The exploitation you’re describing is obviously wrong, even if the inequitable circumstances that prompt the wrongdoing are also morally wrong. But these are cases in which authorities have already reviewed the evidence and decided that an applicant is eligible for permanent residency; it isn’t apparent why they should revisit their determinations on the word of a third party who has no independent access to the facts.
The self-petitioning provision you refer to has a compelling rationale. Noncitizens who are victims of domestic violence or cruelty can be particularly vulnerable: They may not know English or be familiar with American laws, and they may fear deportation if they seek help. But the authorities are well aware that the system can be abused. While these petitions have substantially increased in the past several years, so has the number flagged as potentially fraudulent. The Government Accountability Office, which conducts audits and evaluations for Congress, has asked the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to develop an anti-fraud strategy, and the agency has undertaken to do so. The objective is to try to protect victims of abuse without encouraging wrongful claims against the innocent — no easy thing to calibrate. The mills of bureaucracy grind slowly, but they do grind.
What you can do, though, is to make sure that your correspondents seek assistance from law enforcement if they are being assaulted. Nothing prohibits the authorities from investigating if the victims themselves are able to report evidence of their mistreatment.
I wrote a book and self-published it through Amazon, which lets the author mask that fact by listing a faux publisher on the title page. My first question is whether using the identification of a faux publisher is ethical. My second one concerns the following incident. In a local bookstore I inquired about leaving some copies of my book on consignment. The owner agreed. As I was leaving, he asked who my publisher was. Knowing that some bookstores don’t like to sell self-published books, I named my faux publisher. Was my answer ethical? Name Withheld
Vast numbers of self-published books appear each year, often ornamented with the names of fanciful presses. The practice isn’t really troubling. Had you chosen a vanity publisher instead, they would have decorated your book with a grand name that, while referring to an actual commercial enterprise, would have been no more or less misleading. We can easily imagine invented names that would be deliberately deceptive: Random Home, Farrah Strauss. But you’re not appropriating the cachet of an existing publishing house.
As for your exchange with the bookstore owner: Had he typed your putative publisher into a search engine (as I’ve just done), he would have immediately seen that it wasn’t a real entity. Anyway, self-published authors are going to be the ones consigning books on their own account. That you hoped to mislead him, though, puts you in the wrong. He may not see a big distinction between Kindle Direct Publishing, vanity presses and publishing outfits so obscure they have never appeared on his inventory lists. But even if he wasn’t seriously misled, he would have reason to wonder about your honesty. A personal inventory might be in order.
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to email@example.com; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)