The current immigration crisis has resulted in many a sad, strange spectacle, but ABC News White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl's question at Wednesday's daily briefing was mainly just strange. Shaking up his current events dice in a Yahtzee! cup, Karl decided to ask White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest who has a better chance of being deported: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, or the 52,000 Central American children who have fled murder to cross the United States' southern border.
Vargas, perhaps the most famously undocumented American of all time, was detained in Texas yesterday while attempting to return home from covering the situation at the border. "He's been released now, with a promise to appear at a hearing," Karl said, and added,
"Given that you, at this podium, and others in the administration have said that the undocumented children that have come over the border are likely to be sent home, who is more likely to be deported, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mr. Vargas, or these children that are fleeing dangerous circumstances back in Central America?"
Earnest obviously declined to comment on Vargas' case, but replied that the administration is "committed to making sure that those children from Central America get the due process to which they are entitled," and that each claim would be determined by an immigration judge.
However, the extent of the due process these kids will be entitled to is still an open question, as the Cuellar/Cornyn bill seeks to strip away many of the protections that these kids are granted under the 2008 anti-trafficking law that sets out different rules for children from countries other than Mexico and Canada.
There has been reporting to suggest the White House is open to this legislation, but publicly, the White House has walked the line between reassuring immigration hawks that the law will be followed, and protecting the due process rights of those with legitimate claims to asylum. Someone is being faked out here, and time will tell who that is, but elsewhere in the briefing, Earnest put what appeared to be a fairly bright red mark in the "due process" column.
CNN's Jim Acosta asked Earnest, point blank, if the administration considers these kids refugees, and Earnest's reply seemed to leave little room for the Cuellar/Cornyn bill's stripping of rights for these kids:
"In the view of this White House, an immigration judge should make the determination about whether someone qualifies for refugee status. That's certainly not a declaration I'd be willing to make from here."
That view would seem incompatible with a "streamlined" process that forced judges to decide on claims within 72 hours, without a right to have access to representation, one which would likely become a rubber-stamp deportation machine. On the other hand, we've learned that the definition of "due process" can be maddeningly elastic.
The correct answer to Karl's question, in my view and the views of normal people with actual hearts, is that neither Vargas, who has known no other home than the United States, and these children, who undertook a desperate journey to escape an even more desperate situation, should be deported.