally. Despite the significant number of unauthorized people coming to the United States for work, we must recognize that laws are set in place. Seeing that the numbers of illegal immigrants are continuing to rise, are we Americans neglecting an underlying issue? If everyone on Earth is entitled to happiness, how can we deny those who are unable to achieve it due to the lack of resources or opportunities?

Everyone desires to achieve happiness sometime in their life.  As the granddaughter of an illegal immigrant, I understand firsthand the struggles and obstacles that an immigrant’s life entails. Through hard work, persistence, and faith, my grandparents were able to achieve ultimate happiness and establish a better life for their children, which in return have created the same for me. In some circumstances, a person’s homeland does not enable them to achieve happiness due to the lack of opportunities and resources available there. As the issue of illegal immigration becomes more prominent, it is important to recognize the reasoning and motives behind a person’s decision to enter the United States. Although Aristotle and John Stuart Mill have completely different definitions of happiness, it is interesting to see how both of their beliefs coincide with the issue of illegal immigration. When an unauthorized person enters the United States, they know the risks that they may face. Statistics prove just how much illegal immigrants are willing to work for themselves, their family, and for the country where they now reside. So how can we solve the issue of immigration? The answer is simple:  by recognizing their desire and longing for happiness. Even though the means in which they enter are illegal, their actions and hard work illustrate their determination to achieve stability and happiness in their lives. All humans, regardless of gender, racial or ethnic background, are entitled to a happy life.


[i]  “5 Facts about Illegal Immigration in the U.S.” Pew Research Center RSS. Last modified November 18, 2014.

[ii] Zong, Jie and Jeanna Batalova. “Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States.” Last modified February 25, 2015.

[iii] “Illegal Immigrants Benefit the U.S. Economy.” The Hill.

[iv] Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Book 1

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