Tag Archives: Jose Antonio Vargas

My thoughts on Jose Antonio Vargas and Define American

Jose Antonio Vargas (life story) is an illegal immigrant from the Phillippines to the United States. Vargas is also a reputed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. In June 2011, Vargas outed himself as an illegal immigrant in the pages of the New York Times, and I learned about this when Bryan Caplan blogged about it. Vargas has also started a website called Define American, which “seeks to change the conversation on immigration reform.” Here’s his website and Wikipedia page.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Jose Antonio Vargas at the University of Chicago. UPDATE: Here is a news article about his talk and here is an interview with the author conducted during his visit for the talk.

Below are some of the thoughts I have about the talk and about Vargas’ views. [Caution: Since I didn’t take written notes or tape the talk, I might have misremembered some of Vargas’ statements]

  • Vargas spent a lot of his time talking about (illegal) immigrant rights, or about the plight of immigrants. But he spent very little time talking about immigration rights. Overall, his expressed moral philosophy seemed pretty territorialist — 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. In Q&A, Vargas did say that he also supports expanded immigration rights for immigrants at all skill levels, but this wasn’t even mentioned (as far as I could make out) in his main talk. As the creator of the Open Borders website, I find the moral imbalance jarring. Of course, it’s possible that, as Bryan Caplan puts it, Vargas was simply engaging in understatement. But I wish he’d openly asked the question: Who’s worse off, somebody who foregoes the huge place premium of migration, or somebody who gets in, then has to put up with a low probability of deportation and harassment?

    In fact, the various videos that Vargas showed seemed, to me at least ,decidedly un-sympathy-inducing. He showed the video below (or some variation of it) to indicate the plight of immigrants:

    But in a world where large numbers of people are poor partly because of immoral restrictions on their right to migrate, the plight of the people depicted in the video hardly seems the worst thing in the world.

  • To be fair to Vargas, he did concede that he was better off immigrating to the United States. In fact, he admitted that both his mother and his grandfather agreed to have him sent to the United States, despite the risks of being undocumented, because they felt that even with those risks, he would have a better life in the United States than being documented in the Phillippines. And it seems, judging from his success as a journalist and now as an immigrant rights activist, that their judgment was correct. What Vargas didn’t do, though, was go the next step and say that immigration rights are a bigger issue than immigrant rights.
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