Bryan Caplan  

Define Courage: The Jose Antonio Vargas Story

PRINT
Two Tries at the Ideological T... Prison Rape: Becker-Acton Mode...
Incredible piece in today's NYT.  Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas reveals that he's been illegally living in the U.S. for twenty years:
After my uncle came to America legally in 1991, Lolo tried to get my mother here through a tourist visa, but she wasn't able to obtain one. That's when she decided to send me. My mother told me later that she figured she would follow me soon. She never did.

The "uncle" who brought me here turned out to be a coyote, not a relative... Lolo scraped together enough money -- I eventually learned it was $4,500, a huge sum for him -- to pay him to smuggle me here under a fake name and fake passport... After I arrived in America, Lolo obtained a new fake Filipino passport, in my real name this time, adorned with a fake student visa, in addition to the fraudulent green card.

How Vargas made it in America: Hard work, prudence, and the underground railroad:

The Post internship posed a tricky obstacle: It required a driver's license... So I spent an afternoon at The Mountain View Public Library, studying various states' requirements. Oregon was among the most welcoming -- and it was just a few hours' drive north.

Again, my support network came through. A friend's father lived in Portland, and he allowed me to use his address as proof of residency. Pat, Rich and Rich's longtime assistant, Mary Moore, sent letters to me at that address. Rich taught me how to do three-point turns in a parking lot, and a friend accompanied me to Portland.

The license meant everything to me -- it would let me drive, fly and work.

What it's like to come out of the closet:

About four months into my job as a reporter for The Post, I began feeling increasingly paranoid, as if I had "illegal immigrant" tattooed on my forehead... I was so eager to prove myself that I feared I was annoying some colleagues and editors -- and worried that any one of these professional journalists could discover my secret. The anxiety was nearly paralyzing. I decided I had to tell one of the higher-ups about my situation. I turned to Peter.

...One afternoon in late October, we walked a couple of blocks to Lafayette Square, across from the White House. Over some 20 minutes, sitting on a bench, I told him everything: the Social Security card, the driver's license, Pat and Rich, my family.

Peter was shocked. "I understand you 100 times better now," he said. He told me that I had done the right thing by telling him, and that it was now our shared problem.
Vargas mentions that "the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years."  Will Vargas join them?  How can any decent person think he should?


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (17 to date)
Mercer writes:

This person thinks laws should be enforced.

How can any decent person be for a society where multiple laws can broken with no penalty? Only an anarchist or someone who does not respect the democratic process. Most Americans do not want open borders and want our immigration laws to be enforced. Caplan has a views on immigration that are not shared by most people in the US.

If you want different laws on immigration you should try to persuade more people to adopt your views rather then try to promote sympathy for illegal actions. Your posts on this topic do not persuade anyone who does not already share your minority view of supporting higher levels of immigration.

I suggest you debate immigration critics like Roy Beck, Mark Krikorian or Peter Brimelow.

johnleemk writes:

"If you want different laws on immigration you should try to persuade more people to adopt your views rather then try to promote sympathy for illegal actions."

What if my views are that we should sympathise with actions that are illegal while eminently moral?

It was illegal to harbour Jews in Nazi Germany; it was illegal to marry someone from another race in most of the pre-1960s/-1970s USA. Would you have advised people who cared not to promote the harbouring of Jews or interracial marriages during these times?

You may argue that there is a vast difference between human life or love and the ostensibly mundane issue of immigration. But there is nothing mundane or ethical about deporting someone who believes he is American, believes in America, and contributes immensely in both pecuniary and non-pecuniary forms to America. If not for a few pieces of paper, there would be no reason to deport Vargas -- the impositions on him are actually arguably more arbitrary than they were on interracial marriages! The only way to justify something as immoral as this is to argue for that hobgoblin of small minds, a foolish consistency.

David Friedman writes:

"How can any decent person be for a society where multiple laws can broken with no penalty?"

Doesn't that depend on whether the laws are just? Are right and wrong made by act of Congress?

I'm curious. Both President Obama and Governor Cuomo have confessed to past marijuana use, which was and is illegal. Do you conclude that both should be turning themselves in to the police and volunteering to serve jail time?

"How can any decent person be for a society where multiple laws can broken with no penalty?"

Mercer writes:

"as immoral as this"

I see nothing immoral about American citizens limiting the number of people who can immigrate to the US and having immigration laws enforced. I think most Americans feel the same and do not think deporting illegal immigrants is equivalent to sending Jews to concentration camps to be killed.

johnleemk writes:

"I see nothing immoral about American citizens limiting the number of people who can immigrate to the US and having immigration laws enforced."

I know myself to be in the minority, but I believe this statement will one day be seen as archaic as the view that there is nothing immoral about German citizens limiting the number of Jews who can stay in Germany, and having population control laws enforced. (That was generally seen as pretty moral in the Western world up until World War II.)

Most Americans are American by accident of birth, and not by any merit. The only reason you want to deport people like Vargas is because they, through no fault of their own, were born outside the US to non-American parents. If you ask me, Vargas is far more American and has far more right to be American than a lot of people in the US.

Don't get me wrong; pragmatically I understand the case for immigration controls. But as a matter of moral principle, I cannot justify them. And moreover, as a matter of pragmatism, if the US were to have a sane immigration policy, it could maintain both immigration controls and keep people like Vargas by giving them a road to citizenship (you do not hear stories like Vargas's very often in many other immigrant-heavy parts of the Anglosphere, because most of them have much more pragmatic immigration policies).

"I think most Americans feel the same and do not think deporting illegal immigrants is equivalent to sending Jews to concentration camps to be killed."

While this is not the case with Vargas, the US Coast Guard has been pretty active in turning away boat people from Haiti. I think that is barely one step above turning away escapees from Auschwitz.

Andrew writes:

Bryan is absolutely correct, but this also shows the limitations of the "libertarian" philosophy in practical politics. If a decent social safety net was provided to the average American, the hostility towards the Schumpeterian forces in society: competition, creative destruction, and immigration would probably be reduced.

Bryan's opinions may be correct and stringent, but they are only shared by a small number of Americans compared to the large number who have a negative opinion about immigration, but support the free-market philosophy that this blog discusses in such detail. This might not be a coherent view, but that is reality.

The irony is the USA would be more competitive if it allowed more immigration, even if the country would have to pay for a social safety net for the general population.

Keith writes:

Mercer,

I think you're right about public opinion: most people disagree with Caplan. And you're also right to emphasize the benefits of the rule of law. And we can't have rule of law if the laws aren't enforced, can we? You're also right to criticize the analogy to the Holocaust. Holocaust analogies are cheap, and living in Mexico is not as bad as living in a concentration camp.

But in both of your comments you refer to the opinions of most Americans as though it had some moral weight. But how could it? When it comes to whether someone from Mexico can move to New Mexico, why should the opinions of people from New York matter?

If the law keeps out an immigrant who would otherwise have been employable in the US, doesn't that make her potential employer worse off than he otherwise would have been (because now he'll have to settle for someone he would have passed over had the immigrant come)? Doesn't the same go for the would-be immigrant's landlord, grocer, customers, etc? These are the people who are directly concerned with the effects of the immigrant's presence; let them decide whether or not to hire, sell to, or buy from her. What do New Yorkers have to do with it?

If I've misunderstood your point, please clarify.

david nh writes:

In general, apart from the ludicrously difficult process of immigration to the US, the problem is not the statist welfare system per se but rather democracy itself, combined with the fact that any real constraints on the democratic state were abandoned long ago. This is worth reading.

david nh writes:

Another thought: open immigration would seem to have major implications for the sustainability of the minimum wage. This would not be a bad thing in my view but it seems an interesting thought from a leftist perspective.

david nh writes:

@Keith

"When it comes to whether someone from Mexico can move to New Mexico, why should the opinions of people from New York matter?"

Mexicans don't vote in US federal elections. New Mexicans do. (On the presumption that immigration is a path to citizenship). In a democracy, and particularly in one with few or no effective contraints on the scope of government (see my comment above), it would appear that New Yorkers have an interest here.

I would prefer that they didn't have an interest, because that would mean that the Constitution, as originally construed, still determined the extent of government, but unfortunately they do. Now one can argue that New Yorkers might be better off or worse off depending on how the political and economic views of immigrants compared to those of New Yorkers but I don't think you can argue that they have no interest.

Put another way, progressives and modern liberals gave New Yorkers an interest in whether Mexicans move to New Mexico.

Mercer writes:

Keith

This is a democratic country which means the laws are supposed to influenced by what the vast majority of voters want. If Bryan does not like the voters opinions he is free to try to change them. If people only obeyed the laws they like the result would be chaos.

Residents of the US are entitled to a lot of government benefits therefore I think all US taxpayers should be allowed to have a say who they want to allow to come to the country and be eligible for government benefits.

Bryan thinks that having open borders is clearly morally superior to having any limits on immigration. This view is held by only a very small percentage of the population. I would like to know who would define something as moral when it is a view only held by a small minority. Views of what is moral have changed over time and Bryan can try to change them. I think he would have a better chance if he debated his opponents rather then labeling anyone who disagrees with him as indecent. The overwhelming majority of the population is indecent by his standards so his invective will have no effect on them.

David Friedman writes:

At a slight tangent, one of my best undergraduate students--one of the two named in the dedication in one of my books--told me that he had been an illegal immigrant, although by the time I knew him he was legal. I gather his father was a wealthy south American who lost his money, brought the family to the U.S. on a six month visa, and stayed. Eventually they went to (I think) Canada and then made arrangements to come back legally.

MWG writes:

"This is a democratic country which means the laws are supposed to influenced by what the vast majority of voters want."

This actually couldn't be more wrong. We have a constitutional republic which originally attempted to protect the minority from the 'tyranny of the majority'. The founders were actually quite concerned with the idea of majority rule.

I find it interesting that the founders were also so UNCONCERNED with people freely moving to this country that they didn't even touch on immigration in the constitution. In fact, the first laws regulating immigration didn't even appear until over 100 years later and were overwhelmingly racist in nature.

http://www.umass.edu/complit/aclanet/USMigrat.html

Thank you for the inspiring story.

All four of my grandparents came here without passports. The first two arrived before passports were invented. The second two just ignored the requirement. My mother's parents immigrated before WWI; my father's arrived in 1920.

Immigration restrictions were a plank in the progressive platform. To understand those times, look at the reverse of a "Mercury" dime: it's a fasces. That's not an accident.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"If people only obeyed the laws they like the result would be chaos."

Well, that is precisely the case with the War on Drugs and War on Immigration. People of good moral conscience will not put someone in jail for self-medication or because they were born across an artificial man-made line.

I'd suggest that laws that moral people will not or can not obey are the things that cause chaos.

Nathan Smith writes:

Bravo to Mr. Econotarian, johnleemk, and others. It's encouraging to hear so many people speaking sense, i.e., advocating open borders, on this blog. Spread the word! I'll just add one of my standard points. Democracy is a good system because the people who live under the laws get to have a say in making them. Immigration restrictions are the mathematical limiting case of undemocratic law: the set people who are on the receiving end of them is the exact inverse of the set of people who have a say in making them. That's why they're so stupid and wicked, and utterly illegitimate.

Charles R. Williams writes:

There is nothing immoral about America's immigration laws. They are stupid but not immoral. The responsibility for Vargas' fate rest with those who have undermined the enforcement of those laws.

As to Vargas, there are plenty of nations with more rational immigration laws who would take him - Canada for example.

As for the typical illegal immigrant, I am willing to make some accommodation for some of them. Something along the lines of residency conditional upon their being self-supporting and law-abiding, with no right to citizenship ever and no right to bring in relatives. This would be limited to those who came here as children and have nowhere else to go where they could be self-supporting. I am willing to support this so long as the borders are sealed and credible procedures are implemented to prevent illegal immigrants from working or using public services.

Libertarianism is a cute theory but no more than a handful of people will ever buy its moral premises because they are based on a false understanding of human nature.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top