Thursday, July 7, 2011

Antonio Vargas--hardworkin hero deserving citizenship, or illegal who needs to go home?

It is obviously not Antonio Vargas' fault that he came here from the Philippines illegally at age 12. I believe him when he says that he didn't even know he was here illegally until he was 16. I also believe that as a juvenile he wasn't fully responsible for his actions until he turned 18.

But I wasn't responsible for his actions either.

Say I buy stolen property without knowing it was stolen. Suppose the seller shows me a certificate of ownership that looks legal to any but an expert's scrutiny. Then suppose the real owner shows up to claim his property.

I have to hand it over without compensation, despite my absence of ill intent, even if handing it over is a great hardship for me. Because whatever I did or paid or need, the property isn't mine to keep,.

Vargas is a perfectly legal citizen. Of the Philippines. I've been in the Philippines. If I tried to overstay my visa there I can assure you I'd be deported promptly. I also saw the opportunities there for someone who speaks fluent Tagalog and fluent, unaccented American English. Vargas would do fine there.

But even if his life there were going to be wretched--life "there" is wretched in many places around the Earth. It doesn't obligate America to take in everyone who has it tough in his own country, just as no other country is obligated to give citizenship to any American who doesn't like it here. One billion humans are starving at any given time, according to UN figures. Not poor. Starving. There situation is vastly worse than anything Vargas will face if, with his American college education, he's deported back to the country he's a citizen of.

So if need trumps all, we need to take in those billion starving people.

Or if ability to contribute to America trumps all, Vargas' journalistic training is trumped by all the doctors and engineers and physicists and wealthy businesspeople and established artists who'd like to move here.

But there's also the issue of laws. Pro-illegal immigration folks say we're a nation of immigrants. Anti-illegal immigration people say 80% of Americans are neither immigrants nor the children of immigrants. So we are not for the most part a nation of immigrants. Of course everyone is descended from immigrants. But then so is everyone everywhere except for some in East Africa.

On the other hand we are a nation of laws, and those apply to all of us. Now few want a totally rigid, blind application of the law. Otherwise judges would have no discretion. But even fewer want a nation without laws, where justice is a purchasable product, like a car, or where the law is applied differently depending on whether you belong to a favored group or not.

In this case, Vargas is a journalist. You know that this field has been shrinking dramatically, with many actual American journalists forced out of their chosen profession, or out of work altogether. What can you say to a skilled, creative, out of work journalist to justify giving Vargas a place at the table while he only gets to look in the window?

And what can you say to, say, an Austrian journalist who's been waiting patiently for a visa to come here for longer than Vargas has been here illegally? Do you tell the Austrian, "Look, dude, you're a chump. Here we give preference to those who realize the rules are for fools. You shoulda just come here illegally, then said it would be inconvenient for you if we sent you home. Because the needs of a Philippino who wants to enjoy life here are more important than the needs of people who want to come here legally, and those were born here.

Nor can Vargas apply for asylum because he's homosexual. Homosexuality is legal and tolerated socially in the Philippines, along with homosexual adoption, and serving in the military while openly homosexual.

Nor can Vargas claim that opposition to his immigration is racist. Legal immigration to America hasn't recognized race as a factor for many decades, and our huge level of legal immigration includes numerous people of all races and ethnicities.

I'm OK with Vargas applying for a visa--from the Philippines--and waiting his turn, and his application being considered along with all the others.

At the end of the day Vargas' arguments amount to special pleading--"Give me what I want because I want it. Break the rules for me. And stiff many others for my sake, because...well...because I really, really want it."

People fall for such arguments because so many people don't think much better than chimpanzees: they look at what's under their noses and don't think about the others that they aren't looking at at the moment, or at the consequences of misplaced kindness. But it isn't socially acceptable to call such people chimpanzee-brains, even as they routinely call people who oppose illegal immigration racists, Nazis etc.

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