Between the Covers: Stories from My Bookcase

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Jose Antonio Vargas: Undocumented Immigrant

I read Jose Antonio Vargas’ NY Times piece on being an Undocumented US Immigrant the other day, and I’ve been thinking on and off about it. Yesterday, on the BlogHer newsletter, they included a link to a small compilation of bloggers’ reactions, and I’m sure it’s but a small sampling of the many different reactions.

This post is by no means a stand on US immigration laws, I don’t presume to have a say on that. I also am not judging Vargas nor his family who brought him to the States, and his support network through the years. This is just a simple reaction.

Had he stayed in the Philippines, maybe we would have been batch mates at the UP. Perhaps he’d be a well known journalist here too. But his elders decided for him when he was 12, decided that his fate was to live in the US. That he was to make his fortune there.

I empathize with him. It couldn’t have been easy, and I can’t even imagine the anxiety he has felt all these years having a secret identity. But what struck me most in his article was the absence of a show of love for the Philippines – for his heritage. I get it. His point is that he is American. He has lived, breathed, and has been thinking like an American. So maybe in some level he does love the Philippines, maybe he is proud that he is also Filipino by heritage. But he is American. He’s no Pinoy in the US. He is American.

What will happen to him? I’ve wondered about it so many times in the past two to three days. I hope he doesn’t get deported and that he has a really good lawyer. But even if he does get deported, it wouldn’t be so bad. The Philippines will welcome him like the long-lost son that he is. He would probably get a hero’s welcome.

But I think I understand where he’s coming from. I don’t see anything wrong with him seeking validation via a legal US passport. Like he said, he has earned it. But he must (or at least someone should), I think, also pay for all the falsified documents he has used and produced all these years. When he was a minor and was fed all those illegal documents, he had immunity. But when he came of age – that was all him. I understand that he did it in order to survive. He is no petty criminal and he had all good intentions. But the same systems and relations that allow undocumented immigrants is likely to be the same ones that make our children and young people prone to trafficking. He himself was smuggled into the US. Good for him that the purpose wasn’t to exploit him but others who avail of the services of the same person who escorted him to the US may not have had the same purpose in mind. That year that he was brought into the US, how many other children were flown in the same way?

So in the end, I do hope that his campaign is a success. I hope there becomes a way to legalize the status of illegal immigrant children. After all, they are already there, through no fault of their own. But I hope too, that his story shows both the US and the Philippine governments that they need to tighten up. There may be many more stories like Jose’s, but also many un-like his. Other stories may not be that of success and good fortune – but the opposite.