Jose Antonio Vargas: Symbol For Immigration Reform, An Illegal, Or Both?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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He was tempting fate for a long time, and now, after having been trapped at the border, journalist and immigration reform activist Jose Antonio Vargas has reportedly been detained at the McAllen-Miller airport.

Depending on how you see the world, the undocumented Vargas either had to be arrested (lest his conspicuous flouting of the rules send a dangerous message about the rule of law and selective enforcement) — or he is a prime example of why we need immigration reform in the first place.

These things aren’t mutually exclusive, and, in fact, I suspect both are true. Pace President Obama, even bad laws — unless they fall into the rubric of utterly immoral (in which case, civil disobedience is proper) still must be enforced — if we are to be a nation of laws.

On the other hand, Vargas is precisely the kind of person we should want as a citizen. Born in the Philippines, he was brought here as a child, and proceeded to forge a successful life and career. He wasn’t a drain on America, and instead, a productive and contributing member of society.

He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize at The Washington Post. And I can tell you my personal dealings with him were nothing but positive. In my experience, Vargas was a consummate professional — and a fair and honorable journalist. This is not an argument for allowing Vargas to travel to the border with impunity, but it is an argument for immigration reform. As Bill Scher noted,

So why would Vargas go to the border now? The obvious answer is that if you’re going to be writing about these issues, you have to run toward the fire. And that’s what he did.

But I also suspect this is calculated (note how this happened on an incredibly slow news week) — which is not to say that it’s nefarious. Instead of living in the shadows, Vargas has forced the feds either to give him a pass — or turn him into a martyr.

If he is deported, I suspect he will have accomplished the latter. The feds will have been forced to make an example of someone who, as Doug Mataconis wrote, should be “a symbol of immigration reform, not a candidate for deportation.”