Cheers to Jose Antonio Vargas for Standing Up and Standing with Immigrants Under Attack

July 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


On Tuesday, July 15, Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigration activist and journalist who had traveled to the border region of Texas to take a stand with the thousands of Central American children streaming across the border, was detained by the U.S. Border Patrol while attempting to board a plane to leave the region. He was released with an order to appear for an immigration hearing.

University of Texas students demanding the release of Jose Antonio Vargas in front of the McAllen Texas, Border Patrol station on July 15, 2014. Photo: AP

In a statement in the wake of his detention Vargas said that he went to the border to “shed a light on children who parts of America and many in the news media are actively turning their backs on. But what I saw was the generosity of the American people, documented and undocumented, in the Rio Grande Valley…. I’ve been released by Border Patrol. I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country. Our daily lives are filled with fear in simple acts such as getting on an airplane to go home to our family…. With Congress failing to act on immigration reform, and President Obama weighing his options on executive action, the critical question remains: how do we define American?”

Vargas, who was born in the Philippines, has been living without papers in the United States since 1993 when he came here at age 12. He grew up, went to school, and became a respected journalist for the Washington Post, all the while keeping his status well hidden. But then the world changed, and thousands of young undocumented immigrants like himself, who had been living their lives in the shadows, began raising their voices, putting their lives and bodies on the line, and speaking out to demand an end to deportations and a pathway to remain in the U.S.

And Vargas was confronted with the choice: whether to continue to get along within the comfortable space that he had carved out for himself or to come out and use his voice and stature to declare to the world that he also is undocumented and unafraid. Vargas chose the latter.

In a 2011 cover story in The New York Times Magazine, Vargas declared his undocumented status. And then his life changed dramatically. In a documentary recently aired on CNN called Documented, Vargas tells his own story and describes how he lost his job and without legal papers could no longer work, how travel and every other aspect of his life became perilous. But all this became a means and a platform to tell his story to broad audiences and in doing that to speak for all the undocumented and to challenge the notion that all the undocumented are less deserving and less than human. He tells the excruciating story of his 20-year separation from his mother who remained in the Philippines and who could never visit, and in this story what comes through is a picture of the ripping apart of families, the tearing up of lives that takes place in a world where millions and millions of people are driven from their home countries in search of some kind of decent life and way to survive.

In the wake of Vargas’ detention, United We Dream and other immigration activists denounced his detention and continued to shine a light on the dire situation facing the thousands of children and the millions of undocumented in this country.

Cristina Jiménez, managing director of United We Dream, issued the following statement:

“We stand in solidarity with Jose Antonio and demand for his immediate release, but we must remember that there are thousands of people along the border that live with this same fear every day.

“Once again, the Border Patrol has proven to be a rogue agency after arresting Jose Antonio, a low-priority case for detention and deportation.

“Our undocumented community along the border is trapped within its own country, unable to leave and surrounded by checkpoints. It’s immoral that people aren’t free to move around the country they know as home because of a system that seeks to criminalize them.”


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