Last week, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist shocked the country by publicly admitting to a secret that he had been harboring for years. Jose Antonio Vargas, 30, admitted that he is an illegal immigrant.
Vargas’ mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in California when he was 12, promising him that she wouldn’t be far behind him. However, she didn’t make it, and Vargas has had to live a double life ever since. His grandfather purchased a fake green card and faked other documents for him.
Though becoming a college graduate seemed like an unreachable goal for Vargas, he defied expectations at San Francisco State University. He then started climbing the newspaper ladder, first in internships at the San Francisco Chronicle and the Philadelphia Daily News, before eventually being hired on at The Washington Post.
With such a promising future, why did Vargas decide to risk it all by coming out publicly? In his New York Times Magazine essay, he wrote, “I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore.”
Vargas’ new mission is to push Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal immigrant students who graduate from high school, are of good moral character, and have been living in the country continuously for at least five years.
At the end of last year, the DREAM Act was defeated on the Senate floor. On May 11 of this year, it was reintroduced.
Proponents of the DREAM Act, like Vargas, say there’s great economic incentive for passing it. A University of California, Los Angeles study estimates that between $1.4 and $3.6 trillion in taxable income would be generated over a 40-year period through DREAM Act beneficiaries.
Critics of the DREAM Act point out that the U.S. government should not reward people for breaking its laws, which is a valid point. At the same time, should we punish someone like Vargas, who is clearly a productive member of society and a high achiever, for something his mother did when he was 12 years old?
In our front page story, Prof. William Perez from Claremont Graduate University pointed out that the path to U.S. citizenship is an extremely difficult one and that one cannot simply apply for citizenship. The process can take years, if it happens at all.
Vargas did something very brave — after all, how many of us would risk all of the comforts of our current lives for a cause? Today, he faces deportation, but he has pushed the issue of immigration reform into the spotlight. To support him or to donate, visit defineamerican.com. ♦