By Ruben Navarrette, Jr. SAN DIEGO -- Let me say a few words in defense of deporting illegal immigrants. I wouldn't have thought such a defense would be necessary,since being in the United States without proper documents is a crime and the penalty is deportation.But try telling that to the folks in Central California who are experiencing warm and fuzzy feelings for 17-year-old Arthur Mkoyan.
The high school valedictorian in my hometown of Fresno, Calif., studied hard to earn a perfect grade-point average. And, for his hard work, he was admitted to the University of California at Davis, where he planned to study chemistry. Yet, federal immigration authorities had plans of their own: to apprehend the young man and his mother and send them to Armenia. His father has been held in a detention facility in Arizona.
Arthur's 12-year-old brother, a U.S.-born citizen, would have no choice but to also leave. According to The Fresno Bee, Arthur's father came to the United States from the former Soviet Union in December 1991, and sought political asylum. Arthur and his mother joined him a few years later. No one came with the proper documents. And so, when their asylum application was rejected, and their appeals were denied, they were targeted for deportation.
That is as it should be. The law is cut and dried. Fortunately for this family, there is another provision in the law that allows members of Congress to introduce what are rare measures to grant legal status to specific individuals. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein Tuesday introduced a last-minute bill on behalf on Arthur and his parents. Such bills rarely pass, but they can be re-introduced every session and thus have the effect of keeping people in the country for a long time, if not indefinitely. Still, it's a heartbreaking story.
Here you have an all-American kid who hasn't seen Armenia since he was a toddler, and he came close to being shipped off to a country where the people, language and customs are foreign to him. Besides, this is the kind of young person we should want to keep in this country. Say, maybe we can work out a trade. Armenia lets us keep Arthur, and we send a dozen of our lazier, less-productive U.S.-born teenagers who think themselves entitled to the good life but don't want to work to make it happen.
In addition to Feinstein, there were many other people who went to bat for Mkoyan -- from Armenian advocacy groups to Republican Rep. George Radanovich, who represents part of the Central Valley and has many Armenian constituents. There was also plenty of support for the young man on the Internet and on talk radio. I said the same thing six years ago when a similar story surfaced. In August 2002, The Denver Post ran a front-page story about Jesus Apodaca, a recent high school graduate with a 3.93 grade-point average who wanted to go to the University of Colorado but couldn't afford the tuition – because he was an illegal immigrant.
In Colorado, the undocumented have to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which are higher than those for residents. A member of Congress involved himself in that case as well, albeit in a different capacity. Anti-illegal immigration crusader Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., called what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service and asked them what they were planning to do about Apodaca. The young man and his family were apprehended and slated for deportation. That won applause from many immigration hard-liners.
Another private immigration bill, proposed by Democratic Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, offered a reprieve in that case. But here's the part that bothers me: I wonder why more immigration restrictionists -- including Tancredo -- didn't make more of a fuss over Arthur Mkoyan. The fact is, Apodaca didn't get nearly the amount of public sympathy that Mkoyan received. Why the double standard? I believe it's because, while Mkoyan may not have a leg to stand on legally, he at least has the benefit of not being Mexican.
Much of the immigration debate is fueled by a fear of a changing culture, competing languages, an altered landscape, and what loopy Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist calls the "colonization" of the United States by Mexican immigrants. Arthur Mkoyan isn't considered a party to any of that. For some people, that makes all the difference. And, in some respects, that's the saddest thing about these stories.
(c) 2008, The San Diego Union-Tribune