Lou Dobbs has long been notorious for his attacks on and misinformation about immigrants; he has associated with an organization designated as a "hate group" for its anti-immigrant rhetoric. Dobbs continued this pattern in a June 22 interview on his Fox Business show with activist Jose Antonio Vargas -- a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is also an undocumented immigrant.
Dobbs' bluster during the segment was matched only by both his obliviousness to the facts of the immigration debate. (Earlier this week, Dobbs couldn't be bothered to learn even a basic fact about the Obama administration's recent announcement that it will stop deporting some younger undocumented immigrants.)
Vargas discussed the DREAM Act and the challenges facing immigrants who, like him, were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Dobbs repeatedly suggested that undocumented immigrants should just come out of the shadows and apply for citizenship. He failed to understand that the point of the current debate is that they can't.
Early in the interview, Dobbs suggested it's an "oversight" on Vargas' part that he hasn't "applied for citizenship":
VARGAS: So, we have, in this country, about 12 million undocumented people who want to be able to come forward --
DOBBS: I think that's great. Then come forward.
VARGAS: OK. Great.
DOBBS: Because we've got 13 guest-worker programs by which you can enter. We have how many federal programs that you've applied to for citizenship.
VARGAS: Well, actually, I haven't applied for any --
DOBBS: You haven't applied.
VARGAS: No, because I --
DOBBS: Well, isn't that sort of an oversight on your part?
VARGAS: No, actually, sir, it is not.
Dobbs later said: "I don't understand the problem here. You have an opportunity to become citizens. Do it."
Dobbs is wrong: undocumented immigrants like Vargas do not "have an opportunity to become citizens." As Vargas told Dobbs, there "isn't a system for somebody like" him. That is the whole purpose of the DREAM Act: to create a legal pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Next, Dobbs tried to erase the Republican obstructionism that prevented the DREAM Act from passing in 2010. Even as Vargas tried to point out that Senate Republicans blocked the bill, Dobbs thundered that Obama "didn't do a damn thing":
VARGAS: The Republicans in Congress, who have been in some ways obstructionists in this issue --
DOBBS: Who? Who?
VARGAS: Now, remember, it was 36 Republican senators who voted against the DREAM Act in 2010.
DOBBS: A partisan illegal immigrant. This is wild. Keep going.
VARGAS: Oh, no, no. I'm not trying to be partisan. I'm just trying to remember my history. But, by the way, Mr. Dobbs, if I may call you that --
DOBBS: How about the Democratic president who hasn't delivered on his campaign promise?
VARGAS: Because the Congress wouldn't let him do it.
DOBBS: He -- excuse me? He had a Democratic Congress for two years.
VARGAS: The same Congress that the Senate -- the 36 Republican senators in Congress voted against the DREAM Act.
DOBBS: Oh, I'm sorry. Wait a minute. I'm confused.
DOBBS: Because I may not understand the math. He had a majority in the House --
VARGAS: In the House. And the House passed --
DOBBS: Excuse me. Forgive me. You really don't want to waste your time --
VARGAS: Oh, no --
DOBBS: -- arguing reality. The fact is that he had a majority in the Senate, a majority in the House and didn't do a damn thing. Why do you have -- is there some partisan thing welling up in you that doesn't let you accept those facts?
Vargas is correct. Because Democrats did not hold a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the DREAM Act was stopped by Republican obstructionism several times in 2010. In September 2010, Republicans blocked the DREAM Act as part of a defense bill. And in December 2010, Senate Republicans "doomed" a weeks-long effort to pass the DREAM Act, as the Associated Press reported at the time:
Senate Republicans yesterday doomed an effort that would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status if they enrolled in college or joined the military.
Sponsors of the Dream Act fell five votes short of the 60 they needed to break through largely GOP opposition and win its enactment before Republicans take over the House and narrow Democrats' majority in the Senate next month.
In addition to having little respect for the facts, Dobbs seemed to have even less respect for his guest, at times talking down to Vargas. When Vargas interjected the word "undocumented" in response to Dobbs' use of the word "illegal," Dobbs was taken aback: "I'm sorry? You want to challenge my language? You use the language you wish; I will mine. Because you know what? The country you want to be a citizen of is a free country. That gives me the right to express myself as I wish and you, without interruption." Later, Dobbs went further, calling the debate over those terms "nonsense" and saying: "You want to have radical discussions about -- you know, Saul Alinsky tactics about controlling language. Accept the language, because it's going to be the language of this country no matter what you think. English. It's going to be straightforward, plainspoken."
It's unclear why Dobbs felt the need to tell a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to "accept" that the language of the U.S. is "English." But it's long been clear that the terms "illegals" and "illegal immigrants" are offensive to the immigrant community: even Fox reported (on its Fox News Latino site) that "almost half of Latino voters" find the term "illegal immigrant" offensive. So it isn't "nonsense" for Vargas to challenge Dobbs' terminology.
Dobbs also attacked Vargas for noting that illegal immigrants have paid billions in taxes -- "Why do you brag about [paying taxes]?" "Why did you bring it up?" -- and then ended the interview by all but stomping on Vargas' olive branch:
VARGAS: I would love to figure out how -- how you and I, in a conversation, right, and this is what we're doing at Define American -- to have a conversation where we can find a solution. Where we can meet halfway. Where we find, as you said --
DOBBS: We're not going to meet halfway.
VARGAS: Yes. Yes, we will. We will meet halfway.
DOBBS: No, no, no. We're not going to meet halfway. That isn't going to happen. This is not a negotiation. We're a nation of laws. We are a nation of sovereign borders. We are a compassionate and welcoming nation. And where we're going to meet will be at that frontier of American values -- that you want to embrace. You want to be an American, right?
VARGAS: That I do embrace. I do embrace them.
DOBBS: So there's no compromise. Be an American. Embrace America and everything we stand for. And leave the bull wherever that shadow was that you were once in.
You're going to enjoy out in the bright light. It's a great country, don't you think?
VARGAS: It's a beautiful country.