Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coming out undocumented

Essentially, that's what Jose Antonio Vargas did today on the New York Times--confessed he is, and has been since the age of 12, an illegal immigrant. The story is here, and the moralist in me thinks everyone should be required to read it before having an opinion on immigration reform.

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.


I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore.

So I’ve decided to come forward, own up to what I’ve done, and tell my story to the best of my recollection. I’ve reached out to former bosses­ and employers and apologized for misleading them — a mix of humiliation and liberation coming with each disclosure. All the people mentioned in this article gave me permission to use their names. I’ve also talked to family and friends about my situation and am working with legal counsel to review my options. I don’t know what the consequences will be of telling my story.
I find it hard to swallow any conclusion other than that current immigration policy is morally outrageous. Twelve year-olds who grow up to be Pulitzer Prize winning journalists are not the sort of people we need to be deporting based on lack of documentation. Neither is anyone else who comes here to obtain an honest living, for that matter.

The issue gets tricky (I suppose) when you start talking about people sneaking across the Mexican border to sell drugs. And possibly there's reason to fear a massive influx of unskilled labor into our ever-expanding welfare state (ahem). But when it comes to honest, productive, and particularly educated people, the issue really isn't that complicated. How is it possible that such a person can go for eighteen years of his life living in constant fear of being caught for something which isn't a crime in any moral sense?

As an added bonus, Peter Leithart has a deliciously thought-provoking little post on immigration from today.

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