How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Coming out undocumented: How much of a political effect has the movement had?

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student activist's t-shirt, December 2010

It's been two years since a group of young people in Chicago made official a movement that had been slowly growing among undocumented students, holding a "coming out" day at a local park to go public with their undocumented status as a political act.

In that time - mostly during the last year - the larger movement they launched has taken off exponentially. It received perhaps its biggest boost last June, when former Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer winner Jose Antonio Vargas confessed to his undocumented status in a New York Times essay and launched an advocacy project, drawing worldwide attention.

Much else has happened in the last year: Last summer, the Obama administration released guidelines urging immigration officials to use prosecutorial discretion when pursuing deportation cases. This involved giving special consideration to certain immigrants, including people who had been here since they were children, a demographic that makes up the bulk of the young activists involved in the coming-out movement. In August, the guidelines became the backbone of an Obama administration plan to review some 300,000 deportation cases to screen out these "low priority" immigrants, a process that began late last year.


Quote of the moment: The student 'most likely to save the world' on status and studies

Photo by Josh Self/Flickr (Creative Commons)

College students and graduates campaigning for passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, heard yesterday in a Senate subcommittee, staged a mock graduation ceremony this morning in Washington, D.C.

Among those who participated was Mandeep Chahal, an undocumented UC David pre-med student who recently received a last-minute reprieve from deportation to India, along with her mother. The immigrant advocacy group America's Voice tweeted quotes from participants as they spoke, including this one attributed to Chahal:

It scared me, so I told almost no one. I focused on my grades, I thought if I ignored my secret problem, it would go away.

It's been noted that Chahal, who arrived in the U.S. at age 6, was voted "Most Likely to Save the World" by her classmates at Los Altos High School. She and her mother were granted a stay of deportation by the federal government following a


2011 version of the Dream Act to get its first Senate hearing

Photo by CSU Stanislaus Photo/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A new and slightly revised version of the federal Dream Act will get its first Senate hearing tomorrow morning, more than a month after Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and other top Senate Democrats announced plans to bring it back.

The new Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act differs only slightly from the one approved by the House last December, which moved to the Senate but failed to draw enough votes for cloture.

Like prior versions, the bill would grant conditional legal status to qualifying young people who are in the United States illegally but were brought here as minors under 16, so long as they attend college or join the military. There are only a few key differences from last year's version:

  • The age cap for applicants, which was reduced to age 29 last year, has been bumped back up to 35 years of age or younger

  • The length of conditional legal status before applicants may obtain permanent legal resident status has been reduced to six years, as in an earlier version, from 10 years

  • This version would, as did an earlier version (but not the House-approved one), seek to repeal a ban on in-state tuition rates for beneficiaries


From KPCC's AirTalk: Would you 'come out' if you were in Jose Antonio Vargas' shoes?

A growing movement among undocumented college students that involves "coming out" with their immigration status has now inspired the same from a well-known journalist, Pulitzer winner Jose Antonio Vargas. His confession that he is undocumented, published yesterday in the New York Times Magazine, has drawn intense reaction while attaching a white-collar identity to the debate over illegal immigration.

A segment on today's AirTalk show, hosted by the Los Angeles Times' David Lazarus (filling in for Larry Mantle), took up the Vargas story along with the broader coming-out movement. I joined David and other guests to talk about the movement, the risks involved in going public, and the proposed federal legislation known as the Dream Act, which would grant conditional legal status to qualifying youths brought here before age 16 if they go to college or join the military.


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."