Everyone is talking today about Jose Antonio Vargas, the illegal immigrant who told his story recently in the New York Times. Dan Foster, at National Review, has sympathy for Jose the child who had little choice in becoming an illegal immigrant, but not for Jose the adult who chose to commit further illegalities in order to remain here:
The first part of Vargas’ story — a kid living and loving America for years before his shocking discovery that he has been made complicit in a crime — does indeed elicit sympathy. It’s stories like these that make me open, at least in principle, to something like a narrowly-tailored version of the “DREAM” Act. But the second part of his story, in which a fear- and shame-driven Vargas, with the aid of his family, perpetuated and compounded those crimes (Vargas eventually got around to what you might redundantly call fraudulent tax fraud, repeatedly reporting himself as a citizen rather than a “permanent resident”, when in fact he was neither), elicits from me nothing like the outpouring of support Vargas is already enjoying on the Left.
Punishing a minor by removing him from the culture he’s adopted as his own, for the crimes of his parents, does strike me as fundamentally unfair. But what liberals leave out of this story, time and again, is a competing — and in my view overriding — unfairness. Reihan has argued repeatedly, and effectively, that we should treat access to the U.S. economy, not to mention its extensive welfare state, as a scarce resource. We can debate and debate the best way of distributing this resource– from “not at all” to “come one, come all” and everywhere in between. But distributing it based on who manages most successfully to violate the law, at the expense of would-be immigrants who are honoring the process, is surely not a valid option.
Foster’s argument seems to be that it would be unfair to deport a minor who has little or no choice in the matter, but once that minor turns 18 the illegality is their choice, and it is no longer unfair to deport them. This is why he has pity for Jose the child, but the story of Jose the adult “elicits” from him “nothing like the outpouring of support Vargas is already enjoying on the Left”.
My question for Daniel is this: if he were in Jose Vargas position, what would he have done? Upon turning 18 would he have left this country and returned to the Philippines because it would be unfair for him to stay? Would he have sacrificed the life he knew here out of a sense of unfairness to other potential immigrants we aren’t letting in? Would he agree that the government should deport him?
I don’t think it is wrong for Jose Vargas to do what he could to stay in this country and keep the life he knew. I think Jose Vargas, and many of those who have risked much to be here, are the kind of people who would be alloted citizenship in an ideal and ethical system. He has the willingness and the ability to pay his way in any fair immigration scheme. He’s a net positive in our society. How many millions of immigrants a year are we away from a system where we have to tell highly skilled, highly educated people who believed themselves to be American that we are too full? I don’t think we will ever be that full, and we certainly aren’t now.
Until we get a fair immigration system, the way to get a fair result is for people who would have gotten here under the fair system to sneak in, and break the rules, and do what they can to stay.