Thursday, June 23, 2011

Journalist Comes Out as an Undocumented Immigrant

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2011 at 7:03 AM

In Wednesday's New York Times, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas admitted that he's been in the country illegally since he was a child sneaked into the United States by his mother and grandparents.

His story is heart-wrenching. He didn't even realize he was here illegally until he was almost 16 and he discovered that he couldn't get a driver's license. And then he learns there's no way for him to stay here legally, even though he grew up here. He speaks at length about the kinds of subterfuge he has to go through just to stay in this country, working in a field he excels in.

It's a powerful piece. And it'll be interesting to see what happens in response. It's likely Vargas will be deported to the Philippines. After all, he's admitted in ostensibly the paper of record for the whole country that he is not here legally. But he also named names of the people who helped him along the way — people who knew he was here illegally and helped him go to college and get jobs, and some of those people still work in journalism.

I'm curious how this plays out. Does the government really want to go after journalists who knew Vargas was here illegally? But if they don't, doesn't that just prove that there are rules for some people and not for others? What happens if the government doesn't deport Vargas? Is it really fair that United States citizens are sitting in CCA prisons — oops, detention centers — waiting to be shipped to a country they've never lived in just because of the actions of their parents, yet Vargas might not get deported just because he has a large platform? Is it fair to the kids in our community who are undocumented but won't have the notice of the New York Times if they go missing?

I think what Vargas and the people who agreed to be named in his story have done is exceptionally brave. The biggest obstacle to immigration reform for kids who are here illegally through no fault of their own is getting people to understand the depth and complexity of the issue. Are we really comfortable saying, "Tough shit, Grandma, you're a criminal," to Vargas's Lola? Do we really think the people who showed Vargas compassion when he was a teenager did something wrong? And if it wasn't wrong when he was underage, why does it suddenly become wrong for his colleagues to show him compassion as an adult?

Let's face it: Having someone who is a professional come out and tell his story means his plight will get more attention than the poor kids who've been agitating for the DREAM act could — well, dream of.

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