My Story

15 Aug My Story

We Are One of You
Leer en español

By Jose Antonio Vargas

Editor’s Note: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas revealed his undocumented status last year in a piece for The New York Times Magazine, adding his voice to the growing Dream movement of young undocumented immigrants seeking a reprieve from deportation. We asked him to share his story with us.

A movement is growing, coalescing, all around you—will you join it?

I was born in the Philippines. My mother sent me to the U.S. to give me a better life. It was 1993, and my introduction to American culture was the O.J. Simpson trial, the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding ice skating saga and “Seinfeld.”

Four years later, after a visit to the DMV to get a driver’s permit, I found out that my green card was fake; that I didn’t have the right papers; that I was what many people call “illegal.” I was 16 years old.

Salvation came in two forms. First, I lost myself in my passion. I discovered journalism at 17 and for more than a decade wrote my way into America, lying about my immigration status while reporting for prestigious news organizations such as The Washington Post and The New Yorker. If I couldn’t be American by way of being born here or having the right papers, I figured I could earn it by working hard.

Second, I found and relied on a family of friends—the good Samaritans in my life, my high school principal, co-workers and classmates—who protected and encouraged me to keep working even though my own Filipino family grew nervous as my career took off. “What if anybody finds out?” my Lola (grandmother in Tagalog) would ask me.

Instead of people finding out, I decided to tell them myself and in the most public way possible. Inspired by the activism and courage of young undocumented people across the country who are “coming out” and organizing on behalf of their friends and families, I disclosed my immigration status in The New York Times Magazine and in subsequent television and radio interviews last summer.

To the chorus of voices who are fighting for immigrant rights—urging the passage of the Dream Act, which would provide legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors—I added my own. Together, we are forcing the issue to the fore. We are putting faces, names and stories to an issue that’s been mostly framed in abstract numbers. We are insisting that, the right papers aside, we are one of you: human beings deserving of dignity.

Energized by undocumented youth, the immigrant rights movement is on the winning end of the conversation. Early this summer, President Obama announced a directive halting the deportation of upward of 1 million Dream Act-eligible youth who meet certain criteria. Though only temporary and incremental, Obama’s move is the most significant development in the fight for immigrant rights since President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986.

But the fight goes on for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants who are your neighbors and your co-workers, your relatives and your friends. People are still being detained and deported by authorities. Families are still being torn apart. We still need your help.

In a country built and replenished by immigrants, immigrant rights are American rights. The movement for a just and fair reform continues and builds. Will you join us? Will you stand up and speak out?

Jose Antonio Vargas’ most recent article was a cover story for TIME magazine titled Not Legal, Not Leaving.” He is the founder of Define American, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that seeks to elevate the immigration conversation.

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