Canadian pop star Justin Bieber drew media attention today for his arrest on charges of driving under the influence, driving with an expired license, and resisting arrest, with numerous outlets comparing his possible but unlikely deportation with that of the nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants deported under the Obama administration. But Bieber has little in common with the typical deportee and should not be used as an example for reforming the immigration system.
In a post on the case, The New York Times wrote that if Bieber "were poor, obscure and, say, Hispanic," "you'd expect him to be sitting in a holding cell awaiting a one-way trip out of the country." The post continued:
It's just worth pointing out that apart from the humor value of the traffic bust, which followed closely on the heels of Mr. Bieber's infamous neighbor-egging caper, it is in a small way emblematic of the capricious, unbalanced and racially charged way in which immigration policy is conceived and enforced in this country.
The Times added that the "answer is not to treat all immigrants equally badly and deport Mr. Bieber" but that it "is to stop pretending that deportation -- which punishes hard working people but not their employer-enablers -- is an effective tool for dealing with our immigration problems."
Even Fox News, not known for its warm and fuzzy feelings toward immigrants, commented that Bieber "now could be at risk of becoming one of the highest profile immigrants to ever get kicked out of the United States" if he is indeed convicted of those charges. Correspondent Anna Kooiman added: "What will the tweens do then?"
However Bieber, also under investigation on felony charges for vandalism, is hardly the typical face of the immigration reform system. While it's notable for media to debate the shortcomings of deportation policy in light of Bieber's arrest, his case has no overlap with the majority who are deported, many for lesser offenses.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bieber is in the country on an O-1 nonimmigrant visa, reserved for "the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements." (Though his citizenship was listed as "USA" on his arrest report, it was reportedly a "typo" and has since been corrected.)
The most current data from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the United States issued about 10,500 such visas to foreign nationals in 2012, with another 8,000 issued to their assistants and immediate family. This is out of nearly 9 million nonimmigrant visas issued in 2012. The largest percentage of O-1 visas went to British citizens: current notables include CNN host Piers Morgan and footballer David Beckham and his wife Victoria.
The Miami Herald reported on the Beckhams' visa applications in 2006 (via Nexis):
Hader is the former general attorney for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in the late '80s with extensive ties to the international legal community. He met Beckham a couple of years ago through fellow lawyer connections in England. In May he escorted the Beckhams and their small entourage to the U.S. embassy in Madrid to retrieve their visas. The embassy received the Beckhams during off hours, when the building is not open to the public.
''The American consulate is very accommodating of the needs that high-profile celebrities have,'' Hader says.
State Department officials interviewed the Beckham group about the intent of their visit and duration of stay, part of stepped-up security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In this case, the interview was mostly formality. Weeks before Hader had arranged payment of a $1,000 premium processing fee per visa application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This was on top of the basic $190 per person application fee.
Hader declined to say what he charges. However, immigration lawyers say the fees for helping a celebrity client obtain a visa range from $5,000 to $15,000.
Without the additional payment, the approval could have taken three months or more. With the payment, CIS returned Beckham's approval within 15 days.
Canadian model Jayde Nicole, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, is reportedly also a recipient.
By contrast, only about 10 percent of immigrants who face deportation are legal permanent residents. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, nearly 369,000 immigrants were deported in fiscal year 2013 -- 41 percent of whom had no criminal conviction.
Immigration attorney David Leopold, the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, put it this way in a statement to Media Matters:
Bieber and other "extraordinary" noncitizens are the beneficiaries of a very elite visa available in practice only to those who have reached the pinnacle of their careers--and, in most cases, the riches that come with it. They stand in a very different position from immigrants who toil anonymously in the fields dreaming of the day the U.S. House of Representatives will see fit to create a path to earned legal immigration status.
To conflate, as some have, Justin Bieber's privileged immigration status, and the specter of deportation that comes with his behavior, with the havoc wreaked upon this country by a twisted immigration policy, disrespects the hard working, law abiding aspiring Americans living in the shadows and longing to earn their way into the American Dream.
Leopold also stated: "Justin Beiber may be a teen heartthrob, but his recent arrest for drunk driving, drag racing and resisting arrest is not likely to make him the celebrity face of the immigration reform movement. Nor should it."
In its "insignificant breaking news" segment, Fusion satirically noted that Bieber enjoys a sort of "celebrity diplomatic immunity" that the near majority of immigrants in the United States simply don't have.
In a post titled, "Why We Can't Just Deport Bieber," Time political reporter Zeke Miller knocked down the comparison between Bieber's case and that of undocumented immigrants in this country and wrote:
The difference, of course, is in the documents.
Bieber resides in the U.S. on an O-1 visa, which is reserved for "individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry."
By contrast, undocumented workers can be arrested and deported with minimal due process of the law. The Obama administration has said it is trying to better utilize government resources with prosecutorial discretion, to focus deportations on those here illegally who have been charged with crimes.