Commentary Magazine


Topic: illegal immigrants

Obama’s Immigration Stall Fooling No One

Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

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Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

As Politico reports, some Democrats are demanding that the president go farther and promise not to issue any executive orders that would unilaterally transform our immigration system even after the congressional vote. In particular, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan has asked that the president make it clear that the postponement of his plans be made permanent. Angus King of Maine, an independent that caucuses with the Democrats agrees and he isn’t even running for reelection this year.

The reason for their concerns can be seen in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out earlier this week that showed the public now trusts Republicans to deal more effectively with immigration than Democrats by a 35 to 27 percent margin. That’s a startling reverse of the numbers in the same poll on this issue from last December when Democrats had a 31-26 percent edge. The jump in the GOP numbers can be attributed to the surge of illegal immigrants across the Texas border as a result of the belief that the president would offer amnesty to illegals soon.

Last year’s bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill that sought to both offer a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already here and to tighten security at the border may have been popular. But in the wake of this summer fiasco on the Rio Grande, conservative arguments that the border must be fixed before a solution for the illegals now makes a great deal of sense.

Even more importantly, outside of Hispanic activists who have been clamoring for Obama to use executive orders to unilaterally change the law without the consent of Congress, even Democrats are very uncomfortable with the notion of Obama running roughshod over the Constitution to deal with immigration.

Even worse, as Hagan’s public fears make clear, no one was fooled by Obama’s transparently political motives for postponing his planned moves. Merely putting off the decision until after the election hasn’t defused the issue for those who are rightly upset about the president’s power grab. Conservatives were already more energized about this election than liberals but the possibility that the president will ignore the will of Congress and try to govern without its consent is exactly the sort of issue that will drive the GOP base to the polls. By contrast, the president’s punt will likely depress his liberal base especially as Hispanics are disappointed by Obama’s broken promise after so much hype about the plan over the summer.

Even as most of her southern Democratic colleagues are losing ground in the polls, Hagan got a boost in the polls last week as a result of a strong debate performance against GOP opponent Thom Tillis. But the race is still very close and Hagan knows it might will turn on the possibility that Obama will seek to thwart the Constitution and act on his own to grant millions of illegals a path to legalization if not citizenship. It could also potentially doom any hope of getting enough Republicans to vote for an immigration reform bill at some point in the future because distrust of the president is so intense.

It may be that Obama’s desire to bypass Congress and do as he likes may be sufficiently high that he will refuse to disavow acting on his own. That would be in character for a president who acts at times as if he is allergic to cooperating with the legislative branch. But if he continues to threaten to act in this manner, his party may pay a high price.

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Obama’s Immigration Punt Won’t Work

Analyses of President Obama’s decision not to make good on his pledge to use executive orders to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants are focusing today on the political implications of the move. But the notion that punting on immigration will save the Senate for the Democrats may be mistaken. By telling us that he is only putting off actions that bypass Congress until after the midterm elections, the president won’t disarm Republicans who are running against his lawless behavior while at the same time depressing liberal activists and minorities that Democrats desperately need to energize. It may be that his handling of this ill-considered proposal has worsened an already perilous situation for his party.

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Analyses of President Obama’s decision not to make good on his pledge to use executive orders to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants are focusing today on the political implications of the move. But the notion that punting on immigration will save the Senate for the Democrats may be mistaken. By telling us that he is only putting off actions that bypass Congress until after the midterm elections, the president won’t disarm Republicans who are running against his lawless behavior while at the same time depressing liberal activists and minorities that Democrats desperately need to energize. It may be that his handling of this ill-considered proposal has worsened an already perilous situation for his party.

The story of the plan for the president to unilaterally implement his own immigration reform package is one that highlights all of Obama’s characteristic shortcomings: poor planning, indecision, a willingness to throw his own party members under the bus to cover up his own faults, and a lack of principle.

Let’s start with the fact that the president’s basic premise underlying his June announcement that he planned to implement immigration proposals by the end of the summer was an end run around the Constitution. The fact that Congress did not pass the immigration reform package he favored does not give the president the right to act on his own. Immigration reform is needed, but the failure of the bill he favored was due to concerns over the breakdown of border security that now seem even more justified than they were before because of the surge of illegals whose arrival was due largely to a belief that the president’s pledges about granting permanent status would apply to them as well as to the millions already here. But whatever one may think about the issue, the president is wrong to think he has the power to disregard constitutional checks and balances.

Yet he did so to the cheers of many in his party, the media, and a Hispanic community that has been frustrated by the gap between the president’s immigration promises and the reality of an administration that has stepped up deportations of illegals. In June, the assumption was that the president was operating under the belief that executive orders that would provide the “amnesty” conservatives have long feared would amp up his base and help Democrats. Polls showing that most Americans thought immigration reform a good idea were seen as providing cover for Democrats who believed the president was going too far.

Had the president issued his orders then it would have inflamed Republicans and earned applause from Democrats. But instead of acting, he did what he always does: he thought about it. But as with other instances of his Hamlet act getting in the way of policy decisions, by the time the end of the summer came, circumstances had changed. Not only had the border surge changed the minds of many Americans about the wisdom of dealing with the illegals here before the border was secured, it was also clear that many of the Democrats that Obama is counting on to hold the Senate for him opposed the president’s plans for unilateral action. The delay gave members of both parties time to disassociate themselves from any effort to bypass both Congress and the Constitution. Not only was there no immigration consensus to fall back on but the intervening months had also produced a new consensus against Obama’s desire to govern alone and to trash the rule of law.

Under these new circumstances, Obama’s decision to delay action was seemingly politically wise, especially since many Senate Democrats were pleading with him not to do it. Yet it’s not as simple as that. Had the president pondered the issue for months without having publicly said he would do it by the end of the summer, a punt on the matter would have worked. But after three months of damaging debate on the issue, it is probably too late to defuse GOP anger. With the president merely postponing such action until after the midterms, the issue remains an easy one for GOP candidates to use against Democrats.

But choosing to spurn the desires of his base (while also blaming the initial promise of action on Senate Democrats like Chuck Schumer rather than the president taking personal responsibility for the blunder) isn’t good politics either. The Democrats desperately need minorities and especially Hispanics to turn out in something close to the numbers they did in 2008 and 2012 when Obama was on the ballot. By choosing to cynically discard the issue in the face of criticism, he has depressed his core constituencies in an election that will, as is the case with most midterms, be determined by the enthusiasm of the party bases. When you consider that it’s entirely possible that some of the key red-state Democrats he’s trying to save may already be doomed, this supposedly smart political move seems even dumber than it did at first glance.

Put it all together and you have a scenario in which Obama’s partisan boasts, indecision, and ultimate cynicism has given Democrats the worst of all possible worlds in 2014: an energized conservative base and a distinctly unenthusiastic liberal core.

Digging even deeper into this issue, if the president is really serious about unilateral immigration moves after the election, does he really think it will be easier for him to do this after the country has already rejected his party at the polls? The only possible advantage to the Democrats in the president making good on his June pledge was the possibility that some Republicans would overreact and try another government shutdown in response this fall. But by punting, Obama has made that impossible and possibly saved conservative Republicans from themselves.

While the president’s belief in his power to act without Congress on immigration is wrongheaded, his handling of the politics of this issue has been uniformly foolish from start to finish. Punting on immigration won’t work and it may also make the next two years even more dismal for Obama and the Democrats than we might have thought.

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How Not to Promote Immigration Reform

Today, America’s most prominent illegal immigrant arrived at the border between Mexico and the United States to demonstrate his solidarity with the tens of thousands of people streaming into the country without permission. But the stunt by which former journalist Jose Antonio Vargas got himself arrested did more to undermine support for immigration reform than to foster sympathy for the illegals.

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Today, America’s most prominent illegal immigrant arrived at the border between Mexico and the United States to demonstrate his solidarity with the tens of thousands of people streaming into the country without permission. But the stunt by which former journalist Jose Antonio Vargas got himself arrested did more to undermine support for immigration reform than to foster sympathy for the illegals.

Vargas became a national figure three years ago when the former Washington Post reporter outed himself in the New York Times as an illegal immigrant. Vargas came to the United States at 12 from the Philippines to live with his grandparents who were naturalized citizens. But he was brought here by a “coyote” without a legal visa and spent the rest of his life lying about his status and using fake documents. After graduating college he consulted an immigration lawyer who told him his only path to citizenship was to return to his home country, wait ten years and then apply to come back with permission. On the cusp of a successful career he refused and continued lying even as he was part of a Post team that won a Pulitzer. Eventually, he tired of the deceit as he continued to rise in mainstream journalism and decided to put himself forward as a symbol of the plight of the so-called “dreamers”—people who were brought to the country illegally as kids and who went on to make a contribution to society.

After revealing himself to be an illegal Vargas faced no consequences. To the contrary, he became a media star, founding a group backing the rights of illegals, testifying before Congress, making documentary films, and writing. So perhaps with the backing of liberals who have lionized him as an example of why illegal immigrants should be given a path to citizenship he may have felt he had impunity to come and go as he pleased even though he remains in the United States without anything but a Philippine passport.

But when he went through an airport security line at McAllen-Miller International Airport on the Texas border today, Transportation Security Administration agents detained him. His arrest has prompted calls for his release by immigration advocates who see him as having put himself on the line to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of children and adults who have surged across the border in recent months.

But if immigration reform advocates think this stunt will help their cause they are mistaken.

The problem for the Obama administration and others who believe a broken system must be changed is that their calls for legalization for undocumented aliens have prompted another wave of illegal immigration. Even those of us who believe that calls for the government to deport the 11 million illegals here now are ridiculous must understand that the president’s actions designed to help the dreamers and advocacy for “amnesty” have created exactly the mess that immigration reform critics predicted.

Even more to the point, the use of Vargas as the poster child for the campaign for legalization doesn’t work quite the way his supporters think it does. Nor does it make a good argument for letting the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have arrived illegally stay.

Even if you support a pragmatic solution to the dilemma of those already here illegally, the idea that anyone in Central America or anyone else has the right to simply storm the border or sneak in and then demand legal status is neither logical nor a sustainable argument.

After all, why should those who have arrived here illegally recently be put at the head of the line of those seeking entry to the country by legal means? What gives Vargas or anyone else the right to flout the law without ever having to face the consequences?

If there is to be immigration reform it must, as the bipartisan Senate coalition that passed a reform bill last year realized, be part of a scheme that secures the border and restores order to the current chaos. But if Vargas and other illegals are determined to demand that illegals be given the right to enter with impunity, all reform will accomplish will be a repeat of the failed Reagan-era experiment in which amnesty was followed by another wave of illegals.

Yet by highlighting people like Vargas, immigration advocates are sending a signal that what they want is a situation in which the border will be erased and the laws, whether they are tough or more liberal, will be rendered meaningless. After all, at some point we will have new laws that will theoretically have to be enforced even if they are preceded by giving a pass to those who have already broken the law.

Vargas was released quickly and I doubt he will ever be deported. But if immigration reform is ever to succeed it won’t be by telling Americans that laws are irrelevant.

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The Illegal Lawyer and the Rule of Law

On the surface, the tale of Sergio Garcia’s legal triumph is heart-warming. The native of Mexico worked hard in several jobs and went to college, eventually graduating from Cal Northern School of Law and passed the state’s unusually challenging bar exam on his first try. He should be celebrated as an example of how the American dream still works for immigrants who are willing to follow the same path emigrants from other countries pursued in the past. But because Garcia entered this country illegally, his successful attempt to practice as an attorney illustrates both the dysfunction of the current system of legal immigration as well as how counter-productive some of the efforts of those pushing for change have been.

Garcia is in the news today because the California Supreme Court yesterday upheld a law passed by the state legislature that enabled illegal immigrants to practice law and be admitted by the state bar association. This is in spite of the fact that federal law makes it illegal for any business to hire him because of his immigration status. In effect, what the liberal-dominated legislature and court have done is to attempt to annul a federal law by state fiat. Indeed, the state court went even further, framing the issue in such a manner as to deny that there was, in fact, anything amiss about a person entering this country illegally and then claiming the right to participate as an officer of the court in our legal system:

“We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the state bar,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in her opinion. “The fact that an undocumented immigrant is present in the United States without lawful authorization does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness so as to justify exclusion from the state bar.”

It’s not entirely clear whether Garcia can legally practice on his own and charge clients for his services. Until that is sorted out, he will remain a liberal icon who, according to the New York Times, actually makes a living as an inspirational speaker. But what he and his supporters have also accomplished is to give the large number of Americans who believe our immigration laws should be enforced yet another reason to oppose efforts to reform the system. Rather than work to change a legal structure that is failing, liberals are flouting it, effectively making the anti-immigrant camp’s case that what is at stake in this debate is not policy but the rule of law itself.

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On the surface, the tale of Sergio Garcia’s legal triumph is heart-warming. The native of Mexico worked hard in several jobs and went to college, eventually graduating from Cal Northern School of Law and passed the state’s unusually challenging bar exam on his first try. He should be celebrated as an example of how the American dream still works for immigrants who are willing to follow the same path emigrants from other countries pursued in the past. But because Garcia entered this country illegally, his successful attempt to practice as an attorney illustrates both the dysfunction of the current system of legal immigration as well as how counter-productive some of the efforts of those pushing for change have been.

Garcia is in the news today because the California Supreme Court yesterday upheld a law passed by the state legislature that enabled illegal immigrants to practice law and be admitted by the state bar association. This is in spite of the fact that federal law makes it illegal for any business to hire him because of his immigration status. In effect, what the liberal-dominated legislature and court have done is to attempt to annul a federal law by state fiat. Indeed, the state court went even further, framing the issue in such a manner as to deny that there was, in fact, anything amiss about a person entering this country illegally and then claiming the right to participate as an officer of the court in our legal system:

“We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the state bar,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in her opinion. “The fact that an undocumented immigrant is present in the United States without lawful authorization does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness so as to justify exclusion from the state bar.”

It’s not entirely clear whether Garcia can legally practice on his own and charge clients for his services. Until that is sorted out, he will remain a liberal icon who, according to the New York Times, actually makes a living as an inspirational speaker. But what he and his supporters have also accomplished is to give the large number of Americans who believe our immigration laws should be enforced yet another reason to oppose efforts to reform the system. Rather than work to change a legal structure that is failing, liberals are flouting it, effectively making the anti-immigrant camp’s case that what is at stake in this debate is not policy but the rule of law itself.

Gracia’s difficulties in obtaining legal status bolster the justification for California’s actions to flout U.S. law. Though his parents first brought him to the United States illegally when he was 17 months old, he moved back and forth across the border until coming to stay for good at the age of 17. At that time, he applied for legal status using his father, who had become a legal resident as a sponsor. Unfortunately, that request is still pending 19 years later. That shows how outrageously dysfunctional the system has become. Like millions of other illegals who have also become productive residents of this country Garcia deserves a chance to obtain legal status and get on the path to citizenship. In the absence of progress on that front, California thinks it is justified in defying federal law.

But the notion that California can opt out of federal immigration laws is as absurd as the one that claims Garcia can swear (as he must if he is to become a lawyer) to uphold the laws of the United States even though his actions and presence in this country demonstrate his inability, thanks to the complete breakdown of the federal government’s enforcement of existing immigration statutes, to comply with some of them. Though this is a trick that President Obama and  his Attorney General played with their selective enforcement of federal law, the notion of illegal immigrants being granted privileges as officers of the court turns logic and effective jurisprudence on its head.

Garcia’s tale aptly illustrates the point Senator Marco Rubio has repeatedly made in defense of his efforts to promote immigration reform. In contrast to with any of the proposed plans–such as the bipartisan immigration bill he co-sponsored in the Senate –creating “amnesty” for illegals — the amnesty now in place is a system that has all but collapsed and is one that’s routinely defied by immigrants, employers and a growing number of states and courts.

But the only way to persuade many Americans who are reluctant to take action to resolve the dilemma of millions of illegals currently in the country is to convince them that reform is not synonymous with efforts to supersede existing laws. What California has done in the case of Sergio Garcia is to effectively make the case that the U.S. has no right to control its borders or to determine who may enter the country. Contrary to the decision of the California Supreme Court, those who violate the law via illegal entry are not the moral equivalent of a driver who receives a parking ticket. If the system is to be changed it can only be via a process, such as the one that Rubio backed (and which has little or no chance of passage in the House of Representatives) that would require illegals to pay penalties and go to the back of the line to obtain legal status.

A legal system that countenances an officer of the court whose presence in the country is itself a violation of legal codes is not one likely to inspire respect for the concept of law. Actions such as that of the California legislature and its Supreme Court will only make it harder for immigration reform advocates to ultimately prevail. Rather than hastening the day when his fellow illegals will be granted a path to citizenship, Garcia’s triumph will only strengthen the resolve of those who see immigration reform as an unacceptable attempt to defeat all efforts to secure the border and uphold the rule of law.

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Is 2016 Behind Christie’s Immigration Flip?

Chris Christie has built his political career on his reputation as a straight shooter who never waffles, let alone flip-flops. But he’s set himself up for a barrage of abuse from some conservatives after his announcement during a gubernatorial debate earlier this week when he announced that he had changed his position on allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition benefits at New Jersey public colleges. This is a clear departure from his past stands on this issue or on those involving any benefits for illegals. That pretty much guarantees that anti-immigration forces will be accusing him of being a second Mitt Romney should he jump into the 2016 presidential race. But, Christie who is clearly carving out a niche for himself in the center of his party on a variety of issues may not care.

Like his embrace of President Obama last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s “evolution” on immigration is bound to infuriate many Republicans but it is also good politics in terms of his re-election. With a lead over his Democratic opponent that ranges from the mid- to the high 20’s, Christie has few worries in terms of his chances of getting a second term in Trenton. But the governor also understands that tilting more to the center on immigration probably suits his 2016 plans better than sticking to his previous position on the issue. Though the GOP roster of potential presidential candidates is crowded in terms of those competing for Tea Party and religious conservative voters, the field is wide open in terms of so-called moderates. Moreover, given the rapid growth in the number of Hispanic voters, he may also calculate that distancing himself from the anti-immigrant tone that has infected much of conservative discourse on the issue is exactly what he needs to solidify his image as the most electable Republican in terms of a general election.

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Chris Christie has built his political career on his reputation as a straight shooter who never waffles, let alone flip-flops. But he’s set himself up for a barrage of abuse from some conservatives after his announcement during a gubernatorial debate earlier this week when he announced that he had changed his position on allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition benefits at New Jersey public colleges. This is a clear departure from his past stands on this issue or on those involving any benefits for illegals. That pretty much guarantees that anti-immigration forces will be accusing him of being a second Mitt Romney should he jump into the 2016 presidential race. But, Christie who is clearly carving out a niche for himself in the center of his party on a variety of issues may not care.

Like his embrace of President Obama last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s “evolution” on immigration is bound to infuriate many Republicans but it is also good politics in terms of his re-election. With a lead over his Democratic opponent that ranges from the mid- to the high 20’s, Christie has few worries in terms of his chances of getting a second term in Trenton. But the governor also understands that tilting more to the center on immigration probably suits his 2016 plans better than sticking to his previous position on the issue. Though the GOP roster of potential presidential candidates is crowded in terms of those competing for Tea Party and religious conservative voters, the field is wide open in terms of so-called moderates. Moreover, given the rapid growth in the number of Hispanic voters, he may also calculate that distancing himself from the anti-immigrant tone that has infected much of conservative discourse on the issue is exactly what he needs to solidify his image as the most electable Republican in terms of a general election.

Christie’s excuse for his switch on the issue is economic. As Fox News reports, he gave the following rationale for his stand:

“What I always have said is that when economic times got better, that that would be one of the things that I would consider,” Christie said during the debate at Montclair State University, where he faced his opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono, who long has been an emphatic supporter of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. “It’s time now — given that economic times are getting better and the state budget revenues are going up.”

But this disclaimer doesn’t quite walk back a lot of his previous rhetoric on the question of the treatment of illegal immigrants.

In 2011, Christie took issue with a comment by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican who, during the GOP primaries for the presidential election, said those who opposed giving undocumented immigrants some help to afford college were “heartless.”

Shortly after, Christie said at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: “I want every child who comes to New Jersey to be educated, but I don’t believe that for those people who came here illegally, we should be subsidizing with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition their education.”

He added: “And let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position, that is a common sense position.”

Nor did he shy away from directly taking on the question of how this would apply in New Jersey, a state with a large Hispanic community as well as what is estimated to be one of the largest populations of illegals.

In an [2011] appearance in New Jersey, Christie addressed the issue and raised the state’s fiscal problems, but he also noted that he opposed to giving breaks to people who break immigration laws.

“I can’t favor that, because we need to have an immigration system where people follow the rules,” Christie said at the time, “and I can’t in a difficult time of budget constraints support the idea that we should be giving money in that regard to people who haven’t followed the rules, and take that money from people who have.”

This is consistent with his economic rationale as well as helping highlight his claim that New Jersey has prospered under his administration. But it is a clear departure from a stance in which he claimed that all immigrants must play by the same rules.

Nevertheless, Christie is hardly alone in his party when it comes to realizing that integrating illegals into the economy and society makes a lot more sense than pretending they can all be deported or putting up with a status quo in which they remain in the shadows outside of the mainstream economy. Legislation like the DREAM Act has become a litmus test for Hispanic voters. Moreover, given the increasingly strident tone of anti-immigration activists that may well taint the GOP for a generation, having party leaders like Christie start to move away from positions that can be identified with hostility to immigrants makes good political sense as well as good policy.

That still leaves Christie vulnerable to attacks from conservative rivals who will claim he has flipped on the position for political reasons rather than principle. The betting here is that he will handle it better than Romney simply because his abrasive personality and blunt approach to politics will enable him to represent the switch as a matter of common sense and will refrain from the apologetics and rhetorical twists and turns that undermined Romney’s ability to explain his positions.

But no matter how successful he is in selling this point, there seems little doubt that his decision to change his coat on immigration is one more sign that he has 2016 on his mind.

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Illegal Immigrants Are Illegal

Is it racist or wrong to use the term “illegal immigrant?” That’s a position that is getting more of a hearing these days as liberals seek to change not just the laws, but also the way we talk about the issue. To date, the New York Times has resisted the pressure to abolish the term, but the debate is heating up, and no one should be surprised if eventually the mainstream media replaces it with something more neutral like “undocumented immigrant” that makes the act of crossing the border without permission sound more like a bureaucratic oversight than an actual crime.

The latest blow struck on behalf of this effort came from NPR’s Maria Hinojosa who claimed that Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel likened the term to the way Nazis treated Jews. Wiesel is a person who stands above politics, and his moral authority to discuss just about any issue is not likely to be challenged. But whatever one might think about immigration or the plight of those who come here illegally, the attempt to eliminate the term, much less compare illegal immigrants to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, is absurd. Illegal immigrants are called illegal not because Americans view them with malice but because they are in this country illegally.

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Is it racist or wrong to use the term “illegal immigrant?” That’s a position that is getting more of a hearing these days as liberals seek to change not just the laws, but also the way we talk about the issue. To date, the New York Times has resisted the pressure to abolish the term, but the debate is heating up, and no one should be surprised if eventually the mainstream media replaces it with something more neutral like “undocumented immigrant” that makes the act of crossing the border without permission sound more like a bureaucratic oversight than an actual crime.

The latest blow struck on behalf of this effort came from NPR’s Maria Hinojosa who claimed that Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel likened the term to the way Nazis treated Jews. Wiesel is a person who stands above politics, and his moral authority to discuss just about any issue is not likely to be challenged. But whatever one might think about immigration or the plight of those who come here illegally, the attempt to eliminate the term, much less compare illegal immigrants to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, is absurd. Illegal immigrants are called illegal not because Americans view them with malice but because they are in this country illegally.

Hinojosa spoke of a conversation she said she had with Wiesel on Chris Hayes’s  MSNBC show on Sunday:

If there is an authority, you [Wiesel] should be it. And he said, ‘Maria, don’t ever use the term ‘illegal immigrant.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Because once you label a people ‘illegal,’ that is exactly what the Nazis did to Jews.’ You do not label a people ‘illegal.’ They have committed an illegal act. They are immigrants who crossed illegally. They are immigrants who crossed without papers. They are immigrants who crossed without permission. They are living in this country without permission. But they are not an illegal people.”

While anyone who grew up admiring Wiesel as a moral voice must approach any criticism of him with reluctance, if Hinojosa’s recollection is correct, he has, unfortunately, done something that he has often criticized: made an inappropriate use of a Holocaust analogy.

The implicit comparison here between Nazi race laws and the simple fact that the United States, like any sovereign nation, has the right to control entry into its borders is an abominable misuse of the legacy of the Holocaust. The analogy is also false because the dehumanization of the Jews was a pretext for their murder. No one, not even the most radical Know-Nothing anti-immigrant rabble-rousers, want to harm the illegals or deprive them of their humanity or destroy them as a people. They just want them to be deported for violating the law. It should also be pointed out that the Jews were not only not “illegal” in Europe, they were a people whose citizenship was illegally revoked by a criminal regime.

This argument is also disingenuous. This is not about language or humanity, but the desire of some people to treat immigration law as a mere technicality the violation of which ought to be treated as no worse than a traffic ticket. We understand that people like Jose Antonio Vargas, the well known journalist who is himself an illegal (and who appeared on the same MSNBC show with Hinojosa) have a vested interest in our doing so. But when he argues as he did on MSNBC that “conversations about immigration begin and end with the word illegal,” most Americans would be justified in replying that this is exactly as it should be.

Even those who believe that onerous restrictions on legal immigration ought to be loosened must acknowledge that violations of the law cannot be treated as trivial. While it is reasonable to argue that the laws should be changed, no one has a “right” to enter the United States illegally or to remain here.

The Democratic Party gave a full-throated defense of their right to be here at their recent convention, though President Obama has been shy about raising the issue at forums where he might have an audience that is not solely composed of adoring liberals. But whatever the country may ultimately decide to do about the situation, the attempt to treat a straightforward and descriptive term as a sign of racism that is reminiscent of the Nazis is unacceptable. If, as has often been said, the first person to invoke the Nazis in a political debate loses, it would appear Hinojosa, and by extension, Wiesel, has done just that.

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