Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The award-winning reporter who could have been deported

"Educación," Luis Genaro Garcia
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A remarkable story that made the rounds over the weekend is that of Los Angeles Times reporter Ruben Vives, who with colleague Jeff Gottlieb recently won the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for uncovering the Bell political corruption scandal. He is now a contender for a Pulitzer Prize.

In the latest issue of Orange Coast magazine, columnist and former Times journalist Shawn Hubler - who once employed Vives' mother - told the story of the kid she knew first as her nanny's son:

Her son was a 17-year-old high school student then. Quiet. Polite. Smart, too—college-smart, we’d tell the nanny, who’d just smile. Proud, we thought.

He was about six months shy of his 18th birthday when she told us the real story: Her son had been born in Guatemala and brought into the country as a little boy. She had left him with his grandma, had saved every spare cent to pay the coyote. For the first six years of his life, she’d scarcely seen him; when she had swept him into her arms, he barely recognized her. She’d never told him that his papers had expired, that he was here illegally. She had assumed they were all going back to Guatemala. Now, though, she was reading that her citizenship wasn’t enough, that at 18, he could be deported. Her boy, she said, desperately wanted to go to college.

Thanks to Hubler, who contacted an immigration attorney, Vives obtained a green card. He went to college, obtained a clerical job at the newspaper and, three years ago, started working as a reporter. He began covering the mostly Latino municipality of Bell, and the rest is history.

In her story Hubler mentions the derailed Dream Act, proposed legislation that would have granted conditional legal status to undocumented youths who attended college or joined the military. She notes at the end of the piece:

...I wonder how many more kids are out there like him—good kids with dreams, who’ll make us all proud if we can just get past some of the hard lines we draw.

Vives and Hubler were guests today on KPCC's Patt Morrison show. The audio is on the show's website.