The Spectacle Blog

Does Illegal Immigrant Sob Story Reveal White House State Dinner Security Flap?

By on 6.23.11 | 10:23AM

Jose Antonio Vargas's article in the New York Times Magazine is a perfect, heart-rending story of the difficulties faced by illegal immigrants who strive to assimilate into the American dream -- but it's also a tale of the potential dangers of a fissured immigration policy and how forged documents have helped someone gain access to the White House.*

Vargas begins with a story all too familiar to me, because it's what happened to my own father when he was 12, being sent away from a poor mountain village to seek out better economic fortunes:

One August morning nearly two decades ago, my mother woke me and put me in a cab. She handed me a jacket. "Baka malamig doon" were among the few words she said. ("It might be cold there.") When I arrived at the Philippines' Ninoy Aquino International Airport with her, my aunt and a family friend, I was introduced to a man I'd never seen. They told me he was my uncle. He held my hand as I boarded an airplane for the first time. It was 1993, and I was 12.

Eventually, Vargas arrives in the United States, assimilates, and realizes that through no fault of his own, he is actually an illegal immigrant. His family just wanted what every other family wants for their kids, except they had to go through extraordinary means to do it: Provide him with a better shot at having a good, prosperous life.

Peppered throughout Vargas's piece are instances in which a person with less integrity, or even more vulnerability, could have posed a real threat -- most notably when he uses falsified records to gain entry to, of all places, the White House:

I visited the White House, where I interviewed senior aides and covered a state dinner - and gave the Secret Service the Social Security number I obtained with false documents.

A state dinner. That means not just our own president, but other world leaders were at this event, and that the Secret Service ran his Social Security number and came up with no criminal record.

A spokesman from the Secret Service explained to me on the phone how the check doesn't actually verify legal status but it does check his specific criminal record associated with the Social Security number he needed for work. But doesn't that just mean that someone would have had to jump through a few extra hoops (replete with forged documents) to obtain his own Social Security number and have an entirely new identity? (This would also mean that it's not just illegal immigrants that could do this, but either way, it's a security hole.)

And while it's clear that Vargas posed no threat (he also passed through a metal detector, was surrounded by security, and added underwent records checks), even the Salahis' innocuous incursion into a state dinner bore some investigation. It may be worth understanding how a person who uses falsified documents to obtain a social security number gets cleared to access the White House.

Things like this seem less likely to happen with all the heightened security in Washington and America at large -- but apparently they do. Restrictionists and open borders advocates alike should look to this and realize just how much our laws do and do not do to prevent people from doing certain things -- Vargas laments that his poor documentation prevented him from going to Japan, Switzerland, or Mexico, but he sure as heck was able to cover the campaign trail and a state dinner.

Is that what our immigration policy is set up to do? Prevent our illegals from hitting the Swiss Alps?

The criminality of Vargas's benign conduct -- routinely using forged documents -- is ameliorated only because Vargas happens to be an apparently benign person. It's reminiscent of Frank Abagnale in Catch Me If You Can -- if Abagnale were a terrorist, it would be an entirely different movie. 

*Salacious lede. Stick with me.

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