If You Want Immigration Reform, Don’t Defend Immigrants Who Commit Crimes

If immigration advocates want to help President Obama enact reforms, they’d be wise not to push for relief for immigrants who commit crimes. 

Jose Antonio Vargas (right) in the film Documented Courtesy of Apo Anak Productions

Documented tells the story of Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist who discovered as a teenager that his family had brought him to America illegally as a child. In his time in this country, Vargas—who is a friend—has lived an exemplary life, including winning a Pulitzer Prize before age 30.

He challenges every negative stereotype about immigrants, but perhaps most important, he has made a point to live his life in a way that demonstrates respect for and gratitude toward the country that gave him so much opportunity and continues to do so even though his immigration status has become public. But although he’s lived his life as the epitome of the American dream, theoretically, Vargas faces the possibility of deportation. He is not protected by the president’s directive to DHS to protect Dreamers because beneficiaries must be younger than 30. He just missed the age cutoff when it went into effect, something that one can’t help but consider a tragedy. 

So how is he handling all of this? Well, he’s using his time in this country to educate others about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform, particularly those who may not think they support it but who also realize that our country is better off with people like Vargas in it than it is without people like him.

What he’s not doing is committing crimes. And it seems to me that anyone who cares about one day seeing comprehensive immigration reform become a reality, but who defends the right of those who do commit crimes to stay in this country, is doing nothing but hurting the cause. Because every time you denounce the deportation of those who carelessly endangered lives by driving drunk, committed domestic violence or stole another person’s property, you make it that much tougher for the president to build consensus for solutions that keep law-abiding immigrants in America.

One of the most harrowing scenes in Deported is when one of the deportees tells a group of Haitian children his story, and his parting words to them are, “Maybe one day you will travel. So wherever you go, remember to behave like a good citizen.” 

If only he and others sharing a similar plight had followed his advice.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.