Immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas — a gay man, undocumented immigrant, and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist — lambasted a conservative think tank’s immigration study during an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show Thursday night.
“I think the Heritage Foundation owes undocumented people like me a platform,” said Vargas, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 12, brought by his family and not realizing he was undocumented until much later. The foundation this week released a study saying providing a path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants would cost $6.3 trillion over their lifetimes.
What’s more, one of the study’s authors, Heritage Foundation staffer Jason Richwine, turned out to have written in his 2009 Harvard doctoral dissertation that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than native-born whites, and their descendants will have lower IQs for generations. Richwine has also written articles that appear on a white supremacist website, Maddow reported. She noted that the foundation has tried to minimize Richwine’s role in the study, dismissing him as a number-cruncher, but she pointed out that he is a senior policy analyst for Heritage. (Update: Richwine has resigned. Also, there is a Change.org petition calling on Heritage president Jim DeMint, a former U.S. senator, to leave the group.)
Vargas observed that the Heritage study ignores the financial contributions undocumented immigrants make to the nation. “Numbers hide as much as they reveal,” he said, and he cited the Immigration Policy Center’s report that “people like me paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2010.”
He also said he is trying to see the Heritage report as an opportunity. “I’m trying to look at it as an opportunity where every conservative and every Republican in this country will say, 'We do not agree with that. We do not stand by that report. We want an actual fair, commonsense solution to a problem.’”
Today, following the announcement of Richwine’s resignation, Vargas released the following statement: “Racism and xenophobia have no place in the debate on immigration reform, period. I hope this is a lesson for all sides that what the public is looking for is a fair and honest debate on immigration reform, not long discredited racial theories designed divide us rather than unite us.”
Watch the Maddow segment below; Vargas comes in shortly after the 15-minute mark, but before that Maddow provides a good deal of information on the Heritage study and the white supremacist movement.