It’s somewhat ironic that CNN is, today, touting the premier of their new show The Hunt (with John Walsh) tonight at the same time as they are still featuring the documentary Documented by Jose Antonio Vargas. The irony – since they seem oblivious to it – is that the former is a show dedicated to catching criminals who are on the loose, while the latter is produced by one of the people we should ostensibly be looking for. Vargas is in the country illegally, and yet somehow appears on multiple television programs, produces films and seems to earn a fine living writing for multiple political outlets.
The office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would, one might assume, have a particular interest in this case. After all, they actually had their hands on Vargas back in 2012 but chose to let him go. I will commit the sin of quoting myself here, because at the time I noted the following:
Mr. Vargas appears to be in the country illegally by his own admission on multiple occasions. (I can find no source stating otherwise or any indication that he’s gotten into any sort of DREAMER documentation or what have you, but stand ready to edit this if that’s not true.) With that in mind, it does leave one with what seems a pertinent observation. Okay… we get that you can’t find and deport 20 million people. But it seems like you could have found this guy without a lot of extra resources, eh?
Well, ICE… now is your moment of golden opportunity. Vargas has put virtual pen to paper again this weekend to bemoan the fact that he is currently “trapped” on the Texas border and is afraid that he might not be able to get out of the area because he still lacks any documents granting him the right to be in this country legally. He writes this missive from McAllen, Texas.
In the last 24 hours I realize that, for an undocumented immigrant like me, getting out of a border town in Texas—by plane or by land—won’t be easy. It might, in fact, be impossible…
Tania Chavez, an undocumented youth leader from the Minority Affairs Council, one of the organizers of the vigil, asked me the same question: “How will you get out of here?” Tania grew up in this border town. As the day wore on, as the reality of my predicament sunk in, Tania spelled it out for me: You might not get through airport security, where Customs and Border Protection (CPB) also checks for IDs, and you will definitely not get through the immigration checkpoints set up within 45 miles of this border town. At these checkpoints, you will be asked for documentation. (“Even if you tell them you’re a U.S. citizen, they will ask you follow-up questions if they don’t believe you,” Tania told me.)
Vargas then goes on to definitively confess – or more correctly, brag – about his current illegal status.
I do not have a single U.S. government-issued ID. Like most of our country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, I do not have a driver’s license—not yet, at least… Identification aside, since outing myself in the New York Times Magazine in June 2011, and writing a cover story for TIME a year later, I’ve been the most privileged undocumented immigrant in the country. The visibility, frankly, has protected me. While hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been detained and deported in the past three years, I produced and directed a documentary film, “Documented,” which was shown in theaters and aired on CNN less than two weeks ago.
Let’s identify why this is an important arrest for you ICE guys and gals to to make. It’s true that the White House administration has added to our current border crisis by sending mixed messages to those who would enter the country illegally. That goes without saying. But coming in a close second is this guy. He’s out there on an almost daily basis, showing up on a network which is broadcast to every nation in the world. And the message he’s sending is clear. “Look at me! I’m here illegally. I don’t have any documents. And I’m on the TeeVee! I produce films. I get paid to write columns in nationally syndicated sources. And nobody can lay a finger on me!”
Is that the message you want out there? Is this not adding to the “confusion” among Central American residents thinking of sneaking over the border? Obviously not. So here’s what you need to be doing:
– First, you need to find and arrest this guy.
– Next he needs to be put in a detention center.
– Expedite his case to the front of the line and give him a speedy hearing before a judge where it will be revealed that he has no documents allowing him to be here.
– Put him on a plane and send him back to the Philippines where he belongs.
– Hold a major press conference letting everyone in the world know that you’ve done this and repeating that you will not tolerate those who knowingly and intentionally violate our laws.
– Let Mr. Vargas go to the back of the line and apply for citizenship in the normal fashion. Given the usual wait times, we should see him again in ten to fifteen years.
That’s him! That’s the guy! He’s in McAllen, Texas. (Here’s a Google map in case you’re lost.) He’s at an immigrant shelter down by the border. And the guy isn’t just going to blend in with all the other border jumpers from Mexico and Central America. He’s from the Philippines, so he should stand out like a sore thumb. And he’s traveling with a film crew! How hard can it be to locate him?
This is your moment, ICE. Go do your jobs.
Update: (Jazz) Doug Mataconis has read my logic and found it wanting.
While those are all valid arguments, it just doesn’t strike me that Vargas is someone who ought to be a target for an immigration enforcement system that is already overburdened, and likely to become more so thanks to the ongoing border crisis. Like many people who are in a similar position, Vargas was brought to this country as a child and thus had no say in whether or not he wanted to become an illegal immigrant to the United States. Since graduating High School, he’s gotten an education, been gainfully employed, won a prestigious journalism award, and had produced work that has employed many other people. He’s apparently never been on public assistance and, outside of things related to his immigration status, he has never committed a serious crime, and most certainly has never committed a violent crime. He has also become an important part of the public debate on a very important issue. Regardless of whether or not he has a piece of paper saying he is in the country legally, is this really someone that we ought to be prioritizing as a candidate for deportation? I find it hard to say that the answer to this question is yes. In fact, I’d argue that Vargas is precisely the kind of illegal immigrant that we ought to want to grant legal status to so that he can more fully participate in the economy and the public life of his adopted country. Rather than being a walking advertisement for deportation, he strikes me as more of a walking advertisement for why comprehensive immigration reform is necessary. There are many people in Vargas’s position, he just happens to be the most prominent, public example.