Today, America’s most prominent illegal immigrant arrived at the border between Mexico and the United States to demonstrate his solidarity with the tens of thousands of people streaming into the country without permission. But the stunt by which former journalist Jose Antonio Vargas got himself arrested did more to undermine support for immigration reform than to foster sympathy for the illegals.

Vargas became a national figure three years ago when the former Washington Post reporter outed himself in the New York Times as an illegal immigrant. Vargas came to the United States at 12 from the Philippines to live with his grandparents who were naturalized citizens. But he was brought here by a “coyote” without a legal visa and spent the rest of his life lying about his status and using fake documents. After graduating college he consulted an immigration lawyer who told him his only path to citizenship was to return to his home country, wait ten years and then apply to come back with permission. On the cusp of a successful career he refused and continued lying even as he was part of a Post team that won a Pulitzer. Eventually, he tired of the deceit as he continued to rise in mainstream journalism and decided to put himself forward as a symbol of the plight of the so-called “dreamers”—people who were brought to the country illegally as kids and who went on to make a contribution to society.

After revealing himself to be an illegal Vargas faced no consequences. To the contrary, he became a media star, founding a group backing the rights of illegals, testifying before Congress, making documentary films, and writing. So perhaps with the backing of liberals who have lionized him as an example of why illegal immigrants should be given a path to citizenship he may have felt he had impunity to come and go as he pleased even though he remains in the United States without anything but a Philippine passport.

But when he went through an airport security line at McAllen-Miller International Airport on the Texas border today, Transportation Security Administration agents detained him. His arrest has prompted calls for his release by immigration advocates who see him as having put himself on the line to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of children and adults who have surged across the border in recent months.

But if immigration reform advocates think this stunt will help their cause they are mistaken.

The problem for the Obama administration and others who believe a broken system must be changed is that their calls for legalization for undocumented aliens have prompted another wave of illegal immigration. Even those of us who believe that calls for the government to deport the 11 million illegals here now are ridiculous must understand that the president’s actions designed to help the dreamers and advocacy for “amnesty” have created exactly the mess that immigration reform critics predicted.

Even more to the point, the use of Vargas as the poster child for the campaign for legalization doesn’t work quite the way his supporters think it does. Nor does it make a good argument for letting the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have arrived illegally stay.

Even if you support a pragmatic solution to the dilemma of those already here illegally, the idea that anyone in Central America or anyone else has the right to simply storm the border or sneak in and then demand legal status is neither logical nor a sustainable argument.

After all, why should those who have arrived here illegally recently be put at the head of the line of those seeking entry to the country by legal means? What gives Vargas or anyone else the right to flout the law without ever having to face the consequences?

If there is to be immigration reform it must, as the bipartisan Senate coalition that passed a reform bill last year realized, be part of a scheme that secures the border and restores order to the current chaos. But if Vargas and other illegals are determined to demand that illegals be given the right to enter with impunity, all reform will accomplish will be a repeat of the failed Reagan-era experiment in which amnesty was followed by another wave of illegals.

Yet by highlighting people like Vargas, immigration advocates are sending a signal that what they want is a situation in which the border will be erased and the laws, whether they are tough or more liberal, will be rendered meaningless. After all, at some point we will have new laws that will theoretically have to be enforced even if they are preceded by giving a pass to those who have already broken the law.

Vargas was released quickly and I doubt he will ever be deported. But if immigration reform is ever to succeed it won’t be by telling Americans that laws are irrelevant.

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