Should the Filipino Pulitzer Prize winner be deported?
“I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore,” he had said in his lengthy confession entitled “Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” published in the New York Times on June 22, 2011.
Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist admitted in his article that he entered the United States illegally when he was 12 years old. After 18 years, he came out and not only admitted his real status but also retold how he engaged in various fraudulent schemes.
First, a “coyote” smuggled him into the US using a passport and a visa, which did not belong to him. His mother introduced him to a man he addressed as “uncle” and who accompanied him to the US. Upon arrival in the States, his “uncle” disappeared with his passport. His grandparents who are both US citizens took custody of him.
Second, as Jose was growing up he used a fraudulent “green card” as proof of his immigration status.
Third, Jose used a fake student visa stamped on his Philippine passport, which he used to obtain a genuine social security number.
Fourth, Jose claimed US citizenship on his applications for employment.
Are minors accountable?
While varying schemes were used, Jose should not be held accountable for the errors of judgment of his mother and grandfather. As a child, he had no participation in the decision to come to the US as an undocumented.
What happened to Jose remains true for tens of thousands of minors who are taken to the US by parents who then decide to stay on illegally. These are parents who either never bother to take steps to legalize the status of their children, or simply have no options to do so.
To provide for a better future for the children is oftentimes the parents’ reason for overstaying. But the reverse happens to most of these children when they finish their education.
Usually, the harsh reality of being a “TNT” (tago-ng-tago or someone always hiding) manifests before these children graduate from high school. When they begin their path to independence, they usually want to get driver’s licenses. This is what happened to Jose. At age 16, he went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain a license. His card was fake, he was told.
With his strong determination to succeed coupled with the support of family and a network of friends, he finished college at San Francisco State. He was eventually employed as a reporter for major news publications like the San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Post. And to top it all, he was part of the team that received a Pulitzer Prize, making him the second Filipino next to Carlos P. Romulo to receive this prestigious award.
But Jose was conflicted: “I knew what I was doing now. I knew it wasn’t right. But what was I supposed to do?” he said.
Jose expresses clearly what he wanted to impart, ” I learned that no amount of professional success would solve my problems or ease the sense of loss and displacement I felt.”
Jose and the thousands of undocumented students whose decision to come to the US was not of their own making are facing personal dilemmas. They try hard to be part of mainstream America, acting like they are true Americans, devoting their time and energy to education and their professions. In the end, they still face possible deportation.
Should Jose Be Deported?
Jose violated immigration law and probably criminal law as well. However, he has a right to a hearing. He is entitled an opportunity to present waivers and other forms of relief that may be available to prevent his deportation.
Instead of penalizing hardworking individuals like Jose, the Obama Administration should make good its promise of comprehensive immigration reform law which includes the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) that will provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth.
Jose Vargas seems ready to face the consequences of his actions. Having publicly revealed his story, his wish is not only to attain legalization for himself but to give voice to tens of thousands of undocumented youth in the US who all deserve a second chance. He should not be deported.
(Tancinco may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 02 887 7177 or 02 721 1962)
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