Illegal immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas was detained (as it turned out, briefly) by the authorities this week, after running into trouble at a Border Patrol checkpoint en route to catch a plane. The trouble is that he’s been flaunting the immigration laws of the United States with impunity for years. He’s a legal citizen of the Phillipines, but not of the United States, having been brought here illegally as a child. He didn’t learn he lacked legal residency status until he tried to get a driver’s license at the age of 16. This supposedly makes him an irrefutable critic of the immigration system. In truth, he embodies far more problems than that.
For example, there’s the little matter of that driver’s license he couldn’t get. He simply ignores that law, too, and drives without one. He actually did get caught once, but the same overwhelming mega-State that burdens ever aspect of your life with countless fees and regulations just blew it off, the same way he’s functionally immune to the laws governing citizenship, or the penalties for falsifying documents, which he has done with some frequency. Jim Geraghty at National Review noted this makes him an uncomfortably apt symbol for the cascade of lawlessness that begins with the violation of immigration law:
Vargas hasn’t said publicly how much he drives; he wrote in Politico, “I’ve been traveling non-stop for three years, visiting more than 40 states.” He also wrote in his Politico article that he’s traveling with a camera crew, so perhaps he wasn’t driving on his most recent trip to Texas. Perhaps he uses public transportation, cabs, or Uber, or friends give him rides.
But our laws requiring driver’s licenses are pretty simple: If you don’t have a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit, you’re not allowed to drive. There is no exception in the statute for individuals who have appeared on the cover of Timemagazine. There’s no exception for those who have risen to the status of “symbol of the immigration debate.”
These laws are not an expression of xenophobia or white privilege or demonizing the Other. Once Vargas’s license from the state of Washington was revoked — and he commented about the revocation in news articles, so it’s not like he can claim he was unaware of the state’s action — he was not legally allowed to get behind the wheel of a car. He did it anyway.
But Vargas felt free to ignore that law — and, apparently, to drive with headphones on. He also lied to his employers about his legal status, putting them at legal risk. (We’ll skip the irony of a journalist, dedicated to uncovering the truth, lying so regularly.)
The process of entering the country illegally sets off a domino effect of law-breaking — the illegal entry is followed by falsifying documents, lying on official documents, lying to employers, and then driving without a license. Vargas no doubt believes that all of these crimes were necessary for him to live the American dream. At what point does that justification run out?
“If he doesn’t think he needs a valid driver’s license to drive, why do the rest of us need them?” Geraghty asks. That’s an excellent question. It cuts to the heart of our unpleasant national debate about citizenship, which covers far more than illegal immigration.
The immigration debate might have a different character if we lived in a far more libertarian society, one in which the government placed relatively few demands on its citizens. We’d still need a secure border and sound immigration policy, of course. One of the reasons for such policies is to avoid the attitude Jose Vargas embodies: the notion that people can ignore whatever laws they find inconvenient. This is a form of the deadly entitlement mentality, which we have far too much of in America today. Criminals of all stripes have a tendency to believe themselves entitled to whatever they have misappropriated, or entitled to disobey whatever laws they have willfully broken. That’s why so many of them don’t regard themselves as bad people, even when they’ve confessed to their offenses.
A new resident of the United States is getting off on the wrong foot if his American experience begins with a concrete example of this justified entitlement mindset: I deserve to live here, and nobody’s going to keep me out, no matter what their stupid laws say. This is why America, and every other nation, has a formal immigration process. One of our core beliefs, to quote the Declaration of Independence, is that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. If you’re born here, you are extensively educated, both formally and informally, in the expectations of citizenship. If you are an immigrant, you have to give your consent, and you need to understand exactly what you’re consenting to.
Here’s another example of the entitlement mentality, from a “Mexican resident of the Rio Grande valley” reacting to the arrest of Vargas, as quoted by the Daily Signal: “We are aggravated with the Border Patrol. It’s not fair. We are not criminals. We are fighting for the freedom we deserve. We will take it from their hands.”
Another, from a Honduran woman trying to get her children, and her neighbor’s son, across the border again after a failed attempt, from the Washington Post: “Of course I am going again. I have to have a house. I do not have a place to live. If I want or not, if the gringos like it or not, I am coming.”
The same article notes that there are a variety of ways to get across the American border illegally; the first-class ticket involves paying smugglers up to $8,000 a head, and business is booming. “We haven’t had many problems,” one smuggler said. “Almost everybody makes it there.”
It is the purpose of a lawful government to keep people from taking what they think they deserve from the hands of its rightful owners. That’s a decent working definition for government, actually. But it’s not a good definition for the current American government, which features a massive redistribution system, a hyper-regulatory nightmare, and an expensive aristocracy living large off the backs of U.S. taxpayers. A smaller, simpler, cheaper government could absorb much higher levels of immigration with fewer restrictions, although obviously even a laissez-faire paradise would obviously want to screen for violent criminals and severe medical issues. Mass waves of immigration into a giant welfare state are absolutely insane.
We live under a government that places huge behavioral and reporting requirements on its citizens. We’re swimming in paperwork. Merely filing our taxes costs us billions of dollars a year. Launching a business is a never-ending struggle against bureaucracy. We’re groaning under an absurd health-care system that spews out a few thousand more pages of regulations every time we turn around. We’ve been grappling with revelations about how the government spies on all of us.
But we’re just going to wave hundreds of thousands of people across the border and give them a pass on the same burdens the rest of us grapple with? We’ll plug them into the welfare state without any concern for their input? The system legal citizens are trapped in – the system we pay a few trillion dollars in taxes and regulatory costs to support – will be distorted and nullified to accommodate anyone who can get a foot across the Rio Grande? A private sector pinned so tightly under government’s thumb that the workforce is collapsing will now be expected to conjure up jobs for millions of new applicants?
Make a parade float that shows a zombie standing in front of an outhouse labeled “Obama Presidential Library,” and agents of the federal government will descend upon you. Dig a pond in your backyard without the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency, and they want to garnish your wages. Send your cattle to graze on the wrong land, and an army of paramilitary agents rolls in. Commit a highly questionable violation of an arcane foreign law when importing wood for your guitar company, and a SWAT team comes smashing in through the front door. But violate American immigration law, and there’s nothing our Super Government can do. You’re probably here for good. If you don’t keep in touch on the honor system, they’ll never be able to find you for the “deportation hearings” that never end.
There is nothing about the current American system that makes it either practical or fair to introduce a large number of new people without due process. The rest of us don’t get to falsify paperwork and ignore rules we believe unjust, the way Jose Vargas does. Quite a few of us could make a spirited case that we object to the justice of those laws just as vigorously as he objects to immigration law. Good luck with that. Before the border crisis grabbed all the headlines, the big story in America was about the owners of a hobby store fighting a grueling and fantastically expensive legal battle, all the way to the Supreme Court, to defend their Constitutionally-protected right of religious expression… the expression in question being the refusal to pay for four out of the twenty contraceptives mandated by Barack Obama’s health care monstrosity.
If the upshot of the border crisis is that we’re going to have a debate about the responsibilities of American citizens to the state, and to each other, I’m all for it. I have no intention of limiting that discussion to whether anyone who walks into Texas from Mexico can be deported or not. Maybe it’s time for the People Who Work Hard and Play By The Rules to get a little of that sweet Cloward-Piven action, and use applied pressure to break a few systems down. The core premise of Obama’s model of all-seeing, all-controlling government is fundamentally irreconcilable with his immigration policies. It might just be the biggest logical contradiction Americans have ever been asked to swallow. I recommend refusing to swallow it.