How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Readers react to the confession of an undocumented Pulitzer winner

Photo by Campus Progress/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Jose Antonio Vargas during a panel appearance in July 2008, the year he and other Washington Post reporters shared a Pulitzer for coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting.

It's not an overstatement to say that the story of Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning former Washington Post journalist who has admitted to being undocumented, has made its way around the world by now, from Europe to the Philippines.

In a confessional essay published yesterday in the New York Times Magazine, Vargas related how his mother sent him to the United States from the Philippines at age 12 with a smuggler, how he learned he was undocumented at 16 and how he has kept the secret since, navigating school and career with a network of close confidantes, false papers and an out-of-state driver's license.

The story spread quickly through social media channels, prompting reactions that have ranged from intense anger to applause. Pundits, even former employers have weighed in with their opinions, including San Francisco Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein, who once employed Vargas and wrote about being "duped" before saying that he hoped the story would at least "help craft sane immigration policy."

Multi-American readers have reacted to the Vargas story in different ways, some calling for his deportation, others identifying with him.

W. Steven Chou pointed out how he and Vargas share a similar background, save for one thing:

The only difference between Mr. Vargas and me is that I came to the US at age 9 with a valid green card because I was lucky enough to have parents who had gotten their green cards through employment.  Mr. Vargas' story shows how compelling it is to pass the DREAM Act.  These young people who came to the US through no fault of their own should not be punished for the deeds of their parents.  So long as these young people are productive to the society why should they be denied their proper status here in the US?  There is no other difference between Mr. Vargas and the other people who can benefit from the DREAM Act and me.  We all grew up as Americans.

Noel Beale wrote:
Does this mean he can be deported now? Hopefully, as then someone who did not sneak into the US via human trafficking, or someone that didn't continued to live as a criminal and showed a total lack of respect for US law, can find a job in this hard economic times.

Beale's comment drew a couple of critical responses, including this one from James Everette:
Do you even know what human trafficking means? Obviously not, you're just plain ignorant. He was brought here as a child and grew up as any other oridinary American child would. The fact that he can make something of himself against all odds as an undocumented person while you sit here bitching about finding a job should say something. Please, educate yourself next time on these kinds of issues.

I for one, applaud this gentlemen as well as others in his situation for demonstrating such valor, even with the tides turned against. Kids like these who are able to withstand such endeavors are what we need in order for America to progress. If only they could replace every uneducated American citizen in America...we'd be better off.


Constantine wrote:
the human dignity doesn't have limits neither borders to be criticized and classified by a system of laws  made  by a group of people looking for their own interest, this man is an example of bravery,  he believed in himself despite the complains of a whole country " congratulations!! mr Vargas and god bless you,  despite of  the risk of a deportation you already won your own freedom, something that even being a citizen not everyone can attain it!! ( i'm talking about people controlled by their ego)

The essay has led to some interesting sidebars, among them the story of how the Washington Post passing on publishing it (Vargas, who left in 2009, initially offered it to the paper) and a good piece in the The Atlantic on the risks he now faces for revealing his status.

It was timed to coincide with the launch of a campaign founded by Vargas called Define American, which seeks to redefine the conversation on immigration reform and push for passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The proposed federal legislation would grant conditional legal status to qualifying undocumented youths brought here before age 16, provided they go to college or join the military.

Vargas tells his story on video on the Define American site.

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