Jose Vargas, Undocumented Citizen and Pulitzer Prize Journalist, to Speak on Campus Tomorrow, Sept. 27
According to Vargas, it is thanks to his own allies that he has been able to achieve his version of the American dream, sans documents. “I am the beneficiary of the kindness of a lot of American citizens,” he said. Vargas, who is a former Washington Post reporter and Huffington Post contributing editor, named USF media studies professor Teresa Moore as one of the American citizens he relied on most. He met Moore when he was in high-school. She was his first editor.
“I was an editor at Pacific News Service and Jose was a contributor to YO!, our newspaper for young people,” said Moore. “I often tell my students that Jose was the one kid in 10 who would actually take the advice or suggestions and run with it. When he moved up from Mountain View to go to SFSU, I told him he should go meet my old Chronicle editor Leslie Guevara and talk to her about joining the Asian American Journalists Association. He so impressed her that she hired him to work in the mail room and before too long, he was writing for the Chronicle.”
Vargas has spoken to many of Moore’s classes over the years. “Students love him because they can relate to him and because in a relatively short time, he’s done some amazing things. I really hope students come out to hear him on Friday. The entire program is going to be great, but Jose’s journey is close to my heart. He is the highest profile of the ‘Dreamers’ — young people who were brought here as children and committed themselves to getting an education and contributing to this country. That’s how I define American.”
Moore is referring to “Define American,” the immigrant advocacy group Vargas founded when he publicly announced his immigration status.
“[Professor Moore] helped mentor me and guide me through this existence,” Vargas said. “I’ve been in limbo since I was 16-years-old, and I relied on people like her to help me. They are the good people; they’re the people who have made the right choices.”
And what might those choices be? According to Vargas, it is a choice of ethics. “There is the law and there is what’s right according to the law, but there is also what’s right according to how we treat human beings,” said Vargas, echoing the rationale behind MLK’s push for civil rights.
Also in line with the work of MLK, Vargas is an advocate of the DREAM Act, a bipartisan legislation that creates an opportunity for undocumented youth to achieve legal status, if they meet certain qualifications, like completing a college degree or volunteering two years of military service. The DREAM Act has not yet been passed, though even if it does, Vargas himself won’t be eligible to apply. The cut-off age is 30; Vargas is 32.
“If I could be making myself legal right now — that’s what I’d be doing,” said Vargas. “But I can’t make myself legal because there isn’t a process for me to do so. That’s a fact and that’s why we need remissions reform. The fact that the American public doesn’t know that a line even exists, shows what we have to do.”
Vargas has been touring colleges and universities throughout the United States, in order to educate students, and by the same means, the American public, about immigration reform. One of the things he recommends is moving away from the term “illegal alien” and towards “undocumented citizen.”
“You’d think with the way the media frames it, we are some sort of aliens. We’re not asking for any special rights — we’re just asking for the right to exist in this country; the country we call our home.”
According to Vargas, no student, no matter how removed from immigration law he or she may feel, should be exempt from public discourse on the matter.
“There isn’t a student at USF who isn’t related to immigration,” said Vargas. “Everyone needs to get involved.” Vargas says the controversy around immigration isn’t a democratic issue, nor is it republican or strictly Latino. Instead, it is an American issue. And as a unified American people — an issue that we should all address.
“To be American, by definition, is to come from someplace else,” said Vargas. “I think we forget that.”
To hear more from Vargas and his opinions on immigration reform, attend “Dreaming On: 3rd Annual Critical Diversity Fall Forum” this Friday, September 27 from 1:00 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. in McLaren. Vargas will be speaking at the event.