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HEARTS OF THE CITY | Navigating the Real World

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of ethics, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

September 18, 1996|LARRY B. STAMMER, Times religion writer

Today's question: Under U.S. immigration rules, a South Korean woman who married an American faces deportation because she was married less than two years when her husband was murdered in a Reseda restaurant robbery. "If the marriage is less than 2 years old when the citizen dies," immigration authorities said, "the petition [for residency] dies with the citizen." Is an ethical or moral issue involved?

Donald Miller

Professor of religion and co-director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, USC

"In an attempt to create fair policies, bureaucracies need broad rules that can be generalized. These policies are an attempt to prevent favoritism and graft, and, when rightly crafted, such policies promote efficiency as well as fairness. Nevertheless, the axiom is correct that rules are made to be broken; otherwise, bureaucracies become heartless and inhumane. This case is an obvious instance where an exception to the rules should occur. Why? Because a 'higher order' moral principle is being violated. Namely, persons acting responsibly and in good faith should not be irreparably punished when acts beyond their control make it impossible for them to fulfill the conditions of their legal contract. Every good bureaucracy needs procedures of appeal and the flexibility for wise administrators to bend the rules."

Sharon Presley

Executive director, Resources for Independent Thinking, Oakland

"The Immigration and Naturalization Service has the worst kind of obsessive and petty bureaucrats. The real moral issue is whether this sort has any right to play God with other people's lives. This woman has fallen through the cracks of a rule intended to cover what the INS considers 'scams,' not a freak tragedy. Whatever happened to widows' rights? Whatever happened to 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free'? Apparently the very types who built this country into what it is now are no longer considered desirable. She should be able to stay and apply for citizenship."

The Venerable Havanpola Ratanasara

President, American Buddhist Congress

"While the INS has legal authority to revoke her visa, it also has an ethical/moral obligation to make a judgment to continue her visa. To deport her would double her tragedy by making her leave the place where she had found happiness with her husband. It is similar to the bull attacking a man who has fallen from a tree into his pasture. In this case, it is apparent that no cheating or dishonesty is involved. There should be a provision for the officer reviewing her case to consult his or her superior and to make a conciliatory decision which is moral. Compassion must always temper these kinds of judgments."

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