The undocumented alien is a Filipino, Jose Antonio Vargas, 30, from the Philippines. In an extraordinary 4,300-word article published in The New York Times magazine on June 22, Vargas revealed that he has been an illegal alien and has been hiding it for nearly 20 years.
Vargas said he was making his “confession” in a bid to seek support for the DREAM Act which has been pending in Congress. The Act seeks to legalize the status of thousands of young immigrant students who are here illegally.
Immediately after its publication in newspapers and broadcast on TV networks in the US and around the world, tens of thousands of bloggers immediately came out in support of Vargas.
Vargas, originally from the Philippines, said his mother put him on a plane for the United States in 1993, when he was 12, to live with his grandparents in the San Francisco area.
He said he discovered he was living in the United States illegally when he attempted to get a driving license at the age of 16 and was told by a clerk to go away because his papers were fake.
“I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American,” he said.
“Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country.
“On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream,” he said. “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,” he said.
Vargas, who left The Washington Post in 2009 and briefly joined The Huffington Post, said he was confessing his immigration status now because he no longer wanted to be “running away from who I am.”
“I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore,” he said.
“I don’t know what the consequences will be of telling my story,” Vargas said, adding that he was seeking legal counsel to review his options.
The DREAM Act, which was passed in the House last year but rejected by the Senate last May, would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal alien students who graduate from US high schools, are of good moral character, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment if they complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning.
Vargas disclosed his own status as “one of the countless undocumented immigrants from all walks of life who live in the shadow of our failed and broken system.”
The former Washington Post reporter also announced the launching of “Define American” campaign, an organization he co-founded which is dedicated to changing the conversation about immigrants in America. The campaign, according to Vargas, will build off his story “to provide a platform for others to share their own backgrounds and will encourage members of Congress and the Obama administration to prioritize immigration reform.”
“Approximately 40-44 percent of the undocumented student population in the Asian community are Filipino students,” says NaFFAA National Chairman Eduardo Navarra. “They are among hundreds of committed activists whose tireless energy and relentless advocacy made last year’s historic vote possible. Their courage in speaking out and telling their stories made a big difference in moving this legislation forward. ”
Navarra commends Vargas for his courage in coming forward, own up to what he has done and tell his own story. “NaFFAA completely supports Jose’s personal advocacy to get the DREAM Act passed,” adds Navarra. “I urge all Filipino Americans to play an active role in getting Congress to act on this measure this year. Tens of thousands of students who came to the U.S. without legal status would benefit from passage of this act.”
“The case of Jose Antonio Vargas and thousands of fellow DREAMers like him is no longer a mere legal issue; it has become a compelling moral issue which needs to be addressed,” declares J.T. Mallonga, NaFFAA’s national vice chair and a New York immigration attorney. He heads the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF), which is advising Vargas on his legal options.
According to his own account, Vargas was 12 years old when he was “smuggled” by an uncle into the United States with a “fake name and fake passport.” He learned that he was an “illegal alien” when, at 16, he tried to apply for a Driver’s License. He kept his undocumented status a secret so he could study and pursue a career in journalism. “I convinced myself that seeing my name in bold print, exploring my country and the people around me, validated my right to be here,” he writes. Last year, he read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the DREAM Act. “At the risk of deportation, they are speaking out,” he writes. “Their courage has inspired me.”
Vargas is an award-winning multimedia journalist. Most recently, he was a senior contributing editor at The Huffington Post, where he launched the Technology and College sections. Prior to that, he covered video game and tech culture, HIV/AIDS, and the 2008 presidential campaign for The Washington Post, and won a Pulitzer Prize as a part of a team that covered the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. His articles on the AIDS epidemic in the nation’s capital inspired a feature-length documentary, “The Other City,” which he co-produced and wrote. It world premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and aired on Showtime. An early chronicler of the social media revolution — which he’s referred to as the “me-in-media” — he wrote an intimate profile of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for The New Yorker. He’s written for daily newspapers (Philadelphia Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle) and national magazines (Rolling Stone, The Hollywood Reporter, New York).