Quick Hitters on Illegal Immigration

First of all, the Korean recommends everyone to read this remarkable story from Jose Antonio Vargas about how he found success in America even as an illegal immigrant. The article is long, but very much worth the read. Some highlights:

- Vargas' mother sent him away from the Philippines to his grandparents when he was 12 -- Vargas has never met his mother since. He came to America with forged documents. He did not realize his illegal status until he was 16, when he applied for his driver's license.

- He nearly did not go to college because he was not able to apply for financial aid. He managed to attend San Francisco State based on a scholarship that did not ask about citizenship status.

- Vargas is gay, which means he cannot marry into a citizenship.

- Vargas shared a Pulitzer Prize while working for the Washington Post.

Skimming through the comments to the article, however, the Korean noticed a few recurring themes of ignorance about illegal immigration. Here are some answers to illuminate those darkened minds.

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"I am unemployed, and that's because illegal immigrants like Vargas take American jobs."

Because you can win a Pulitzer Prize if Jose Vargas didn't steal one from you? Vargas is better at his job than 95 percent of Americans are at theirs. He won his job over others fair and square. In fact, the game was rigged against Vargas, but he still won the game.

Even if we were speaking on the low-paying and volatile jobs that illegal immigrants generally take, have you considered, you know, studying hard during school so that you won't have to take those jobs? Or working harder than the guy next to you at your job? Surely, you are not saying you are in a worse position to compete with an illegal immigrant, who is faced with language barrier, cultural gap, poverty and constant persecution from immigration authorities? Even with all that, illegal immigrants apparently find jobs. What's your excuse?

Seriously, what entitles you to a job? Don't you generally belong to the political party that does not believe in giving free handouts to people?

(More after the jump)

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"We are a nation of laws. Illegal immigrants broke the law. They are criminals."

My ass. You know what else is the law in America? Speed limits. And every day on the Korean's evening commute, he sees hundreds of law-breaking. And no one, including the police, gives a shit unless the violation is particularly egregious. Oh noes, the social fabric of America, undone every time someone does 56 in a 55!

(And for fuck's sake, not everyone who breaks the law is a criminal. You are a criminal only if you break the criminal law. Being undocumented in America is a civil offense. If you can't make this most basic distinction in the law, you really should not be talking about the law at all.)

People have this stupid idea that the law is this sacrosanct edifice and even the smallest offense cannot be tolerated when it suits their purpose, only to go on and commit all kinds of small violations of the law whenever convenient for them. The Korean used to prosecute misdemeanors, and you will be shocked to know what ordinary things in life comes with significant prison time. (Example: it is a misdemeanor to use gas-powered leaf blower in Santa Monica County. Violations are punishable up to six months in prison.) If we unflinchingly and mercilessly enforced all the laws on the book, our lives will be a living hell. That's not what being a nation of laws is about.

Enforcement of the law has to be flexible enough to comport with the reality. The reality is that illegal immigrants come to America to work and find a better life. They generally cause no harm, except to those who somehow lose out in the job market to them -- and that is the kind of harm we want to encourage in a capitalistic society. Again, we don't want to be a society of hand-outs.

-EDIT 6/23/2011- One commenter said:
Under 8 USC 1325, illegal immigration is punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment for up to six months for the initial offense. ... "It is a federal crime to illegally enter this country and such offense may be subject to Imprisonment." This is not a crime similar to receiving a fine for speeding.
The Korean would recommend reading the actual language of the law very carefully and cite the actual language. 8 U.S.C. 1325 says:
Any alien who (1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or (3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.
Did you notice what 8 U.S.C. 1325 actually punishes? The law criminalizes illegal entry, not being undocumented. Then you might ask: "How can an immigrant be illegal without committing illegal entry?" -- and reveal to the world once again that you don't know a whole lot about illegal immigration. Nearly half of illegal immigrants in America committed no illegal entry. How? They overstayed their visa, which was legitimate at the time of entry. So, for example, you can have a valid tourist visa to enter the country. Six months later, the visa expires, and you don't leave. You, at this point, are an illegal immigrant, but you did not violate 8 U.S.C. 1325. Therefore, you are not a criminal.

And again, remember the main point here -- the point is that enforcement of the law (criminal law or otherwise) must comport with the reality. If you want the Korean to give an example of a criminal law (not speed limit) that is constantly broken by ordinary American citizens, he can give dozens of them. Here's a good one -- eating anything on Washington D.C. subway is a crime. John Roberts, now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and then a judge of the D.C. Circuit Court, ruled that a 12-year-old girl who ate one French fry on the subway nonetheless committed a crime. The little girl was handcuffed, taken to the police station, searched and interrogated for hours before she was released to her mother. Is this really the kind of society you want to live in?

People who scream "It's a crime! It's a crime!" are completely missing the point. At the end of the day, "criminal" and "civil" laws are legal terms of art. A tax evasion can be prosecuted either on a criminal or civil basis. The form of the prosecution does not change the wrongfulness of the tax evasion. Same goes with illegal immigration -- calling it a crime or a civil offense changes nothing. What matters is the inherent wrongfulness, and there is nothing wrong with wanting a better life and working to get it.

"Illegal immigrants steal from America in the form of welfare, education and healthcare."

Here is a newsflash for dumbasses who keep making this argument: illegal immigrants pay taxes just like everyone else, as long as they have a job and/or own property. In fact, they pay more taxes on a net basis than American citizens in the same situation because they cannot receive Social Security or Unemployment benefits like citizens do. Illegal immigrants are not stealing your tax dollars -- you are stealing from theirs.

"Vargas should have found a way to make his status legal."

How? If you ever were found to have been in America while being undocumented, you cannot enter America again for ten years.  In fact, even if Vargas was straight, he could not have even married into a citizenship. He would have been deported and would be banned from entering America for ten years, regardless of having a citizen spouse. That is the kind of system we have in America now -- no matter how awesome you turn out to be while growing up in the American society, we cast them away.

"Philippines is not that bad. Vargas should go back and wait in line like everyone else."

The punishment is not living in the Philippines. The punishment is being taken away from everything you ever knew -- your friends, your property you gathered in America, your American identity that you fostered during your life in America. Again, you are taken away from all that for over ten years, because it is only after ten years you can even begin to apply for a visa, which may as well take another five years. One of the most fundamental principles of the Constitution is that the punishment should fit the crime. You do not get your hand cut off for stealing like in the medieval times, and you should not get your life taken away for looking for a better life and beating out other people in a legitimate competition.

"I waited my turn as a legal immigrant. Why couldn't Vargas?"

Because, at age 12, Vargas should have confronted his mother at the airport and refused to get on the plane? Look, good for you if you waited in line. The Korean Family immigrated legally also, and the process for us was hardly pain-free. The Korean Father was duped by a fraudulent immigration lawyer and lost a huge chunk of money, and our status was in real jeopardy for a few years before it was resolved. But our difficulty was not any worse than the difficulty suffered by Vargas, or any other illegal immigrant. Immigration opponents have this stupid idea that life as an illegal immigrant in America is like having a free-flowing spigot of money in your kitchen. Puh-leeze. Vargas more than paid his price -- he had to live in the shadows all this time, and he made something out of himself despite all the obstacles. And now you want to have America wait for more than a decade to have back its Pulitzer-winning journalist? What sense does that make?

For all the controversy about America's immigration laws, not one person comes out to say the current system is just fine and everything is hunky-dory. For such laws, the American tradition always has been civil disobedience, all the way from Henry David Thoreau to Martin Luther King Jr. This current immigration system is unjust, arbitrary and un-American. It punishes and rewards people for the accident of their birth. It is not a huge merit to follow such a law, and not a huge sin to disregard it.

"I can't just move to Korea when I feel like and become a Korean citizen. Why can illegal immigrants to the same with America?"

Good news: you can! To obtain Korean citizenship, you only need to legally live in Korea for five years, for the most part. And to live legally in Korea for five years, all you need is a job or a spouse who is a Korean citizen. (Remember, Korea is one of the richest countries in Asia -- there are plenty of people who want to come to Korea for better lives also.) More importantly, Korea does not have the ridiculous 10-year ban for being undocumented, and also has periodic amnesty and programs to assist illegal immigrants to leave Korea without paying a fine.

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The Korean previously gave his preferred immigration plan here. Short version -- eliminate entitlement; make EVERYONE in America earn his/her citizenship, not just immigrants. The Korean knows that is a wishful pipe dream. But there are sensible plans, which should not be terribly controversial, that can be readily implemented. One of them is the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented college graduates who were brought to America in their childhood to gain citizenship. If you seriously believe that illegal immigration cannot be tolerated because of the social cost imposed upon America, fine. But there is no conceivable reason why America to cast off America-raised youths who managed to make it to college. People like Jose Vargas deserve to live in America, which is more than the Korean can say for a lot of American citizens.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.