Fighting for immigration reform
By Devon Beck
“To be an undocumented immigrant in this country is to be obsessed with documents,” immigration activist and undocumented immigrant Jose Vargas said in an emotional speech Wednesday, April 24 in Shiley Theater. Vargas was here as a part of USD’s L.I.F.E. (Life is for Everyone) week and spoke on the issue of immigration reform in the US.
Chosen as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2012, Vargas has been at the forefront of the fight for the rights of undocumented immigrants.
Speaking to a full theater, Vargas discussed how he came to the US and how he got to where he is today.
Vargas arrived in the US on August 3, 1993 at the age of 12. His grandfather, who was in the US legally, had saved up enough money for Vargas to come live with him. Vargas’s grandfather was able to come to the US through legal means because of how the immigration process works. Because Vargas’s mom was already married and grandparents could not petition for their grandchildren to come over, Vargas and his mom were not eligible to come to America. It was not until Vargas was 15 and he tried to get his learner’s permit that he learned he was here illegally.
After his grandfather informed him that he was not supposed to be in the United States, Vargas made it his mission to “exist” in American society and not try to hide. To do this, Vargas became a journalist. He first started writing for his high school paper, and eventually became a journalist for papers such as The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and The New Yorker.
It was in 2011 that Vargas finally decided to break his silence and come out that he was an undocumented worker writing his story in The New York Times Magazine.
“I spent 10 years of my life writing about other people so I didn’t have to write about myself,” Vargas said. “And I decided that sometimes you risk your own life to free yourself from it. So I decided that to tell my own story and be in charge of my own narrative.”
Once his article came out, Vargas explained that he was waiting to be deported. When that did not happen,” Vargas contacted Time Magazine and said he wanted to do a piece on why he hadn’t been deported.
As part of his piece, Vargas decided to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement and report himself.
“I called I.C.E., I called immigration myself,” Vargas joked. “I said ‘Hi, I’m a reporter for TIME Magazine, I’m Jose Antonio Vargas, I haven’t heard from you, are you going to deport me? Why? Why not? If why not, why?’”
Vargas never got an answer from I.C.E. and still doesn’t fully understand why he hasn’t been deported.
Understanding his unique situation, Vargas added, “I am, to be blunt about it, the most privileged immigrant in America. While people get deported every day, while people fear for their lives and can’t get through school and can’t get through work, I’m here speaking to almost a full house of people, travelling around the country, talking about immigration.”
While Vargas discussed his life and how he got to where he is today, he also discussed the controversial issues of immigration in the US.
Vargas sees immigration reform as necessary and explained how hurtful and wrong it was to call an undocumented immigrant an “illegal immigrant”.
“I do not, and people like me do not need the right green card, passport, or social security card to be treated as a human being,” Vargas said.
Vargas stressed the importance of equality for undocumented workers, emphasizing that it was the action that was illegal, not the person.
“You don’t have to be gay to fight for LGBT rights, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist, you don’t have to be Latino or Black to care about Latino issues or Black issues, you don’t have to be undocumented to care about immigrants,” Vargas said. “All you have to be is a human being.”
Vargas also talked about how immigration reform was inevitable and could be sped up if more people understood the real issue at hand. Vargas explained that being an undocumented immigrant did not mean that someone is not an American.
“I am an American. I am just waiting for my country to recognize it,” Vargas said.