Letters to the Editor in Response to Last Week

Last week, the Virginia Law Weekly ran a letter to the editor from Max Wagner ’19 entitled “Untangling the Immigration Debate.” The Law Weekly publishes letters without regard to content or viewpoint. The paper does not endorse the positions taken by authors of letters to the editor. Below are the responses the Law Weekly received to Mr. Wagner’s letter. As was the case with Mr. Wagner’s letter, the only changes our editors made relate to grammar, style, and clarity. 

Kevin Jackson '20

Last week, guest columnist Max Wagner threatened our fair school with not one, not two, but an entire series of opinion pieces on immigration.[1] Mr. Wagner’s first piece objects to liberal terminology and suggests that we adopt a more Trumpian tone. I’m not an expert on immigration. However, I am in the process of getting a visa for my spouse, and I have lived abroad most of my life. I helped with the Migrant Farmworker Project and will soon begin immigration internships. Admittedly, I’m only a few weeks into Immigration Law classes. But since last week’s piece set the bar for discussion very low, I’m happy to proceed on these few credentials.

Mr. Wagner is right that words matter, especially the ones we use to sort human beings. He loosely frames his article around the terms “undocumented immigrant,” “DREAMer,” and “chain(ed) migration.” He argues that we should call people “illegal” instead of “undocumented” immigrants. “Undocumented,” he says, is meant to sound more sympathetic and distort the debate. “Illegal,” to him, is more factual.

In terms of accuracy, neither holds up well. “Immigrant” itself may be confusing because, under federal law, it denotes a category of people intending to stay permanently. It does not include everyone who crosses the border unlawfully. “Undocumented” is arguably under-inclusive. Some people do have documents but then overstay. “Illegal” is also potentially misleading. Crossing the border without authorization is not in itself a federal crime as Mr. Wagner seems to believe. If it were, there would need to be due process instead of summary deportation. Of course it isn’t the legal route, and the government can deport you for being unlawfully present. Is this splitting hairs? Yes, but we’re in law school. We all use these terms loosely in daily conversation and writing, and that’s fine. But the more precise terms are “unauthorized/unlawful alien/noncitizen.” If accuracy alone is your goal, pick an adjective and a noun from that set and you’re golden.[2]

I personally prefer “undocumented immigrant.” Yes, that’s a partisan choice. It implies that the problem is the system, not the immigrant. It tells you where I stand in this debate. A strong preference for “illegal immigrant” is also telling. Illegal activity is done by criminals. Criminals are bad people who should be punished. At least, those are the normal, non-lawyer connotations of those words. “Undocumented” and “illegal” are both understandable but imprecise. Neither is neutral. Mr. Wagner has not chosen an accurate term; he has merely chosen the one that facilitates President Trump’s agenda.

He does not object to the term “DREAMer” itself. He simply wishes to say that Dreamers are not as successful, not as fluent in English, and not as literate as their advocates would have us believe. His source? An opinion piece by a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.[3] That piece, in turn, gets its statistics from the Center for Immigration Studies. We don’t have time to go into all the problems with CIS. Its executive director wrote a book called The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal.[4] We can just leave it at that.

Advocates of any cause will find the most sympathetic cases and highlight them. And of course not every Dreamer fits the poster child description. But that’s not really the point. We support Dreamers because it’s wrong to deport people who are part of our communities, who are harming no one, and who have been building their lives alongside us. English fluency, lack of exposure to their birth countries, and military membership are rhetorically helpful but ultimately irrelevant. Dreamers are Americans too, and the law should reflect that.

If Trump’s immigration plan is “extremely generous” to Dreamers, I don’t know why Mr. Wagner feels the need to make them seem less sympathetic. He’s right that we should “be honest about the experiences of members of this group.” The best way to do that is to listen to Dreamers themselves. We should read and hear their experiences before we draw conclusions. I dare say we’ll need more than just CIS statistics filtered through an anti-immigrant opinion piece.

Finally, Mr. Wagner claims that “chain migration” is neutral and descriptive. He disapproves of “chained migration,” a reference to slavery that implies “chain migration” is a racist term. Strikingly, he neglects to discuss the far more widespread “family reunification.” “Family reunification” is perfectly descriptive, since that is what bringing family members to the U.S. does. It is used in U.S. legislation and regulations.[5] “Chain migration” may not have always been derogatory.[6] However, it is only familiar to most of us because President Trump uses it in his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Presumably it’s easier to rail against “chain migration” than it is to openly attack families.

Last week’s article is not the impartial guide it purports to be. It characterizes Trump’s immigration plan as “extremely generous.” It puts “clean DACA bill” in scare quotes. Throughout, it makes negative references to “the left,” “the far left,” and “advocates.” The closest it gets to balance is a vague reference to “hardliners on both sides.” It purports to guide us through partisan terms, but it’s not hard to see the charade for what it is. So rather than “untangling” it, let’s just cut through the knot of terminology and make our positions clear. I, like many others at our school, stand with the undocumented. Others stand with Trump. Still more stand somewhere in between. It’s a high-stakes debate, but there’s no need to be coy. Since we must be partisan, let’s at least be straightforwardly partisan.


[1] Max Wagner. “Guest Opinion: Untangling the Immigration Debate.” https://www.lawweekly.org/col/2018/2/21/guest-opinion-untangling-the-immigration-debate

[2] I’m drawing from Professor Kevin Cope’s January 23 Immigration Law course lecture. The analysis of immigration terminology is my characterization of that content, and the application to last week’s article is my own.

[3] Hans Spakovsky. “Not-so-beautiful Dreamers: The reality behind the media airbrushing.” https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/dec/25/daca-demographics-show-less-ideal-dreamers-media-i/.

[4] https://www.cis.org/Krikorian?type=blog

[5] 22 USC §7832(b)(2)(B); 8 CFR §204.11(a); 8 USC §1227(a)(1)(E)(ii); 45 CFR §400.115(c)

[6] Blair Guild. “What is ‘chain migration’?” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-is-chain-migration-definition-visa-trump-administration-family-reunification/

W. Augustus "Gus" Todd '19

Last week saw one of the most shameful displays of ignorance and intellectual cowardice that I have witnessed since coming to UVa for law school. As many of you may have noticed, last week’s issue of the Law Weekly disappeared from the stands Thursday night. It appears that members of our community, after reading an article they disagreed with,[1] removed the remaining copies of the paper off of the stands to prevent others from reading the article. While reasonable people can and should continue to discuss the merits and flaws of the article itself, this reaction to the article must be forcefully condemned. Rather than confronting the ideas they disagreed with, the people who participated in removing the papers attempted to silence the person holding them. Our society should not tolerate this conduct anywhere. It is hostile to the very concept of the freedom of speech and it is abhorrent in an institution of higher learning where academic honesty and intellectual freedom are paramount virtues.

However, the problems with the events of last week run deeper and speak to the very core of who we are as students at UVa and as future leaders in our communities. Here at UVa, we pride ourselves on our support for one another. We pride ourselves on treating each other with dignity and respect and we hold ourselves to a higher standard in our interactions with one another. The foundation of trust that underlies this school is a large factor in why UVa has come to be consistently ranked as not only one of the best law schools, but also one of the best places to go to law school.[2] The events of last week undermine that trust. Silencing a fellow student is not respectful and is emblematic of a much larger problem facing our society.

It should be uncontroversial to recognize that right now we are a divided nation. America is facing serious issues that in the coming years we are going to have to confront. At home, we still have yet to come to terms on how we are going to treat healthcare and we are in the midst of a debate about whether the individual right to bear arms has continuing relevance in a modern world. Issues concerning race, sex, drugs, abortion, and religion are all still very much part of our national dialogue. On the foreign policy front, we are embroiled in a conflict with one dictator who gasses his own people and may soon be at war with another one hell-bent on launching ballistic missiles at our homeland. It should surprise no one that it appears a Cold War foe is seeking to exploit our current division for its own geopolitical benefit.

If we are going to solve these issues as a nation, we are going to have to do it together. Are we going to initially agree on the best path forward? Of course not. It would be a bad thing if we did. Instead, we will forge our path by arguing with one another—the crucible of vigorous public debate will yield the right answers once we are ready for them. But this kind of robust debate cannot happen if we are not willing to treat each other with respect. The further we divide, the less likely it is for us to engage with the other side and the easier it is to demonize those with whom we disagree. Our inflamed rhetoric portrays each other as evil and lacking humanity while at the same time we retreat into echo chambers that reinforce a sense of our own virtue and righteousness. This is a dangerous cycle, but it is one that we are capable of breaking.

As soon-to-be lawyers, we are entering a profession where we must learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. Wherever our careers take us, we will be in a position where resolving conflict will be part of our everyday lives. Building strong working relationships with those on the other side of the table is a skill that will be crucial to our long-term successes. These relationships will not be fruitful unless we can interact with one another with respect and honesty.  

But more than that, as graduates of an elite law school, we will be in a position to lead the debate on the issues that continue to divide America. Every person at this Law School is intelligent and has ideas worth taking seriously—we wouldn’t be here otherwise. After we graduate, people will look to us for guidance on how to think about these issues and our voices will set the tone for these ongoing debates. We must keep our role as future leaders of our communities in mind when we talk to one another and treat the ideas advanced by our colleagues with due respect, especially when we vehemently disagree with them.

Where we do disagree, we must use the means available to us to respond in a constructive manner that seeks to move the debate forward. Write a response article. Try to get organizations to arrange a debate. More than anything, seek out those with whom you disagree to learn from their perspective. In the process you will recognize their humanity and we will all be better for it. There is some irony in the fact that the article that initiated this uproar was itself the first step in starting a discussion over the words we use when we debate immigration policies. It saddens me to see members of this community having such an antagonistic reaction to an opposing viewpoint. Although the individuals involved do not represent the broader UVa law community, their actions represent a breach of trust that we must take seriously. That is not how elite law students carry themselves, and it is not something we should want to be associated with. Because if this is happening here, I shudder to think what it means for the rest of the country. We can do better than this. We must.


[1] The article attempted to clarify terms commonly used in the debate over immigration and referenced statistics that allegedly show many “DREAMers” lack literacy skills and fluency in English. I have read the article, but do not know enough about the ongoing immigration debate to have a well-informed opinion about the topic or the issues raised by the article.

[2] No citation needed.


Toccara Nelson '19

Last week, Max Wagner wrote an article titled, "Guest Opinion: Untangling the Immigration Debate." In this piece, Wagner explains his position on why many undocumented immigrants should be called illegal immigrants, while providing his divine benevolence over the status and categorization of DREAMers. Wagner states:

While the DREAMers are illegal immigrants, there has long been an understanding that there is a distinction between those who willfully violated the American immigration laws and those who were brought over as children. This is a distinction I agree with. DREAMers did not choose to come here, in most circumstances. They were brought here through little or no fault of their own, and it makes sense that a separate solution for them should be discussed.

He demands that the public be truly “honest” about the experiences of DREAMers in order to inform the U.S. government’s immigration restrictions. Wagner then, in all his precious sympathy and benevolence over DREAMers, cites that DREAMers en masse have high illiteracy rates, lack fluency in English, and lack high school diplomas. The study Wagner cites fails to list any sources or methodology in support of its statistics. This study was briefly described in a Washington Times article, which only quotes but does not cite the source.[1] In fact, the study was allegedly conducted by the Center on Immigration Studies, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a group with ties to white supremacist organizations and whose employed policy analyst was pushed out of the Heritage Foundation for forwarding racist pseudoscience.[2]

Based on what Wagner himself spells out in "Untangling the Immigration Debate," the U.S. government should “define who [DREAMers] are” through DREAMers' allegedly (but unfounded) high illiteracy rates and low levels of English fluency and high school diplomas, so that the government “can make correct decisions” regarding immigration policy. It is not a foregone conclusion to see that if Wagner had his way, the U.S. government wouldn’t support DREAMers because, in Wagner’s eyes, they bring nothing of value to the United States. 

It should be very easy to dispute Wagner’s claims about DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants. It should be common sense for this Law School community to know the value that DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants bring to the United States;[3] we should also not be forced to engage in respectability politics to appeal to this Law School community about the value of DREAMers and undocumented immigrants to society.

It should also be common sense that the United States of America was created from immigration from Europe. But those immigrants, unlike the DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants Wagner and so many others malign, violently colonized this land from Native Americans, and ripped numerous of Africans away from their homeland by forcing them into slavery and forcing them to build the nation we now know as the United States of America. Wagner, unsurprisingly, makes no mention of those immigrants. Wagner also fails to mention the U.S.’s role in destabilizing numerous nations with its interventionist policies, and that destabilization causes many to emigrate to the U.S. seeking stability and prosperity.[4] He instead dismisses the worth of DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants. For DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants, their sole crime is to seek a better life in a nation in denial of its own sins. Wagner’s piece is the embodiment of America’s denial.

The fact that students are forced to write a response to blatant racism featured within an article from an institution where the best legal scholars and attorneys supposedly are present is ridiculous. This is not the most desired use of mine or anyone’s time. Consistently students at the University of Virginia School of Law are forced to dedicate time to combat emotionally and mentally triggering instances of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, islamophobia, etc. forwarded by students. The time taken to combat such issues is spent away from doing weekly readings for courses, outlining and preparing for final exams, going to office hours for professors, and this ultimately affects our academic performance at UVa Law. The fact that marginalized students have to respond to an article forwarding racist and xenophobic ideologies further indulges, legitimizes, and publicizes such farces of views in the first place. But here we are, and unfortunately based on this institution and the reactions from members of our community, this is the only “acceptable” way to respond to such ignorant, dangerous, violent, and triggering rhetoric.

I implore the Law Weekly not to continue Wagner’s series about immigration. It is patently obvious that he is misinformed about U.S. immigration policy on a sociohistorical level. The sources he cites prove to be unfounded conjecture. Neither I nor anyone else should have to write this for an article like Wagner’s to be maligned and condemned. But as tradition goes at UVa Law, the burden continuously falls on the marginalized to fight against our own marginalization. And it is utterly exhausting. 


[1] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/dec/25/daca-demographics-show-less-ideal-dreamers-media-i/

[2] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/center-immigration-studies

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/storywall/american-dreamers

[4] https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/united-states-interventions



Last week, this paper published a guest opinion that stirred controversy on grounds and led to an unidentified person removing all the copies from the library newsstand. I would have been completely oblivious to this drama were it not for the Law Weekly’s Facebook post that blew up my news feed. The post (and re-posts) made no mention of the article’s content. So naturally I had to track down a copy and settle in for a challenging read, which I figured I would probably disagree with on the merits. That is not exactly what happened for me. In the words of someone who shared the Law Weekly’s post about the theft, “fight content you disagree with using better content.” I agree, and so this is my attempt.

I’ll grant the article’s take on words like “illegal” vs. “undocumented” or “chain” vs. “chained.” What ideology doesn’t just hate it when the other side comes up with an effective word or phrase to carry their message? What “pro-life” proponent wouldn’t love to cement “pro-ending-life” into the lexicon? Discussions about linguistic accuracy are worth having—for better or worse, the legal term is “alien”—but I’m not writing this to have that debate. I want to write about a different kind of chain—a chain that is, in my opinion, far more harmful to the country than so-called “chain migration.” That is the chain of sourcing that normalizes baseless and/or utterly false information, which then ends up in our news feeds, accumulating attention, acceptance, and legitimacy.
To its credit, the article recognized that DREAMers are not inherently bad people. They are often children brought to this country at a young age “through little or no fault of their own”—because what small child isn’t occasionally a little at fault for their parents fleeing to another country? I’m sure my parents considered it. Putting aside that “a majority of the DREAMers were brought over as teenagers” is a notion that was left unsupported in the article and is at least disputed,1  my interest was really piqued over a “study” the article cited regarding literacy rates of DREAMers. Digging into the source of this study, I found a sadly common example of legitimization of poor sources through a process whose name I will make up—chain citation.

This citation begins with an article from the Washington Times, a notoriously conservative paper whose viewpoint I do not identify with. However, that does not spell trouble—let’s go to the next link in the chain. The article cites the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). I’m not an immigration expert; it sounds reputable enough. Let’s check it out. Search results show that CIS was listed as a hate group in 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for “its repeated circulation of white nationalist and anti-Semitic writers in its weekly newsletter and the commissioning of a policy analyst who had previously been pushed out of the conservative Heritage Foundation for his embrace of racist pseudoscience.”2  Not looking good so far. But I hear you, 50-percent of readers: “SPLC is a liberal-leaning organization that has its own agenda. What about the study itself?” Let’s hit the next link in the chain. Using the direct quotes from the Washington Times article turned up one article on CIS’s website, “Time to End DACA.”3  Still, this article is not the source of the data. Fortunately, the article directly links to the study.4  The study’s author? Remember the policy analyst pushed out of the Heritage Foundation for his racist pseudoscience? Bingo. The study’s author’s name is Dr. Jason Richwine, a Harvard Ph.D. whose dissertation was entitled "IQ and Immigration Policy", which argued that genetic and/or environmental factors have made “today’s immigrants . . . not as intelligent on average as white natives” in a way that will “have substantial negative effects on the economy and on American society.”5  I hope by now you’re convinced that the literacy data from last week’s article is insufficiently supported. But in case you’re willing to accept this data because all I’ve done is attack the source ad hominem, let’s walk this study back to the article. Even if you are willing to accept the validity of Dr. Richwine’s immigrant literacy study, it wholly doesn’t support the premise for which it was cited. The study purports to quantify literacy rates of Hispanic immigrants as a whole. The CIS article that cited the study linked its Hispanic literacy rates (without questioning accuracy) to DACA recipients merely because “80–90 percent” are Hispanic.6  Therefore, that author’s “estimate” was that “perhaps 24 percent of the DACA-eligible population fall into the functionally illiterate category and another 46 percent have only ‘basic’ English ability.”7  The author doesn’t control for variables or provide any evidence that DACA recipients are somehow representative of Hispanic immigrants writ large.8  This is how a study, which wouldn’t be relevant even if accurate, makes its way from the mind of a racist, through the conduit of a hate group, into a slanted newspaper, and onto the pages of the student newspaper of one of the best law schools in the country. Chain citation—people have a right to be mad about it.

It should be obvious from my taking the time to write this that I support a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, unqualified and unsullied by political maneuvering. Further, I take serious issue with the unspoken, rhetorical conclusion of last week’s article, which is that DREAMers somehow do not deserve legal status because they are illiterate, or nearly so, and they have no high school diploma. It’s a dog whistle, plain and simple. It is fundamentally no different from the nativist xenophobia that was typified by anti-Roman-Catholic and anti-Asian movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Replace “DREAMers” with “Asian” in last week’s article and you’ll see what I mean. Articles like these are problematic not only for their improper research, but also because they continue to marginalize people who would undoubtedly be more successful in our country if we opened our arms rather than stereotyping and ostracizing.
I’m not saying you have to agree with my point of view on DREAMers. What I do hope you agree with is that we in the law school community should attempt to rise above the inadequacy of modern discourse. Neither “side” is innocent of flippant sourcing that feeds our arguments and our egos, myself included. But we should at least attempt to raise the bar, where we can, and refuse to add noise to the debate. Thoughtful and considerate research and argument is paramount, not just in our future careers, but also in our every-day interactions with each other.


1 https://cdn.americanprogress.org/content/uploads/2017/11/02125251/2017_DACA_study_economic_report_updated.pdf (noting that average age when first arrived to the United States was 6.5).

2 https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/center-immigration-studies.

3 https://cis.org/Oped/Time-End-DACA.


5  https://www.scribd.com/doc/140239668/IQ-and-Immigration-Policy-Jason-Richwine.
6  https://cis.org/Oped/Time-End-DACA.
7  Id.
8 The author, Dr. Steven Camarota, does have a master’s from UPenn and a PhD from the University of Virginia.



Nathan Tyre '19

Can we all please stop the yelling? We get it. The far right are xenophobic, gun-toting racists who are looking to protect white America at the expense of, well, everyone. And the self-righteous left, correct as they may be on many issues, believe that government cures all ails and if you get in their way they will smear you with names like racist, sexist, xenophobe, and/or bigot. While there may be more than a few on the right that deserve such a description, it is not all of them. And while some on the left want to burn the constitution and start over, most do not.
My primary issue with Mr. Wagner’s recent article is not with his opinion. He’s entitled to be wrong. My primary issue is that it wasn’t worthy of a UVa Law student. This is a school, so we don’t have to get too serious, but Mr. Wagner’s article added nothing to the debate on immigration. It was a poorly written, poorly sourced echo-piece. The article served only to add a microphone to the political right’s talking points.

The provocateurs who responded to the article by throwing away copies of the Virginia Law Weekly and penning an unsigned response also did nothing to advance the debate. Mr. Wagner’s article was inflammatory. It contained arguments that I would call racist—for instance, the argument that those who break immigration laws are “illegals” but those who break other laws are not so branded. But the arguments that Mr. Wagner offered were not his own. He simply repeated them. We’ve heard them before. And we’ve heard the response before as well: He’s a xenophobe. Like I said, we get it. Can we turn the page?

Our country, and certainly this law school, should be a place where ideas and policies are debated with open minds. But instead we walk the halls and hear echoes of ideas we already know to be true. There is no room for debate when minds are made up and battle lines drawn. If you know you are right, then have the confidence to read Mr. Wagner’s article and respond to it with truth and reason. If you are confident in what you believe, have the humility to read Mr. Wagner’s article, look past its inflammatory comments, and reason with the issues. And if you are going to engage in the debate, be disciplined enough to come up with original thought and to properly source your articles. Finally, the debate should be respectful of these conditions and of people. Mr. Wagner’s article wasn’t respectful. It wasn’t original; it wasn’t properly sourced; it wasn’t offered with humility; it didn’t respectfully consider the other side; and it ignored the human element. We should set the standard a bit higher.

To his credit, Mr. Wagner signed his name to his response. His article may have been supremely deficient, to put it mildly. But he engaged. I hope he continues to submit articles to Law Weekly. But I hope he does so in a thoughtful and disciplined manner. I hope his writing improves with each attempt (I hope the same for my own writing). I hope that his future articles are respectful of others and of the debate itself. And I hope that those responding to his article will in turn put down the megaphones and engage with the substantive ideas—it is why we are all here.