Tag Archives: Jose Antonio Vargas


A bemused Facebook post from Jose Antonio Vargas:


I’ve been thinking numbers since I read about the White House’s immigration plan.

So 8 years? Why not 10? Why not 7? Why not 5?

I grew up with the DREAM Act, when the age limit (per House and Senate versions) were 21, then 25, then 29, then 30, then 35, back to 30.


This should make people uneasy. These numbers have huge effects on people’s lives, yet they’re basically picked out of thin air. How can we avoid this kind of arbitrariness? By going back to first principles, and figuring out what, after all, justice demands.

Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?

NOTE: This article focuses on the United States, though some of its points may be more generally applicable.

In a blog post I’m currently drafting (which will hopefully be published shortly after this one) I note BK’s criticism of open borders advocates such as Bryan Caplan — pro-migration forces as they actually exist are opposed to all the keyhole solutions that might actually alleviate the concerns of moderate critics of open borders. By siding with these “pro-migration forces” open borders advocates make it appear that their advocacy of keyhole solutions to deal with the problems of migration is a mere rhetorical fig leaf offered to critics of open borders. Here’s an excerpt from BK’s comment:

Those changes [making keyhole solutions politically feasible] would require a big political effort, since pro-migration political forces are mostly very opposed to keyhole solutions since they expect to benefit politically from bringing in immigrants that will vote for them. And so, to implement a Singapore-style solution the key step would be to push to create the legal apparatus and will to enforce that apparatus *before* adding tens of millions of recent low-skill migrants to the electorate.

On the other hand, live immigration proposals of recent years have called for amnesty of all existing illegal immigrants in the U.S. with tens of millions more to follow via family sponsorships, and reduced enforcement to enable more low-skill migration. This would drastically change the political landscape, to the disfavor of keyhole solutions. Recall that support for immigration is the area where recent migrants are most different from locals.

So generalized pro-immigration ideological pushes strengthen the opponents of keyhole solutions more than they support keyhole solutions. And in practice Bryan and folk at this site do seem to use keyhole solutions primarily as a rhetorical fig-leaf to deflect opposition and shut down conversations.

Although BK doesn’t offer any specific links, I think he’s [NOTE: I have strong reason to believe BK is male, even though it’s not obvious from the comment text, so I’ll use “he” to refer to BK] mostly on point regarding the “pro-migration” and even more broadly the “pro-immigrant” forces (even if we ignore pro-immigrant restrictionists for the moment). Frankly, I think that a lot of the pro-migration and pro-immigrant forces aren’t interested in anything approaching open borders, and may not even be supportive of expanded immigration. In fact, I suspect that a lot of what motivates immigrants’ rights activists is territorialism, an ideology that, unlike citizenism, is interested in the welfare and protection of rights of all people who are within the geographical area of the nation, regardless of their citizenship status and of whether they are authorized or unauthorized. Added: A lot of immigrant rights’ activists are also susceptible to local inequality aversion, another obstruction to keyhole solutions.

I will look at a few groups that are often (rightly or wrongly) labeled as pro-immigrant and study how their efforts might help or hurt the development of keyhole solutions.

American Civil Liberties Union

A classic example of territorialism is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU is at the forefront of defending the rights of immigrants, including “illegal” immigrants, via their Immigrants’ Rights Project. I’ve read through a number of pages on the ACLU website, and it seems to me that the ACLU takes no position on what immigration law itself should be. In fact, they concede that the US has collective property rights and can set more or less any immigration policy. The only thing they object to is inhumane deportations. From their Immigrants’ Rights Project page:

Our nation has unquestioned authority to control its borders and to regulate immigration. But we must exercise the awesome power to exclude or deport immigrants consistent with the rule of law, the fundamental norms of humanity and the requirements of the Constitution.

And they seem to take no position on the civil liberties and human rights of non-US people when they are not in US territory.

Now, you might say that this is just part of the “division of labor” that Nathan highlighted in this post. The ACLU is the American (US) Civil Liberties Union, which means that their scope is explicitly limited to what happens within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States. This means that, definitionally, qua organization, they cannot be concerned about the violation of rights of people outside the territory or jurisdiction of the United States, even if individuals at the ACLU feel strongly about these issues. Fair enough. Continue reading Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?

Undocumented No Longer

I welcomed Obama’s “DREAM decree,” which just took effect on August 15th, with an article at The American entitled “A Face for the Faceless.” In it, I celebrated the career of Jose Antonio Vargas (life story, blog posts about him on Open Borders), characterizing his stance and that of the movement he is leading as civil disobedience:

By coming out publicly, Jose Antonio Vargas and many others have transformed the lawbreaking of illegal immigration into something heroic—civil disobedience. They have become, to adapt an exquisite phrase from writer David Bentley Hart, “a face for the faceless.”

Hart, describing the impact of Christianity on the culture of the late Roman Empire, writes that “to the literate classes of late antiquity … a rustic could not possibly have been a worthy object of a well-bred man’s sympathy,” and that the story, in the Gospels, of Peter weeping after he denied Christ on the eve of the Crucifixion, would “likely have seemed like an aesthetic mistake.” By contrast, in the Gospels and other Christian texts, “we see something beginning to emerge from darkness into full visibility, arguably for the first time in history: the human person as such, invested with an intrinsic and inviolable dignity, and possessed of an infinite value.” (Hart, p. 167)

To feel human sympathy for someone makes it much harder to abuse, exploit, or brutalize them, or in general, to do unto them as one would not have others do unto oneself. Over time, though sometimes with terrible tardiness, this new appreciation of human dignity has altered man and society, making charity more urgent and beautiful, making slavery first anomalous and then untenable.

I also explore the charge that Obama’s DREAM decree is a violation of the principle of “rule of law”: Continue reading Undocumented No Longer

Obama Promises a Reprieve for DREAMers

Barack Obama has been a terrible president for immigrants. He has been deporting people at record rates. He seems to exploit the issue politically in the most cynical way. What he says about immigration isn’t too bad, however. Here’s his speech today:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody.

This morning, Secretary Napolitano announced new actions my administration will take to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just, specifically for certain young people sometimes called DREAMers.

Now, these are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants, and often have no idea that they’re undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver’s license or a college scholarship.

Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life, studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class, only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.

Exactly. Of course, one may ask why these particular details are so important. Yes, it’s absurd to deport someone to a country they know nothing about, but it’s almost as bad to deport them to a country they had good reasons– economic hopelessness, political oppression, etc.– for wanting to leave. Yes, DREAMers have friends, have pledged allegiance to the flag, may have worked hard– but plenty of non-DREAMer illegal immigrants also have friends here, have worked (very) hard, and would be glad to take an oath of allegiance if we’d let them. Still, the DREAMers are a kind of wedge in the door, morally speaking. Continue reading Obama Promises a Reprieve for DREAMers

Why Jose Antonio Vargas Matters: Making Human Rights Real

I largely agree with what Vipul Naik writes about Jose Antonio Vargas and the Define American project. Philosophically, Vargas isn’t really a fellow-traveler of Bryan Caplan, Vipul Naik, and myself. He seems to still buy into arguments from the other side– as Vipul puts it, “people don’t have a right to immigrate, but once they’ve done so, they acquire various rights and privileges, and become part of the moral sphere of natives.” His position seems ultimately unstable, though possibly that’s true of everyone in the immigration debate except the open borders crowd on one end and some extreme restrictionists on the other. In his defense, though– even if this doesn’t come through in everything he writes or says– the terms of his own project seem to recognize the weakness of his position. For example, from the “About” section of the Define American site:

Our campaign is about asking: How do we define an American? Why do people come to this country? Who are the American citizens who help them? When it comes to undocumented immigrants, what would you do? As a teacher? A friend? A mother?

Define American, with your help, will answer those questions.

So Vargas isn’t saying that he has the answers; rather, he’s asking for help from… well, from whoever the audience of Define American is supposed to be… to find them. Maybe we’ll win him over to the open borders cause at some point.

More importantly, there’s something I think Naik doesn’t quite recognize, namely, that Vargas’s project is well suited to evoke in people the moral intuitions that underlie the concept of natural rights, also known as human rights. Rights seem a bit metaphysically mysterious and plenty of honest people have doubted their existence. But it’s part of human nature that we can recognize when human rights are being violated, when we are close enough to the victims to feel human empathy for them. We see the wrong, we feel injury and indignation, we feel that something deeper and more sacred is at stake than a mere cost-benefit analysis could account for, and our attempts to express, to justify, to articulate that indignation perennially bring us back to the idea of human rights. Vargas’s site emphasizes stories. That’s just what’s needed, because stories bring us close enough to the victims to feel the wrong of what’s being done to them. That the victims whose stories he tells are far from the worst-off victims of migration restrictions is a secondary issue.

A story by a Canadian is a good example: Continue reading Why Jose Antonio Vargas Matters: Making Human Rights Real