Fox News host Tucker Carlson engaged immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas in a spirited debate over immigration late Tuesday evening that devolved into an argument of whether it was OK to call someone "illegal" if they lived in the United States illegally.
Vargas, whose parents sent him to live illegally in the United States from the Philippines when he was 12 years old, has become something of a national celebrity in immigration activist circles for repeatedly going on television to openly declare that he is an illegal immigrant. His appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show went decidedly differently from a number of past interviews Vargas has done, in which he was virtually fawned over by the host.
Carlson first asked Vargas to imagine how the Philippines would handle illegal immigrants coming into their country and demanding to be treated a certain way, and after Vargas couldn't give him a direct answer, Carlson pushed Vargas to clarify what his argument was specifically about enforcing immigration laws.
"You're making the case, in effect, that the U.S. doesn't have a right to say to people who are here illegally, 'You're not allowed to be here,'" Carlson said.
Vargas responded, "The country has a right to define and defend its borders. But at the same time, we have a right to ask harder questions of ourselves about 'why are people coming here?'"
He then went on offense: "Tucker, do you think that I came to this country so you can beat me up and call me 'illegal and criminal' on national television? Do you think that's what I want?"
Responding to Carlson's laughter, Vargas went on to argue that the underlying problem is not that people are coming here illegally, but that they are stigmatized by people calling them "illegal immigrants."
"When you call people criminals ... words matter here," Vargas said. "How do you legalize people you call illegal? You don't — you call them illegal, end of conversation."
Carlson pointed out the contradictions in his argument, telling Vargas he was arguing that the country has a right to enforce immigration laws, but that people living in the United States illegally shouldn't be referred to as "illegal." Vargas answered that being here illegally was a civil offense, not a criminal offense, so they shouldn't be called criminals.
Carlson appeared incredulous as he listened to Vargas' argument, while Vargas, visibly irritated, accused Carlson of "not dealing in facts." After Carlson attempted to get a straight answer out of Vargas on how to enforce immigration laws, Vargas continued to bring up his illegal resident status, which he referred to as "undocumented."
"I want to go to the Philippines and brag about being illegal and see how long I stay out of jail, maybe you can come with me," Carlson laughed before concluding the interview.