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Column: Don't follow this money

SAN DIEGO -- Consider this argument:

People worked hard for their money. It belongs to them, and so they can do whatever they want with it. That includes sending it out of the country, if they believe that makes sense for them and their families. What business is it of ours? Besides, just because you send money to another country doesn't mean that you have any lesser commitment to this one.

Now, who do you suppose would say something like this -- in letters to newspapers, through talk radio, or on social media?

Could it be conservatives who defend Mitt Romney's right to maintain personal investments in offshore banking accounts and who resist demands by Democrats that the presumptive GOP nominee disclose his financial holdings because they imply that having money in foreign banks is somehow unpatriotic?

Or could it be liberals who defend the rights of immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- to send billions of dollars in remittances to family members in Mexico and other countries and who resist attempts by Republicans to stop the money transfers or at least tax them heavily?

Answer: Both.

And, in each case, I find the argument persuasive. My complaint is with those who, in a case of situational ethics, have no problem with one of these instances of funds leaving the United States but raise a ruckus over the other -- all depending on their politics or ideology.

Start with remittances. Many Americans have a convenient way of discovering a worker's illegality only after he has completed a job. But once he gets paid for working, it's his money. Some immigrants may not have come here in the most honest way, but the work they do is honest work. We shouldn't pretend otherwise.

Now Romney. Speaking of illegality, Senate Democrats who are trying to pressure him to release more information about offshore accounts are hinting that he may have broken the law by using the accounts to hide assets and avoid paying taxes on them. The lawmakers are pushing legislation that would require those who run for federal office to disclose holdings in foreign accounts.

Those hounding Romney over his finances include Sen. Dick Durbin. In a speech on the Senate floor, the Illinois Democrat took a poke at Romney by suggesting that he was "the first presidential candidate in American history with a Swiss bank account" and insisting that the Republican's reliance on foreign banks "raises questions."

Romney has no interest in answering those questions. In an interview with National Review, he tried to dismiss the issue by saying that his holdings are "managed in a blind trust" and that the trustee determines "where the investments are."

Romney will have to do better. He may not have done anything wrong. But there is one set of rules for private citizens managing their portfolios, and a different one for people running for president. As it stands, Romney is not doing himself or his campaign any favors by not acknowledging how bad it looks to want to be the leader of one country while stashing your money elsewhere.

Meanwhile, money transfers to Mexico -- which had been in decline for three years due to the recession -- seem to be bouncing back. The remittances are estimated to have approached $23 billion in 2011, and they remain the second-largest source of income for Mexico after oil revenue.

In the United States, those remittances also remain a sore subject for many. Some people resent that immigrants would send any money to a foreign country instead of spending it here, and they're especially angry when the immigrants doing the sending are living in the United States without the proper documents.

Still, in wiring the funds, the immigrants are not doing anything wrong. This is their money, and they can send it where they want. Besides, there is really less to complain about here than meets the eye. For every dollar that immigrants send home, they easily spend two or three dollars -- on rent, food, gas -- just to live here. Americans need to get our story straight. Should we care about individuals sending money outside of the United States or not? In most cases, I vote for "not." There are plenty of real issues in this campaign for us to worry about. This isn't one of them.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is