In an interview with NPR, Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that favors hard restrictions on immigration and tougher law enforcement of existing immigration law, discussed the current status of Jose Antonio Vargas, an award-winning journalist whose recent New York Times Magazine article describes his life as an undocumented American. Predictably, Krikorian believes Vargas should leave the U.S. In his words, Vargas should “go home.” Apparently, the country Vargas calls home, where he has lived and worked for the majority of his life, is not his home. If anyone should leave the U.S., it’s Krikorian. Here are a few reasons why:
1. In presenting his case as to why Vargas should be forced out of the U.S., Krikorian is quick to offer listeners a shoddily-constructed strawman–one with closed arms for “illegal” immigrants but open-arms for some of those, you know, poor, truly deserving immigrant children victimized into their current status by “criminal” parents. Krikorian states that the “moral case” for the Dream Act extends only to undocumented individuals whose “identities have been formed here, who have no memory of any other country, who really are Americans in all but paperwork.” He then goes on to claim Vargas came here with a Filipino identity at the age of 12; therefore he cannot have an American identity and hence is not an American. Presumably, Krikorian’s authority on American identity comes from him being an older male of European (immigrant) descent. Furthermore, Krikorian seems to believe one’s identity at 12 will remain the same no matter what happens in the next few decades of one’s life–including working and living thousands of miles away from place of birth. As far as I can tell, Krikorian’s expertise in the fields of identity development as it pertains to nationality, ethnicity and political cognition starts and stops with his use of the phrase “psychologically speaking” to preface his argument, for he presents absolutely no other support for his fully-formed-identity-at-12-years-of-age position. Not too surprised, though. Who needs those kinds of details? Pfft. Not Krikorian! He can’t even be bothered to pronounce a non-English name like Sotomayor properly. In determining what it means to be American, he simply ignores the details: facts like Vargas was raised by his naturalized U.S. citizen grandparents and the U.S. once held sovereignty–and subsequently some cultural influence–over the Philippines. Gee, Krikorian, you must think we are really dumb. For rigidness of thinking, lack of perspective and, well, insulting our intelligence, I have to say: Mark Krikorian, please leave the U.S. We don’t need this. Really, we don’t.
2. In an attempt to minimize the courage behind and significance of Vargas’ public self-outing, Krikorian takes a petty swipe at Vargas’ coming out story, suggesting it’s merely a marketing ploy designed to promote his Define American project. Krikorian–who we are to assume, from his position, is more deserving than someone like Vargas of an American identity (though it was bestowed upon him through no doing of his own; he was just born here)–will not share our country with a talented, hard-working, undocumented individual who does important work as a journalist. In working to move the immigration debate forward, Vargas is sacrificing his freedom and safety to advocate for other undocumented Americans struggling under our current, very much broken, system. Right now, there are millions of real Americans suffering the consequences of being undocumented. Vargas’ efforts are an attempt at working to end these real-world wrongs. That’s no marketing ploy. That’s called seeking justice. Meanwhile, Krikorian’s efforts to restrict immigration are to protect some imaginary future great-grandchildren from his senile vision of a tax-drained, resource-pilfered, multilingual, ethnically-confused dystopian America. This is a vision that most likely scares the wits out of Krikorian. How else could one deny Vargas’ clearly American identity let alone so casually call another human soul by the I-word? Such fear and bigotry is un-American. Mark Krikorian, please leave the U.S. Please?
3. Lastly, to return to this idea of what it means to be an American, it seems like the work Vargas does as a journalist documenting the lives of Americans, American culture, American media and American politics for all of the world and posterity is about as American as you can get, no? And now Vargas is choosing to use his status and celebrity to engage the public on the topic of immigration. Even the simple sharing of his story–at his own risk–serves to help others better understand the plight of the undocumented and the immigrant experience. We are a nation of immigrants, after all–with those two glaring exceptions, of course (they, too, were exploited for labor and land). The Krikorians of this country want us to believe that immigrant labor is no longer needed in our post-industrial economy. But until they start picking their own food, laundering their own clothes, cleaning their own houses, scrubbing their own toilets, tending to their own landscapes, raising their own children, flipping their own burgers, removing their own asbestos, I will have to disagree. Immigrant labor figures just as centrally into our economy today than it ever has. So while some fearmongerers wish to equate conferring basic human rights on undocumented Americans with encouraging the crime of breaking immigration laws, I choose to see it for what it is: the pursuit of humane, practical, non-reactionary legislation to protect human beings. This is not un-American. Rather, this struggle for fairness and freedom is the quintessence of American identity.
So, Mark Krikorian, if you cannot adjust to the Americans already here, with their different-looking faces and funny-sounding names, then the hopeful, vibrant, enlightened new America that is going to be built will not be much fun for you. It might be best if you left. Thanks.