On Jose Antonio Vargas arrest, the left supports liberal privilege

Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and activist who favors immigration reform, is also a proud undocumented immigrant. Born in the Philippines but raised in the United States from the age of 12, Vargas worked and lived in America for years where he advocated through his reporting the reformation of American immigration laws.

Last week, Vargas penned a report from Texas for Politico Magazine chronicling the plight of a person in his position – a man without documentation on the frontlines of an immigration crisis. He recently produced a pro-reform documentary entitled Documented, which is set to air on CNN. It is not unfair to say that Vargas may be the most successful and well-known illegal immigrant in the United States. Indeed, that is a status and a reputation that Vargas has cultivated through his prolific and exemplary work after he revealed his illegal status in 2011.

On Monday, armed with only his Filipino passport and a copy of the United States Constitution, he was detained by immigration authorities in a Texas airport and taken to a border patrol station for processing.

The enforcement of American immigration law immediately sent the left into fits of rage. Many were incensed over the fact that a man who flagrantly broke the law, an act many on the left consider in this case to be a feat of civil disobedience, was subject to the same manner of enforcement to which thousands of more obscure illegal immigrants are subject.

It is fair to say, in fact, that the left is arguing that Vargas should enjoy a measure of privilege. Because of his status and visibility as an activist with a message they like, some on the left have demanded that Vargas should be exempt from American immigration laws. The left insists they are opposed to “privilege” based on race, or income, or accident of birth, but their actions suggest they are very much in favor of special treatment for those who hold what they define to be the right opinion.

This exchange I had with a self-described liberal supporter of Vargas and an opponent of American immigration laws helps illustrate this conflict on the left:

While contentious, it was a civil exchange. It was also informative. The individual who goes by the handle @LatinoVoter was not especially consistent, but his inconsistency served to illustrate a point: the objections to the current immigration system expressed by some on the left are not based in support for the just and uniform application of the law. It’s about a preferred outcome. And that preferred outcome for many is amnesty (a word I rarely use because it is so often misapplied) for illegal immigrants and the non-enforcement of American immigration law.

The person with whom I was arguing essentially admitted as much, although he was talking specifically about Vargas. “I think his positive contribution to society should afford him an expedition [sic] to an unjust law,” he said. Vargas is not eligible for deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) because he is now too old to take advantage of that exemption. If even this law is “unjust,” how is this anything but an argument in favor of a general amnesty?

In the end, Vargas’ status as a protected and privileged voice on the left may well afford him special treatment. It is true that Vargas is far more American than he is Filipino, and his work has earned him high praise and recognition which should be taken into account. No one, however, should pretend that this would resemble blind justice. Such an outcome would be representative of the same selective enforcement of the law that the left rails against when they believe wealthy or well-connected American citizens successfully evade consequences for their actions.

The press loves to pillory the right, often unfairly, for being incoherent and uncompromising on the issue immigration reform. Will the media craft an equally unflattering assessment of the left’s incomprehensible double standard on the enforcement of existing immigration law? Of course not.

The right is ceaselessly mocked and derided as paranoid cranks when they question whether Democrats and their party chair in the White House would truly enforce border security and immigration law in the wake of comprehensive reform. Based on the left’s reaction to today’s events, it would appear that conservative opponents of comprehensive reform aren’t so paranoid after all.