Jose Antonio Vargas, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Washington Post coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, added a lengthy New York Times Magazine piece to his impressive stack of achievements. What he reveals in the piece — and in an upcoming ABC News interview, just about the most public forums possible — puts him at risk for deportation: Vargas illegally immigrated from the Philippines and left his mother behind at the age of 12, he writes, at tremendous cost to his grandparents, naturalized citizens who helped the family buy the necessary fake documents.
Vargas didn’t even realize anything was fishy until 16, when a kind clerk at the DMV whispered to him that the green card he’d happily presented wasn’t real. His family assumed he would have to take the sort of low-paying, low-status jobs that are often the only option for the undocumented (at least until he married an American — but since Vargas is gay, that wasn’t such an easy option, either). Instead, he won a scholarship to college and went on to that juggernaut journalism career, somewhere along the line just starting to check the “citizen” box on the paperwork at each new job after a discouraging meeting with an immigration lawyer.
Even after Vargas had become a certifiable success, the worry took some of the joy out of it: “I was trying to stand out in a highly competitive newsroom, yet I was terrified that if I stood out too much, I’d invite unwanted scrutiny.”
In an amazingly brave move, Vargas chose to ‘out’ himself through The New York Times Magazine piece as a way to protest the defeat of the DREAM Act. The Act would have allowed people like Vargas to stay in the country and eventually gain legal status.
It is a crying shame that ideologues would rather deport talented people due to their legal status than figure out a way to keep them here, where they can benefit the country.
Dude, fuck benefitting the country.
People have reasons why they come here. They want to be here. It isn’t always safe where they come from. Let them be here, whether they’re talented enough to merit your approval or not.
Look, part of the reason why people thought the DREAM Act might have a chance—even given the current xenophobic mood of the country—is that it would have let undocumented immigrants who were getting an education or serving in the military gain residency rights and legal status. Framing legalization as something that strengthens the U.S. as a country was a way of selling the idea to anti-immigration politicians and their constituents. Vargas is the epitome of the kind of amazing American that stupid immigration laws would boot out of the country for no good reason.
While yes, it would be great if anyone who wanted to could immigrate to the U.S., that sort of bleeding heart thing is simply not part of the political calculus today (and maybe never will be). The best we can hope for are saner and fairer immigration laws that would take into account the positives an undocumented immigrant brings to his/her community rather than just the negatives (e.g. criminal record).
“Talents” can include many things, not just prize-winning journalism. Most undocumented immigrants are fantastically hard-working and law-observing—that ought to count for something when it comes to reckoning whether they should get a chance at a green card or not. Observing the law, paying your taxes, maintaining residency—these are pretty basic things and have been part of past legalization proposals. While would-be community members are owed a fair hearing, the community itself can’t realistically be expected to take anyone and everyone.