Vargas is something of a special case. As a child sent to America, he had no agency in the decision to immigrate. Until age 16, when a DMV officer told him his papers were forged, he believed he was a legal resident. As a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, he’s an extraordinarily high-achieving, driven individual. He’s sufficiently unusual that we should be leery of drawing overly broad conclusions from his experiences. What worked for him might not work for someone else.
Being overly lax about illegal immigration creates too many situations where immigrants who don’t have Vargas’s talent, his protectors or his luck mortgage everything they have to come here only to be deported shortly thereafter. Vargas could’ve been uprooted from everything he knows and sent back at 16. He could’ve been too scared to go to college or apply for good jobs and spent a lifetime unable to work to his potential. He could’ve been deported as an adult, taken from loving relationships and a home that’s really the only one he has ever known.
If any of that had happened, would the policy failure have been on the back end, when we deported him, or on the front end, when we made sending a child here illegally seem like a good idea? I’d say both, and that our policy, ultimately, has to reflect that.
My general take on immigration is that we need more legal immigration, better enforcement against illegal immigration, and more leniency toward illegal immigrants. Yes, we should have more immigrants, and yes, we should create a path to legalization for the immigrants who are already here, but the cost of that, I think, is going to be persuading Americans that the policy won’t result in vastly more illegal immigration. And that’s probably how it should be. We need a policy that recognizes that the problem — both for us and, potentially, for Vargas — was when Vargas was brought here illegally, not that, decades later, he’s still here, writing Pulitzer-prize winning articles and supporting his family and contributing to his adopted home.