Jose Antonio Vargas Comes Out

I am amazed. Simply amazed. And terrified for the outcome. Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist formerly of the Washington Post and the Huffington Post “came out” as an undocumented immigrant yesterday, and I’ve been following the story as closely as I can from India. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have written quite a lot about undocumented immigrants—winning an award for a story about their options for higher education. I covered the Hispanic community of mid-Missouri, many of whom were undocumented immigrants, during an especially tense time for immigration law in the state.

The story was a powerful example of an undocumented immigrant living the “American Dream.”

There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.

But the issue with stories like this is the same reason it’s so powerful: it’s one man’s story. He is one out of 11 million. Policy doesn’t affect the singular, it affects the whole.

Unfortunately due to the nature of illegal immigration, getting accurate information about the group as a whole is difficult. How many have stories similar to Vargas’? How many work low-wage jobs that most Americans would refuse? How many work jobs that the 14 million unemployed Americans are qualified and willing to work?

The question of immigration is not an easy one. (If it were, it would have been answered long ago.) Even harder is the question of whether undocumented immigrants brought here as children and educated in the United States deserve citizenship—essentially the premise of the DREAM act. This morning, I have yet another question: what will happen to Vargas?

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.

Coming out was brave. Even braver was calling former bosses and employers and telling them himself rather than relying on the story to do that for him. Unfortunately, I’m not sure any of this will keep him from being made an example of. And when it comes down to it, no matter how hard he has worked and how much good he has done, he is still in the country illegally.

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