In a TIME magazine cover story earlier this year, undocumented Filipino American journalist Jose Vargas, famous for “coming out” about his immigration status in an essay published in The New York Times Magazine, wrote:
“I spend every day wondering what, if anything, the government plans to do with me. After months of waiting for something to happen, I decided that I would confront immigration officials myself. Since I live in New York City, I called the local ICE office. The phone operators I first reached were taken aback when I explained the reason for my call. Finally, I was connected to an ICE officer. ‘Are you planning on deporting me?’ I asked.”
Mr. Vargas was informed that, because he had never been arrested and was never referred to ICE, he didn’t exist in the ICE databases, even though he had made a public announcement of his immigration status.
On Oct. 5, Mr. Vargas was stopped by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn. for driving with earphones on. Because his Washington state license was cancelled after his story was published, he was arrested for driving with an invalid license and was finally referred to immigration officials.
However, on Oct. 8, those officials announced that they will not take any action against Mr. Vargas, saying that “ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of public safety threats, recent border crossers, and egregious immigration law violators.”
But while Mr. Vargas can breathe a sigh of relief, many undocumented Americans like him still live in fear due to Congress’ reluctance to pass the DREAM act, which would allow undocumented individuals to remain in the United States if they were brought to the country before the age of 16, have lived here for 5 or more consecutive years, and are productive members of society.
President Obama’s executive order earlier this year ordering the Department of Homeland Security to not deport individuals who would fall under the DREAM act was a good start. But it is still only a start.
As Mr. Vargas pointed out shortly after President Obama’s announcement, the order still falls short, not protecting individuals who had the misfortune of being born a few days, weeks, or months too early, putting them over the age of 30 at the time of President Obama’s announcement. The longer congress sits, the more people are falling out of any possible protection.
The fact that there is even such an arbitrary cut off is troubling. Is someone who was brought to the United States at the age of 5 and spent 26 years learning, working, and growing here any less American than someone who was brought at the age of 5 and spent 24 years here doing the exact same things? Obviously not.
But, under the proposed DREAM act and the president’s order, they apparently are. The United States has always been a country of opportunity. We have always been constructed to care for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It’s time that we remember that and welcome those who are just as American as we are, if not more so. (end)