I Was a Genius Just Like Justin Bieber

Clive Crook is a Bloomberg View columnist and writes editorials on economics, finance and politics. He was chief Washington commentator for the Financial Times, a correspondent and editor for the Economist and a senior editor at the Atlantic. He previously served as an official in the British finance ministry and the Government Economic Service.
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Justin Bieber, a celebrity of some kind, is inclined to anti-social behavior and keeps getting arrested. If he weren't famous, asks Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times, wouldn't he be sent home to Canada, where that kind of thuggery is apparently tolerated? Hundreds of thousands of people are thrown out every year for less, he says. A petition to the White House calling for Bieber's expulsion has attracted enough signatures to require an official response.

Bieber's apparently a legal immigrant. His visa status, according to Rosenthal, certifies "extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics." That suggests either an EB-1 green card or an O-1 temporary-immigrant visa -- "genius visas," as they're known. I used to have an O-1 myself, and was very pleased about it until I realized that, legally speaking, genius simply means "has the resources to navigate an insanely complex application process." Learning that a feral adolescent qualifies completes my disillusionment.

Still, I look back fondly on my days as a genius. Once, when I was renewing my driver's license, a delighted officer at the Department of Motor Vehicles read my visa status aloud to the room ("ali-UN, of extraordinar-EE, abili-TAY -- high five") and the press of weary citizens gave me a little round of applause. That's why I love this country.

I digress. The law isn't clear on what a legal immigrant has to do to get himself deported. The things Bieber's accused of so far wouldn't usually be enough, it seems, but who knows? The boundless prosecutorial discretion that characterizes the U.S. legal system is carried to a new extreme in the case of non-citizens, who lack many basic rights. Since you can't be alive in the U.S. without allegedly committing three felonies a day, it would be a simple matter for a prosecutor who thought Bieber had it coming to pack an indictment with sufficient punch to meet almost any plausible deportation standard. That's the beauty of the system.

Rosenthal says he doesn't want Bieber sent home. All he asks is consistency: If Bieber is allowed to stay, those other deportees should have been allowed to as well. What? Is there no difference between legal and illegal immigrants -- sorry, workers without documents? Objectionable as Bieber may be, he presumably has documents, and plenty of them. Those other deportees don't. The law says that matters, even if some people think it's irrelevant.

Sure, U.S. immigration law should be more liberal, and it should be enforced more even-handedly and compassionately. But illegal immigrants can't assert a right to stay just because, as Rosenthal puts it, they are "non-criminals and minor offenders." That's nuts.

As for Bieber, I say deport him.

(Clive Crook is a member of Bloomberg View's editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Clive Crook at ccrook5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Toby Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net