Some Illegal Immigrants Are More Illegal Than Others

With apologies to Will Rogers, there are a lot of folks back in my native Central California who never met an illegal immigrant they liked.

That is, until recently. Many residents of Fresno, CA are experiencing warm and fuzzy feelings for 17-year-old illegal immigrant and high school valedictorian Arthur Mkoyan. Until a few days ago, Arthur was slated for deportation back to his native Armenia along with his parents. You see, all three are illegal immigrants. The family also includes Arthur’s 12-year-old brother, a U.S.-born citizen who the family had planned to take with them if forced to leave the country.

According to the Fresno Bee, Arthur’s father came to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1991, and sought political asylum. Arthur and his mother joined him a few years later. When the family’s asylum application was rejected, and their appeals in court were denied, the U.S. government began deportation proceedings.

The family was granted an extension of the deportation order so that Arthur could attend his graduation from high school; that extension was to expire on June 20th.

By now, the family would be on their way out of the country. If not for one thing: Fresno has a sizable and powerful Armenian community, and this became a cause celebre. Armenian groups pressured local politicians. There was also support for the young man on talk radio and the Internet.

But what the family really needed was for someone in Congress to introduce a rare private immigration bill to grant legal status to Arthur and his parents. This week, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced such a bill. While not likely to pass, the legislation can be re-introduced each year. And the deportation process is frozen until Congress resolves the matter. So the bill has the effect of keeping Arthur and his parents in the United States indefinitely.

That’s good news for the family and their supporters. And, in a way, it makes good sense. Here you have an all-American kid who hasn’t seen Armenia since he was a toddler. He doesn’t belong there. Besides, these are precisely the kind of young people we should want to keep -- and not export.

But is it good for the country, and good for the integrity of our immigration laws?

I don’t think so. I think Arthur and his parents should be deported. After all, I have to be consistent. I said the same thing in 2002 about Jesus Apodaca, an honors student in Denver, who also faced deportation and also got a legislative reprieve -- from Democratic Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Another member of Congress tried to push Apodaca out of the country and all but pack his bags. Anti-illegal immigration crusader Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-CO, pressured the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport Apodaca. Tancredo was cheered on at the time by anti-immigration hardliners, who fret there are too many Mexicans in the United States having too big impact on the culture and language.

Those groups were uncharacteristically silent about the scofflaw Arthur Mkoyan. And I suspect that many of the same folks in the Central Valley who have been demanding mercy for this young man, six years ago, had very little to offer another.

There should be one standard in these cases, and it should based on the law and the individual circumstances -- and not influenced by nativism, prejudice or cultural hysteria.

Consider the email I received from a reader spelling out the differences between Armenian and Mexican immigrants while insisting that “we have more than we can stand” of the latter. She even made up a list of 15 ways in which Armenians were not like Mexicans. My favorite: “Armenians don’t eat foods that produce large amounts of intestinal gases.” Personally, I think that lady is full of beans.

So congratulations, Arthur. The law may not have been on your side. But, in the minds of many of your supporters, you had at least one thing going for you: You aren’t Mexican.

Good for you.