Accessibility links

Breaking News

What Would You Ask an Undocumented Immigrant?

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, immigration rights activist and self-declared undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on comprehensive immigration
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, immigration rights activist and self-declared undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on comprehensive immigration
Jose Antonio Vargas isn’t Mexican, but he’s often asked if he is. The journalist who has become the symbolic face of undocumented immigrants in the United States is from the Philippines, and he considers himself as American as anyone else. On Tuesday, he took his story to Facebook in a live question and answer session with a curious public.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington Post reporter has become a prominent voice in the U.S. immigration reform debate since revealing his undocumented status in a New York Times Magazine article nearly two years ago.

The Facebook page of Vargas' advocacy group Define America hosted dozens of questions and comments from people who both support his activism or want him and others like him out of the country. Below are excerpts of the conversation that unfolded online over a couple hours, a reflection of the debate taking place across the country as Congress shapes new legislation to govern immigration and border security.


Mark Krikorian Isn't getting your name and picture in the paper the best way of avoiding deportation?

(Eds note: Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based research group that advocates tighter immigration restrictions.)

Jose Antonio Vargas Not for everyone. Being public can offer protection — the key word, of course, is "can." For a few years now, undocumented youth in cities like Chicago and NYC, to name just two, have held "Coming Out of the Shadows" events, declaring that they are "undocumented and unafraid."

Mark Krikorian Also, is it right that the Washington Post was not fined for knowing employment of an illegal immigrant? Or at least that it didn't fire Peter Perl for engaging in illegal activity on behalf of the company?

Jose Antonio Vargas You can ask that question to Washington Post. Peter Perl [the Post editor who kept Vargas’ undocumented status a secret until he came out] is one my heroes, and there are countless Peter Perls across the country, aiding and helping undocumented people like me. Here's a very insightful Q&A with Peter.

Jose Antonio Vargas Also, Mark, I am not "illegal" — no human being is. Your calling me "illegal" frankly says more about you than it does about me.

Ted Hesson Have you ever heard of someone who came out as undocumented and was then deported?

(Eds note: Ted Hesson is the Immigration Editor at Fusion, an ABC-Univision joint venture.)

Jose Antonio Vargas Yes, I have. In 2007, Elvira Arellano wanted to stay in the U.S. with her U.S. citizen son, Saul. She took up sanctuary in a church in Chicago and after bravely sharing her plight, she was deported. Story here. Also, La Opinion has reported that Elvira Arellano still fights for family unity and migrant rights in Mexico


Tivo James Jr. Good day to you kabayan! My question is, If all of us will become legal in this country, are we allowed to leave outside the U.S.?And if we are, how soon? Thank you and mabuhay ka!

Jose Antonio Vargas Yes, I believe so. We're still awaiting details, of course. I want to see my mother soon. It's been 20 years since I last saw her.

Border Security

Melvin Udall If the borders were secured and proper tracking implemented so the deluge ended, it is my belief Americans would embrace any solution to the illegal immigrant issue (including amnesty). Do you agree with this premise? If so, why is there such resistance to a closed border and reform first?

Jose Antonio Vargas Yes, I agree with that premise, Melvin. So does, I think, my friend, Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. Border security is an important conversation. But we must also keep in mind a few things. First, border crossings are at a historic low. (Read this.) Second, what does U.S. foreign and economic policies have to do w/ the economic and political realities in Mexico?

Melvin Udall Crossings are low because of economic decline. Their volume is irrelevant to the question. We agree the border should be secure or we do not. With all due respect, economic policies and realities are also irrelevant. Why is there always a "but" if we agree Americans would likely accept amnesty and, say, a series of "Ellis Island" type stations once there was genuine regulation of the border and immigration?

Catherine Eusebio In what ways do you think your gender influences your work, the effectiveness of your work, or the way people perceive you?

Jose Antonio Vargas I am incredibly privileged to be doing what I am doing, and part of that privilege is being a man. Even though I am a gay man — that in itself comes with its own challenges — women and queer women face obstacles that I do not. It's very important to note, btw, that women and queer women (like, for example, Tania Unzueta) helped build the young immigrant movement long before the the DREAM Act hit mainstream.

Ana Gonzalez Mr. Vargas, thank you for this session of questions and answers. How to explain this issue of undocumented immigration to a population that is compounded almost all of immigrants? Isn't that puzzling?

Jose Antonio Vargas Sometimes I feel like a walking dusty and unread historic book, exposing America to an American that has forgotten its own history. Aside from Native Americans, who are the original Americans, and African Americans, who were forced to slavery and came to America to build our economy, we are all Americans. I often talk about Ellis Island, where 1 out of 2 Americans can trace their family members, when I talk about immigration, especially when I speak in front of audiences in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, etc. Like, between 1892 and 1954, about 12 million undocumented Europeans crossed the border that was the Atlantic Ocean and landed on Ellis Island. The new immigrants were inspected, registered and welcomed to America. Back then, Italians were called "WOPS", which stood for "without papers."

Got questions?

Do you have questions about what it's like to live without the proper legal documentation in the United States, or about the immigration reform process taking place in Congress? Tweet your questions to VOA's Kate Woodsome @kwoodsome or write them in the comments section below.