If Cesar Vargas ever becomes a military lawyer, the terrorists will have already won. Or so says Dave Brat, the Virginia Republican who beat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary contest a little less than a year ago. Brat says people such as Vargas represent nothing less than the decline of Western civilization.
Vargas' parents brought him to the United States from Mexico more than a quarter-century ago, when he was 5. He went to school, then to college, and then to law school, making honor lists along the way. He interned with the New York Supreme Court. When the court considered his application to join the bar, it rated his performance "stellar." But his status as an unauthorized resident alien got in his way.
Vargas aspired to join the military. "This country has given me so much, I do want to be able to give back," he recently told NPR. A provision in the latest defense-authorization bill would have taken a small—very small—step toward letting him. It would have expressed the sense of Congress that the Pentagon should study the question of whether unlawfully present immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children should be allowed to enlist in the armed forces someday.
Cue the exploding heads.
When they discovered the provision, conservative Republicans threatened to derail the entire $612 billion defense measure. Brat, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, and a couple dozen others cranked out an amendment to strip it from the bill, which passed easily. Brat trumpeted the victory in a misleading news release. The House cut language "that encouraged the U.S. armed forces to recruit illegal immigrants," it claimed—leaving the impression the Pentagon would have set up recruitment offices along the Rio Grande to sign up fence-jumping farm workers.
Last week Brat appeared on the John Fredericks talk-radio show. Fredericks blasted the idea of letting undocumented immigrants serve in the military. "What's going on out there?" he asked. As noted by Lowell Feld of the blog Blue Virginia, Brat served up a reply for the ages.
"What's going on is the decline of Western Civilization at the highest level," Brat said. (Not just any level—the highest level.) "I think everybody knows their old Roman history; part of the reason Rome fell was because they started hiring the barbarians in, otherwise known as the Germans at the time, to be troops in their own army, and that led to their eventual downfall."
The 7th District representative went on to say that during floor debates some had suggested the willingness of immigrants to serve in the military showed a certain degree of patriotism. "I wanted to stand up and shout, I mean ISIS is willing to serve in our military as well."
Honor-list law school graduates who've clerked for state courts, religious psychopaths who've slit the throats of infidels—they're pretty much the same, right? Eisenhower built roads. Hitler built roads. Eisenhower and Hitler were no different either, when you think about it.
Immigration hard-liners, including Brat, insist their objections have nothing to do with immigration per se; they object only to the unlawful kind. We have two good reasons to doubt them. First, about 1 million aliens legally enter the U.S. each year. If legal status alone is the problem, then immigration hawks should be willing to admit far more—5 million or even 10 million a year, say. If they are not, then the distinction between legal and illegal immigration is just a smokescreen.
Second, we are now hearing Republicans suggest the U.S. might need tighter limits on legal immigration. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker already has said so. And though Brat claims he has "never said I am against legal immigration," he has said things that leave a distinctly different impression. In an interview last year, Brat told another radio host that skilled immigrants also should stay home: "The best thing for the home country is to end the political corruption there and so we shouldn't take the very people, the high skilled Ph.D.s and masters out of the home country, they need to stay there, take care of the political corruption and dictators back home, so we can all trade and get rich together."
Brat makes a big deal out of being an economist who "understands that a free and growing economy is necessary" for jobs and prosperity. But he has voiced doubts about the same fast-track trade authority every president since Roosevelt has had, and he wants to erect high barriers at the border to the free flow and exchange of labor. Granted, that will keep potential terrorists like Vargas from blowing up military bases. No word yet on how Brat plans to stop U.S. citizens and military veterans like Nidal Hasan and Timothy McVeigh.