Commentary Magazine


Topic: illegal immigrants

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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