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Immigration as an Ethical Issue in "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit"

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Ethics is defined as a “Process of Critical Scrutiny about what we believe about how humans ought to live” (Werner). In Ethics an ethical theory is used to “investigate and/or explains why a certain action is right or wrong, why we ought to act in certain ways, or why one ought to be a certain type of person. Critically analyze, and rank moral concerns raised by particular issues”. Immigration is a huge ethical issue that is taking place in today’s society, it’s featured in movies, television shows, social media, even music. One television show that did a wonderful job examining the ethical issue was the hit television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is about a group of detectives, who solve sexually formed crimes, many episodes are also based off of real-life events. There is one episode on the show, where an illegal immigrant from the Congo witness a rape take place in her apartment staircase. She refuses at testifying for fear to go back to the Congo, where she herself and her 5-year old daughter were brutally raped by the rebels, killing her daughter 5 days later through injuries. The ethical dilemma comes in when immigration officers come to arrest and try to deport the woman back to Congo, after being promised by the assistant district attorney that, that wouldn’t happen. Now we are faced with two groups of people, where one of them doesn’t know the Congolese woman’s situation (immigration) and the other who does but is faced with little to no chance to keep her in the US. As an audience member, you try to put yourself in the immigration officer’s shoes and decide whether you do your job or let her stay here, where she will be safe from the rebels in her home country, but might get fired in the process. Using ethical theories such as Immanuel Kant, Js Mill, and Aristotle can help the immigration officer determine the right way to go.

Immanuel Kant theory is based on a person’s character. He feels that certain actions are inherently right or wrong. “His emphasis is the nature of the actions themselves. He is also concerned with motive, as he identifies only one motive as a truly moral motive.” In simpler terms, Kant is stating “Do the right thing!” Don’t think, don’t hesitate, don’t wonder whether or not you will benefit from doing “the right thing,” because if you think or wonder, then your life will be impure and won’t make you a moral person. Looking at the situation in Law & Order is that the young lady is, in fact, an illegal immigrant doesn’t take away from the fact that she is still a human being with feelings. The Congolese woman has already suffered enough in her life, especially after losing her daughter due to a brutal attack. Being that she has lived as a law-abiding citizen, meaning clean record and also helping fight justice being the witness in a case, her being an illegal immigrant should be looked over and instead help her become an American.

“Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.” Js Mills is stating that a moral action is one that maximizes utility, or happiness, for the greatest number of people. JS Mill would believe that illegal immigrants are only doing what is necessary in order to gain a better life, even if it may mean crossing illegally for a greater “good”. The greater good that they are aiming at is the opportunity to live free from lack of opportunities to better themselves in their previous home. America symbolizes a place of opportunity and dreams. Referring back to the television show, the Congolese woman is attempting to create that better life for herself, she’s closed a horrific chapter in her life and crossed the border to open up a better one. She’s not hurting anyone in the process yet she’s potentially helping someone including herself. Immigration needs to look over the “evil” act that they feel she has committed and look at her as a person. Someone who is trying to blind out her past and build a beautiful future.

Lastly, according to Aristotle, happiness is a human’s ultimate end goal. 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. In the referring episode, The Congolese woman didn’t come to America to hurt nor harm anyone, she came to leave a nasty chapter behind her, she came to better herself as a person, and also chase her dreams. Understandable that immigration does in fact have a job they have to do, but when does a person step back from their job and look at the big picture? Sending her back to where she came from is helping what? Who is it helping? Nobody, yet it’s hurting another human being because of an immortal law that was set up. 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.

The episode ends with the woman testifying against the rapist and receiving an American passport. Now an American citizen, she plans on going back to her country to help other women that were in her situation, realizing that they can be heard as well. In all actuality every ethical theories can help the woman. But overall Aristotle backs her situation up better than the others, because Aristotle understands that the woman is coming to the States to better her living, so it helps immigration think “what if it were you?” What if this was your mother trying to better herself? Aristotle makes you think less with “rules” and more with your “heart”.

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Immigration as an Ethical Issue in “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”. (2019, July 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from
“Immigration as an Ethical Issue in “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”.” GradesFixer, 10 Jul. 2019,
Immigration as an Ethical Issue in “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2022].
Immigration as an Ethical Issue in “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jul 10 [cited 2022 Jan 29]. Available from:
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