Undocumented journalist to address Miami conference
By Alfonso Chardy
Former Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jose Antonio Vargas speaks at the Commonwealth Club of California on July 11, 2011, in San Francisco.
A former Washington Post reporter who last year caused a sensation by revealing that he was an undocumented immigrant will be in Miami this week to deliver the keynote speech at the annual dinner of the immigrant rights organization Americans for Immigrant Justice, formerly the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.Jose Antonio Vargas, 31, told El Nuevo Herald he was inspired to reveal his immigration status by four immigrant youths who two years ago walked from Miami to Washington, D.C., to promote immigration reform — specifically, passage of the DREAM Act. That bill would offer green cards to thousands of undocumented students brought to the United States by their parents when they were children.“They were an inspiration,” said Vargas, who will speak about the DREAM Act and his own story during the AI Justice dinner Thursday at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Miami.
The DREAM Act, stalled in Congress for years, is again in the spotlight as a result of a case that came to light two weeks ago involving Daniela Peláez, 18, a Colombian who is North Miami Senior High School’s valedictorian.
After a Miami immigration judge ordered Daniela to leave the country, thousands of her classmates poured onto the streets around their school and demanded that she be allowed to stay. It was the biggest demonstration on immigration reform since President George W. Bush first proposed legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants in 2004.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has since given Daniela a reprieve, granting her a two-year deferral before additional action is taken.
Cheryl Little, executive director of AI Justice, said she chose Vargas as keynote speaker because he has become a symbol of young immigrants’ struggle for passage of the DREAM Act.
“Jose is an example of why we need the DREAM Act,” said Little. “He and many like him have so much to contribute to our country that to deport them so others can take advantage of their talent does not make sense.”
Vargas said in the interview that all undocumented immigrants should make a contribution to turn immigration reform into a national movement akin to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
“The cause demands all hands on deck,” said Vargas. “The four immigrants who walked from Miami to Washington made a contribution. I made my contribution, and so each of us must make a contribution so there is real change.”
Vargas was sent to the United States from the Philippines by his mother in 1993, when he was 12 years old, and lived with his grandparents in the San Francisco area. His grandfather gave him a fake green card.
But when Vargas tried to get a driver’s license a few years later, he realized he was undocumented.
Vargas persevered in his field of interest, journalism, and eventually was hired by the Washington Post. He was a member of the team of reporters who, in 2008, won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.
In June, Vargas revealed his undocumented status in an article published in the New York Times magazine. In that article, Vargas first mentioned the role of the Miami walkers in his decision.
“Last year I read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the Dream Act, a nearly decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to legal permanent residency for young people who have been educated in this country,” Vargas wrote. “At the risk of deportation — the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years — they are speaking out. Their courage has inspired me.”
Vargas also wrote that he went public because he was tired of concealing his immigration status.
“I’m done running,” he said in the article. “I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore.”
Today, Vargas heads the website Define American, dedicated to publishing stories about undocumented immigrants, primarily those who were brought to the United States as children and who could seek legal residence under the DREAM Act.
On the eve of his trip to Miami, Vargas plans to speak at an event in San Francisco where four youths, three of them undocumented, will emulate the Miami immigrants and walk to Washington in support of passage of the DREAM Act.