by Kiko Matsing
The debates over “illegal aliens” intensified my anxieties. In 1994, only a year after my flight from the Philippines, Gov. Pete Wilson was re-elected in part because of his support for Proposition 187, which prohibited undocumented immigrants from attending public school and accessing other services. (A federal court later found the law unconstitutional.) After my encounter at the D.M.V. in 1997, I grew more aware of anti-immigrant sentiments and stereotypes: they don’t want to assimilate, they are a drain on society. They’re not talking about me, I would tell myself. I have something to contribute.
[Executive Editor Marcus] Brauchli said in an interview with me and in other public statements that he prefers not to discuss internal Post deliberations about news judgment. “We made a judgment not to run the piece,” he said. Fair enough. Few editors go on the record about internal deliberations over a published news story, unless the story later results in accolades and awards.
And, I, too, see cautionary notes about Vargas that might have led to Brauchli’s decision. He left behind a reputation in The Post’s newsroom for being tenacious and talented but also for being a relentless self-promoter whom many colleagues didn’t trust. Editors said that he needed direction, coaching and constant watching.
It’s also disturbing that Vargas has formed a nonprofit group to advocate for immigration reform. He has crossed the line from journalist to advocate.
I’m uneasy with immigration advocates who conflate anti-immigration with anti-illegal immigration. There is a world of difference between the two, foremost of which is the law. Americans who disdain illegal immigration are not necessarily anti-immigrant (I found most, even in the South, very welcoming), and it is devious of Vargas to represent them that way. He is in fact also perpetuating certain stereotypes. Vargas deflects the legal issue by also putting “illegal” under quotes or by replacing it by the softer, less problematic term “undocumented”. It only serves to evade the sticky issue of what to do with people like himself who has in fact immigrated illegally, but has integrated successfully in American society. Can a path to legal status be opened up without short circuiting current laws and thus incentivizing further illegal immigration? Without being unfair and, yes, unjust to those who did proceed through the legal routes? There are compelling reasons people oppose the DREAM Act, not just because they have an irrational fear of immigrants.
There is nothing unusual about sovereign nations protecting their borders against encroachment. The Philippine coast guard deport illegal Chinese fishing boats at the contested Spratly Islands all the time. Unfortunately, these immigration barriers also often oppose the entropic diffusion of populations that even out economic gradients. That is why visas are required of Third World citizens for travel to the First World, not vice versa. This then becomes a more profound question of justice that only something like an eschatological inversion can set right.