Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas revealed Wednesday that he is an undocumented immigrant who discovered his status when he visited the DMV when he was 16. He says he’ll lobby for the Dream Act, a bill that would give young people who were educated in this country a path to legal permanent residency.
He first came to the United States from the Philippines in 1993 when he was 12. Vargas was able to obtain a license from Oregon using the address of the father of a friend, and that license didn’t expire until earlier this year. In the meantime he launched a career in journalism, working at the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and profiling Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker.
About four months into my job as a reporter for The Post, I began feeling increasingly paranoid, as if I had “illegal immigrant” tattooed on my forehead — and in Washington, of all places, where the debates over immigration seemed never-ending. I was so eager to prove myself that I feared I was annoying some colleagues and editors — and worried that any one of these professional journalists could discover my secret. The anxiety was nearly paralyzing.
He said he tried to avoid writing about immigration for the newspaper:
I did my best to steer clear of reporting on immigration policy but couldn’t always avoid it. On two occasions, I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s position on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. I also wrote an article about Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, then thechairman of the Republican National Committee, who was defending his party’s stance toward Latinos after only one Republican presidential candidate — John McCain, the co-author of a failed immigration bill — agreed to participate in a debate sponsored by Univision, the Spanish-language network.
Vargas said he continued to worry about people finding out about his immigration status. While he obtained a driver’s license in the state of Washington that could carry him through until 2016, he wrote it would be tough to go through “five more years of fear, of lying to people I respect and institutions that trusted me, of running away from who I am.”
“I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore,” he wrote. “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.”
Vargas has also launched the “Define American” campaign to start a “real conversation about immigration in our country.” He says he’ll push for support of the Dream Act, which has failed to reach the 60 vote threshold required to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold another hearing on the bill on Tuesday, but there hasn’t been any indication that the bill could overcome opposition from Senate Republicans.