STERN: Having a heart about illegal immigration

Remember Rick Perry? That tough-talking, gun-slinging, boot-wearing, job-creating machine from the Lone Star State? It turns out things haven’t been going too well for him. First he mumbled his way through the GOP debates, managing to sound loopier than even Michele “The MMR Vaccine Causes Autism” Bachmann. Then there were revelations about his unfortunately named hunting camp. Then he completely forgot one of the three branches of government he plans to cut. (Oops.) These were all minor scandals caused either by Perry’s ineptitude or by things beyond his control.

But in the middle of Perry’s disaster-strewn campaign (otherwise known as Jon Stewart’s dream come true) was another minor scandal that wasn’t caused by ineptitude or an unfortunate family vacation choice. It was a scandal in which Perry was absolutely right, yet still managed to insult potential voters and then immediately back down.

In the Sept. 22 GOP debate, Perry defended his decision to provide in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants, saying that those who disagree with him “don’t have a heart.” Ouch. The Republican establishment was shocked and jilted. In the next few days, Perry’s rivals tried to capitalize on his comment. Rick Santorum called Perry “soft on illegal immigration” and Michele Bachmann said, “We need a president who will enforce our laws and our borders.” A few days after that, Perry gave an interview in which he stood by his policy, but claimed he regretted the “don’t have a heart” statement.

Two months later, it looks like Rick Perry is well on his way to making a blustering exit from the race for the Republican nomination. I will miss his gaffes, if not his candor. But his departure or defeat or slow fade into the second tier will leave a Republican field missing one of its few sensible voices on benefits for illegal immigrants. To be clear, I’m not calling Rick Perry sensible on the broader issue of immigration — he supported the Arizona immigration bill, for example — but on this one particular facet of this one particular issue, Perry made sense.

The Texas law he defended provides benefits only to immigrants who have been in Texas for more than three years and have been accepted at an accredited university. Altogether, these illegal immigrants account for only 1 percent of Texas college students, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The bill was passed in 2001 with 177 out of 181 votes, and it “created a national movement,” according to The Dallas Morning News.

As Perry put it, “Are we going to have tax wasters or tax payers?” Are we going to callously force the best and brightest illegal immigrants — many of whom were brought here involuntarily as children — to remain unskilled their whole lives, or are we going to give them the chance to better themselves, to become productive members of society?

I started thinking about all of this when I received a save-the-date email about “An Evening Conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas” hosted by Yale Law School. Vargas is the perfect example of why a program like Perry’s is absolutely necessary for American college students.

In a startling essay published this summer, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” Vargas described how he was brought to the United States from the Philippines at age 12 and had to forge and finagle his way into college. Through a series of lucky breaks and with the help of friends and hard work, Vargas paid for college. He graduated and went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Vargas is the perfect example of what an intelligent person can accomplish, even if he is guilty of the sin of having been brought here — illegally, though he didn’t know it — as a child. With the benefit of in-state tuition, Vargas’s struggle — and those of countless others like him — could have been that much easier.

Perry’s program doesn’t even provide a path for citizenship, and it is certainly not comparable to the DREAM Act. It just provides in-state tuition to the most promising of illegal immigrants. It is the sparsest, most meager benefit to students who have overcome so much just to get into college. It will help all of us in the long run, because we will have more educated people and fewer unskilled illegals.

Like it or not, millions of illegal immigrants are here to stay. Why should it be so controversial for Perry to support a program that provides a fraction of them a minute measure of assistance? With just a small amount of help, these immigrants can achieve wonders — as Vargas has. Understanding this doesn’t take a “heart,” as Perry suggests. It just takes a brain.

Scott Stern is a freshman in Branford College. Contact him at


  • The Anti-Yale

    Last week’s New Yorker cover says it all: Hunted Pilgrim men and women sneaking through holes in a chain link fence fleeing in every direction.

  • redman

    Illegal immigrants are stealing benefits every year they reside in this country. A free public education for their kids among them, there is no way they are paying enough taxes to pay for each child at $15,000 per year, so don’t even try that argument.

    Liberals like to mislead people and say that there used to be free immigration but that patently false. Earlier generations of immigrants were given IQ tests and medical exams and were sent back if they failed either. Many families were split up. Countries have a right and a duty to secure their borders.

  • ignatz

    Dear Scott,

    1. Your column is a fine eample of the fallacy of inductive reasoning: One illegal immigrant (Vargas) won a Pulitzer Prize in journalism; “therefore” (???) all illegal immigrants should be forgiven and warmly embraced. This “syllogism” would be invalid even if Vargas had accomplished far more. So your argument is fatally flawed.

    2. In your eagerness to diss Rick Perry, you fail to address any of the substantive concerns with illegal immigration. Your position would have more credibility (or at least some) if you offered actual reasons why we should condone this massive defiance of Federal law and treat the violators as entitled to virtually the same benefits as citizens. Or do you only get enthused about Federal law when it supports a result you personally favor, e.g., school integration or environmetnal protection? So your argument is undercut by your failure to grapple with the substantive issues.

    3. Your final snide comment about “it just takes a brain” suggests that in some sense you are still in high school, where it’s acceptable to use insults and put-downs in place of actual argument. I suggest that you leave behind that habit, which is the hallmark of a lazy mind and an arrogant heart, and hone your skills in persuasive writing.

    • MapleLeaf14

      Oh calm down. He wasn’t saying that Vargas is the only reason that illegal immigrants can accomplish great things. But in a country of often appalling xenophobia, its nice to see a short digression making that point. That was rather good.

      And it’s not “this massive defiance of Federal law.” If you’d been following the news for the last several months, you would know that the Obama administration has decided to stop deporting exactly the sort of people who would benefit from in-state tuition.

      The point is that it costs next to nothing (in the grand scheme of things), helps only most qualified, aids only those brought here as children, and makes fiscal sense.

      Go back to Arizona or Alabama or wherever.

      • Norski

        Actually, it only helps business drive down wages. For example, per PRNewswire: “Prior to the recession, the National Science Foundation estimated that there were between 4.3 million and 5.8 million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs in the U.S. for some 16.6 million workers with degrees in those fields. As a result, nearly two-thirds of native-born workers with degrees in science and engineering are working in careers outside their field of training.”

  • desch

    @redman Actually, most undocumented migrants end up using fake social security numbers to hold jobs… which means in many cases they end up paying taxes through falsified documents. I am a liberal and I never pretended that there was free immigration in this country. A few examples of racist immigration laws in this country include the Immigration law of 1924 and the Chinese Exclusion Act to look back on. (Funny how that is, no? We tried to exclude Chinese immigrants and today we recruit from China in our schools, work places and industries.)

    I dont disagree with the country’s right to “secure and defend the border.” But I dont think that is what Stern is saying here. Immigration reform means going beyond border control, which is what most of his article is about.

  • Norski

    Telling only one side of the story and ignoring the other amounts to propaganda. Because this Author is a freshman and thus lacks worldly experience maybe he can be forgiven for only seeing part of the picture. But he totally misses the impact Illegal Immigration is having on American Citizens and Legal Immigrants. For Instance:

    A Pew study “estimated that illegal immigrants fill a quarter of all agricultural jobs, 17 percent of office and house cleaning positions, 14 percent of construction jobs and 12 percent in food preparation.”

    Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics Unemployment Report of November 4, 2011:

    Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations = 14.5% Unemployment
    Construction and extraction occupations = 14.2% Unemployment
    Transportation, material moving occupations = 10.2% Unemployment
    Service occupations = 9.9% Unemployment
    Production occupations = 9.6% Unemployment

    And if you add in the people that the USBLS does not count the real unemployment rates are 46% higher than above. And that does not count unemployed people who could move to these jobs from other industries.

    Per IPC and Pew Studies the majority of Illegal Immigrants work in lower paying and entry level type jobs.

    Per the USBLS, the unemployment rate for American White Men and Women less than 20 years old is 21.9%. For Hispanic Americans in this age group the unemployment rate is 31.0%. For Black Americans this age the unemployment rate is 35.4%.

    Total Americans looking for work = 20 million.
    Total Illegal Immigrants working = 7 million.
    Estimated cost of Unemployment and Welfare Payments to 7 million unemployed Americans = $100 billion.
    IPC estimated tax contribution of Illegal Immigrants = $11 Billion.
    Net cost of Illegal Immigration to each American working Taxpayer = $640 Per Year.
    And that does not even begin to address the other incremental Taxpayer costs associated with illegally residing in the USA.

    Illegal Immigration is a classic lose-lose scenario. Either the Illegal Immigrant works and the American Citizen loses or the Illegal Immigrant loses and is deported and the American Citizen works. Forgetting the American Worker and glorifying the Illegal Immigrant is simply biased.

    • MapleLeaf14

      That’s not what this column is about at all…

      • Norski

        There are none so blind as those who choose not to see.

  • Norski

    Per this opinion piece “Understanding this doesn’t take a “heart,” as Perry suggests. It just takes a brain.”

    It also takes a brain to understand that whether it is a risk taking Wall Streeter who crashes the system, or a fat cat Washington insider becoming a millionaire off the Taxpayer, or someone whose defining characteristic is being able to successfully scam the system and get away with living illegally in the USA for 20 years, Americans don’t like it and want the perpetrators punished. We are sick of people trying to carve out personal preference. Claiming that it hurts or does not do justice to the occasional Jose Vargas is just using people as human shields. Not guilty because he or she is special is an injustice to everyone else.

    Why is it always a one way street when it comes to Illegal Immigration? Love and compassion must go only one way? Love and compassion is demanded for the person breaking the law, yet there is no love and compassion for the poor American forced out of work. No love and compassion for the poor Taxpayer forced to pay for it all. No love and compassion for the victim of identity theft. No love and compassion for the lost green space and the animals that populate it as we sacrifice it on the altar of explosive population growth. Where is the love and compassion? Lost in the narcissistic scramble for personal preference. Love for oneself and what one can take from others is not the epitome of compassion. Whether it be a thieving Wall Street Executive or someone breaking the law to live in the USA illegally fairness demands that they all be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    What to do about Illegal Immigration is the great Civil Rights issue of our day. But not in the way you think. Stopping Illegal Immigration and rolling it back is all about protecting an American’s right to work without fear of being replaced by Illegal Workers ON THEIR OWN SOIL.

  • River_Tam

    Sigh. I just don’t get why an illegal immigrant in Texas should receive in-state tuition over a similarly impoverished out-of-state *legal* immigrant.

    If resources were infinite, then yes, I’d like to pay for the tuition of illegal immigrants (and everyone! everyone gets a tuition break!), but until then, illegal immigrants should not get benefits not given to legal immigrants.

  • jinjdkla

    NO NO NO. I want legal immigrants who currently do not get in-state tuitions to receive them. I know plenty of people who came to the US legally, are on E-2 visas or H-1 Visas, but cannot pay tuition for their children because the state deems them as “internationals” on financial aid and tuitions. This is the gross injustice, not the higher tuition to illegal immigrants.

    Furthermore, the doors to legal immigration must be more open. Things like H-1 visas should have higher quotas, and let people who want to come to the US, and want to do it legally, actually succeed. In the current immigration system it is those who follow the rules who are actually ignored and are marginalized. I know people who came to the US legally but never got green cards. Despite having been accepted to great colleges some were forced to go to Community colleges to try to transfer while working other jobs to pay for their own education. This is the main immigration problem, where legal immigrants face more hardship than a lot of other illegals.

    • River_Tam


      • jinjdkla

        Seriously as a legal immigrant and a permanent resident of the US, I know a lot of illegal immigrants. I feel for them, and I personally understand why they have done this to get out of their home country, but I do not think we should benefit them over legal immigrants. And nothing grinds my gears more than dumb libtards who defend illegal immigration without even knowing what the status of immigration laws are in this country.

  • ignatz

    But we all digress. Stern’s column wasn’t about grappling with the issues, or about constructive proposals for solving the problem. It was about demeaning a single politician’s stance on the issue (nice way to avoid having defend your own position) and suggesting that true wisdom lies in the “heart.” I guess “having a heart” must also mean excusing a naive and arrogant freshman for inflicting his opinions on the op-ed page. Include me out.

    • Norski

      So – you did not notice the DREAM Act sell job at the end? This seems to have become a philosophical debate beyond the expectations the Author thanks more than anything to the “It takes a brain” comment. But I would submit that “having a heart” as you describe it is fraught with danger.

      To favor the DREAM Act because you feel sorry for Illegal Immigrant young people without also taking into account the effect Illegal Immigration has on the Native Born is really only having a selective “heart”. It requires rationalizing away everything but the sole act that one has defined as “a true act of compassion”.

      Sometimes a “true act of compassion” requires you to do the hard thing. Would you give a bottle of Bourbon to an Alcoholic just because they are thirsty? Would you give a charge card to a Shopaholic because they feel the need to shop?

      Human Beings are capable of rationalizing almost anything into a highest moral imperative. It is easy to read off the roll call of great dictators who have rationalized the most shocking of excess into a semblance of respectability. But to do so they always have to ignore the hurt they perpetuate to the people who are not in their “accepted” circle. Hitler, Stalin, and others just like them also stood up to established law and won. Are we better off for it?

      The road to Hades is as much paved with rationalizations as it is good intentions. Civil disobedience is only a force for positive change if it does not oppress someone else. That is the difference between becoming another Martin Luther King or another Joseph Stalin. You cannot glorify those who break the law while ignoring the hurt caused to those who need the law’s protection. To glorify the Illegal Immigrant while ignoring the impact on American Workers and Taxpayers is to tell only half the story. You cannot claim to “have a heart” just because you favor one group while ignoring the hurt to another group. That is only about playing favorites and playing favorites is to really have no heart at all for those not so favored.

  • MapleLeaf14

    Wow, the comments here have totally deteriorated to personal attacks on the author and weird existential attacks on illegal immigrants. I can’t believe it comes to me to defend this; I didn’t even really agree with every part of the column, but here goes: he wasn’t being naive – who defends Rick Perry? He was trying to captivate an audience. Having drawn them in, Stern told them to help pay a small amount of money in exchange for huge help for a small group of people. This does not mean lowering money one bit for citizens. Jeez…

    • River_Tam

      > This does not mean lowering money one bit for citizens. Jeez…

      Sorry, yes it does. If I pay $10 more in taxes, that $10 could have gone towards a legal immigrant instead of an illegal one. Tradeoffs exist. Asking to fund tuition breaks for illegal immigrants means NOT putting that money towards other causes, including tuition breaks for legal immigrants.

      • MapleLeaf14

        Let’s assume that you are right…that tradeoffs MUST occur. Then it would actually cost each family in the United States less than $10 to pay in-state tuition for all eligible illegal immigrants. (That’s how few there are!) Do you really object to that small a prince? Or are your objections more ideological than financial…Source: Higher Ed Coordinating Board

        • River_Tam

          > Then it would actually cost each family in the United States less than $10 to pay in-state tuition for all eligible illegal immigrants. (That’s how few there are!) Do you really object to that small a prince?

          Well, there are a few things I object to – the first is that a family outside of a state should pay the in-state tuition for another state’s university. So the tax hikes would be higher than $10 for residents of states like Texas and California.

          Second, I object that this is the best use of that $10 increase. Instead, top public universities should offer in-state tuition to foreign residents (ie: *legal* immigrants) and top out-of-state students (ie: *legal* immigrants and citizens) before they offer any to illegal immigrants.

          Third, $10 per household is all it takes? That’s $1 billion (assuming 100 million households, which is what I presume you mean by “families”). The cost of a National Dream Act would be much higher than that ($5 billion, according to a quick search). We’re looking at something like $100+ per tax-paying household.

          Fourth, yes. That is too high of a price to be *demanded* of me to pay for the college education of someone who entered this country illegally. My church does not discriminate on the basis of immigration status, but then again, I give voluntarily to my church and it’s not supposed to be enforcing immigration laws. I’m not engaged in a social contract with my church or with the United Way.

          Fifth, college admission is a zero sum game. I assure you that the families of Texas will be a lot less willing to pay that $10 or $100 tax increase when their son Jorge doesn’t get into UT Austin and an illegal immigrant does.

          • MapleLeaf14

            Just responding to your third point; the others aren’t that relevant. As Stern said a the end of the article, this isn’t the DREAM Act! So $1 billion is all it would take. I can handle $10 per year. Hell, I’d give $20, and cover you…

          • River_Tam

            @MapleLeaf14, if this proposal has support of half the nation, then that half could each give $20 and cover the whole thing, right?

      • Norski

        To MapleLeaf14 – More rationalizations – $10 per Taxpayer cost for DREAM Act eligible Illegal Immigrants? Have you even read any of the versions of the DREAM Act that have been under consideration? ALL of them have been so full of loopholes that each has been estimated by reputable sources to grant amnesty to as many as one third of all Illegal Immigrants. That is over 3 million people. Considering that there are 140 million working taxpayers in the USA, $10 per working taxpayer amounts to $467 per year per DREAM Act eligible person. NO University has that small a difference between In State and Out of State Tuition.

        Furthermore, in the twenty one years from the Simpson-Mazzoli amnesty in 1986 to 2007, the year before the current recession started, here is what has happened to employment in the USA:

        Number of Legal Immigrant Workers arriving per year = 1 million (21 million total)

        Net Native Born Workers added to the workforce per year = 0.5 million (10.5 million total)

        Average yearly Job Creation from 1986 to 2007 = 1.66 million (34.9 million total)

        Number of People unemployed in 1986 = 8.2 million

        Add this all up and the number of unemployment in 2007 should have been 4.8 million. Instead, 11.8 million people where unemployed in 2007. These extra 7 million unemployed people almost exactly equal the 7.2 million Illegal Immigrants that the Pew Center reported as working illegally in the USA. For every illegal immigrant in the USA one American has joined the ranks of the unemployed. And to this day, unemployment is heaviest in the jobs where most Illegal Immigrants work. Illegal Immigration devastates the working lives of millions of now unemployed American Workers.

        A few thousand DREAM Act eligible people would not hurt the American Workforce. Three million DREAM Act eligible people would. It is like the difference between swatting the mosquito on a friend’s forehead with a slap of your hand versus using a hatchet to get the mosquito.

        Chinese Proverb: Do not remove a fly from your friend’s forehead with a hatchet.

        • MapleLeaf14

          Learn to read, Norski. I didn’t say the DREAM Act would take $1 billion. But in-state tuition for those eligible would…

          • Norski

            MapleLeaf14 – Apparently what I have said went right over your head. When is the last time you looked at the financial reports of a typical State supported University. The cost of an education at such Universities is partially supported through Tax Dollars for all In State Tuition Students.

            The Out Of State Tuition rate is supposed to remove the cost of that support. Thus, if someone pays In State Tuition, their education is receiving a Taxpayer subsidy. So if DREAM Act ELIGIBLE Students become eligible for In State Tuition when before they were not, that means that passing the DREAM Act or passing some other law that makes Illegal Immigrants eligible for In State Tuition is giving Illegal Immigrants a taxpayer funded subsidy. No matter how much people want to pretend otherwise, this simple fact is undeniable.

          • MapleLeaf14

            Apparently what I said went over your head too…yes, it may be a taxpayer funded subsidy, but it’s a very cheap one…that’s all I’m sayin’

          • Norski

            In your opinion…

            What about the poor guy making poverty level wages barley able to make ends meet? Don’t you have any compassion for him or her? You may never have been there, but I have. It takes a pretty cold hearted person to take someone’s last $10 and give it to someone who has broken the law and is now demanding In State Tuition. Remember, this type of support comes from State Tax coffers, not Federal. Remember that State Taxes include Sales Tax, which EVERYONE pays, no matter how poor they may be. And in this case, one in seven Americans fall into this area – working for below poverty level wages and hard pressed to cover your idea of a “cheap” subsidy.

          • MapleLeaf14

            Your point may make a little sense rhetorically, but it makes no sense pragmatically. It’s ten freakin’ dollars. As someone who has worked continuously since I was 12, I understand the need to work hard to help one’s family, and I certainly understand wages being tight. But it’s ten freakin’ dollars.

          • Norski

            Where does it stop – ten dollars here and ten dollars there and ten dollars somewhere else and soon it adds up to a billion plus dollars a year spending deficit. And since when has ANY government program EVER cost what it was billed to cost?

            If a ten dollar bill fell out of someone else’s pocket would you tell them or just pick it up, not tell them, and keep it? Whether it is $10 or $10,000 it is THEIR MONEY, not yours. That you feel entitled to define taking ANY money from other people as good just because it is only $10 says a lot about the entitlement mentality and the greed that goes with it. The immorality is not in wanting to keep the money one works hard to earn; the immorality is in those who did not earn it wanting to take it away. According to Occupy Wall Street 99% of the people fall into the category of having worked hard to earn what they have. Yet in your opinion taking money from them is no big deal, so long as you personally do not want to take too much. But if all 300 million people in the USA put their ideas of what should constitute the taking of $10 from Taxpayers into practice the 99% would have nothing of their hard earned money left.

  • edm2012

    and I thought we were liberal…

  • annwoolliams

    It is true what Churchill said…so luckily you ‘left-leaning’ kids are safe til you are forty.
    I am over fifty, have borne children ,sacrificed everything for them and am now completely heartless .
    i think there are 2 choices for the future (that’s you -you lot are the future)

    1) The law is the law. When you want it to be different, become a politician and change the law.
    2) My theory has always been that the people….who insist on other people having free entry ,free jobs and/or free benefits… pay for it personally themselves.
    Stand up for others rights and pay out of your own pockets.
    It is possible to have what you believe in!
    Put your money where your mouth is.
    Set up a site …eg; ‘’ or
    ‘fundsforthetrip throught’ or
    what about ‘’
    and then deposit all YOUR money there.
    Hey it could work!
    What am I saying…of course it will work!!