he story of Jose Antonio Vargas is fascinating and
compelling; the kind that fits the movie mold. Someday, perhaps.
He is an award-winning journalist who has worked
for several high-profile news enterprises, including the San Francisco
Chronicle, Philadelphia Daily News, Washington Post and
Huffington Post. He covered the role of technology and social media
during the 2008 presidential race. He has visited the White House and
covered a state dinner. He was one of a team of Washington Post
reporters awarded a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the shootings at Virginia
Tech University in 2007.
Jose Antonio Vargas is also an illegal immigrant.
He has been unauthorized since arriving in this country 18 years ago. He
disclosed his status publicly in an essay published in the New York Times
Magazine June 25 of this year.
Vargas is a native of the Philippines. In 1993,
when he was 12, his single mother, seeking to provide a better life for her
son, arranged for him to fly with an "uncle" to the U.S. to live with his
grandparents, who were naturalized American citizens residing in California.
He learned later that the "uncle" was really a "coyote," who was paid $4,500
by the grandfather to smuggle the youngster into the U.S., using a fake name
and a fake passport. Subsequently, his grandfather found a way to purchase a
new, fake Filipino passport in Jose Antonio’s real name and a fraudulent
"green card." Using the fake passport, he was able to obtain a Social
Security number and card, although that card designated a restriction for
INS-authorized work only. His grandfather doctored that card with a
well-placed sliver of white tape and then made photocopies that looked like
copies of a regular, unrestricted Social Security card.
Vargas graduated from high school in California.
He was able to attend and graduate from San Francisco State University,
thanks to a specialized scholarship program that had no inquiry about
immigration status. During college, matters fell into place for some
internships. After graduation, he continued his career as a journalist,
which has included "interviewing some of the most famous people in the
"On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve
lived the American dream," Vargas wrote in his recent essay. "But I am still
an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of
reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means
rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am…. It
means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and
unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century
underground railroad of supporters: people who took an interest in my future
and took risks for me.
"I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want
that life anymore."
Some have called Jose Antonio Vargas courageous
for his admissions. Others have said there is nothing courageous about
admitting to being unlawful and to using fraudulent documents.
"I don’t know what the consequences will be of
telling my story," Vargas wrote.
It seems more doubtful than likely that an
enforcement action involving deportation will be initiated against Vargas.
He doesn’t seem to fit the most recent indication of enforcement policy.
On June 17, the Director of U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a memorandum advising agency personnel of
additional guidance for "exercising prosecutorial discretion consistent with
the civil immigration enforcement priorities of the agency…." Particular
care and consideration are to be given to the following negative factors:
individuals who pose a risk to national security; serious felons, repeat
offenders, or individuals with a lengthy criminal record or any kind; known
gang members or others who pose a clear danger to public safety; individuals
with an egregious record of immigration violations, including those with a
record of illegal re-entry (emphasis added) and those who have
engaged in immigration fraud.
One impact of the Vargas story is that it adds to
the bulk of evidence that the U.S. immigration system is inefficient,
ineffective, broken and greatly in need of comprehensive reform. A
12-year-old immigrant who proceeds to cultivate his opportunities into
noteworthy accomplishments and success, as well as tax payments, and who,
after 18 years of doing so, thinks of himself as an American, should have a
path of conditions to earn legalization and should not face the consequences
of deportation, which now include a minimum 10-year bar on even reapplying
for a visa.
And finally…. It didn’t take long for there to be a legislative push back
on the memorandum issued by the head of ICE. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas)
blasted the memo and is already sponsoring legislation that would freeze the
administration’s power to grant "amnesty" to unauthorized immigrants by
prioritizing enforcement. Apparently, Rep. Smith has concluded that
emphasizing priorities-based prosecutorial discretion is too loose and
dangerous. His reaction seems to fit what a media blog from the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops recently called "Whac-a-Mole immigration