My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant is a brutally honest piece of writing that I think everyone should know about. This long essay was first printed in the New York Times Magazine on June 22, 2011 and describes the moving story (and confession) of Jose Antonio Vargas who admits to being an illegal alien. It tells the strange path his life has taken from boarding a flight to the Bay Area at the age of 12 to his career as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Vargas’ mission is two-fold, I believe 1. to raise awareness of the malfunctioning U.S. immigration “process” and provide a visual that not all undocumented workers are who you think they are and 2. to come clean about his real identity – to confess for the years of guilt he has harbored for lying about his situation.
After My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant was published there’s been a bizarre backlash against Vargas on the Internet. In particular by fellow journalists who have put a lot of energy in writing long-winded pieces on how Vargas can’t be trusted and how they were “duped.” They quickly leap to the role of drama queen without taking a second and asking themselves, “What would I have done if that was me?”
And while we are on the subject of morality, where is the virtue in sending someone back to a third-world country? What warped moral compass points to that? The cries to deport Vargas to his country of birth are hilarious to me because they are screamed with such conviction and entitlement with the underlying message, “I’m a real American, he’s NOT, send that piece of dirt back to the hole he came from.”
So as we celebrate on July 4th this year with our fireworks and parades and BBQs, I also hope we talk about My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant amongst each other. And maybe get over the fact that Vargas lied [which is not really the point people] and raise the level of the discussion to include, “What does it say about the U.S. if we are so willing to obliterate such a bright talent who so desperately wants to be one of us?”