The left- and center-blogospheres are jam-packed with approving links to the story of Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who today “outed” himself as an illegal alien in the pages of the New York Times. Vargas was sent to California by his Filipino mother at age twelve. He was raised there by his (naturalized) grandparents, and did not discover he was in the country illegally until he brought his green card to the DMV at age 16 and was told it was a forgery. He reports he has kept his secret until now.
Liberals are coming out of the woodwork to call Vargas’ confession — meant to spur that “national conversation” about immigration that is perpetually just around the corner — courageous and pioneering. It is certainly the former, and may turn out to be the latter. But in their rush to praise Vargas — who is thoroughly culturally American and has “contributed” to American society with his journalism — they conveniently leave out that at the beginning of his story is not one but a series of crimes. Vargas entered the country illegally after his grandfather paid a coyote $4,500 to smuggle him in. The grandfather then obtained a fake passport and green card for Vargas, which they used to acquire a valid Social Security card. But that card, which subjected Vargas’ right to work to the approval of the then-INS, was illegally doctored, allowing Vargas to secure job after job for more than a decade by showing nothing more than a photocopy of a fake document.
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.