Jose Antonio Vargas didn’t know he was an undocumented immigrant until, at 16, he tried to obtain a drivers license and was told by a D.M.V. clerk his green card was a fake. He kept his secret through high school, college, and several part time jobs. Soon after graduating, Vargas was hired by The Washington Post, where he contributed to the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. In many ways, the young Filipino immigrant had already achieved the American Dream — but he was still undocumented, and still felt like he was hiding.
In 2011, Vargas chose to speak out, sharing the story of his life as an undocumented immigrant in The New York Times — including details of using a fake passport to apply for a Social Security card and claiming full citizenship on his 1-9 employment eligibility forms. His “coming out” was inspired by a group of students who walked from Miami to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the Dream Act. The act would provide a path to permanent residency for young people like Vargas, who were brought to this country by their parents as children, were educated here, and, in many cases, know no other home.
We spoke to Vargas about the Dream Act, Arizona’s controversial immigration law, and his own personal status a year after his daring admission.
Lauren Feeney: Why do you think the Dream Act — which was introduced in 2001 and had widespread bipartisan support — been stalled for over a decade now?
Jose Antonio Vargas: The Dream Act was introduced in August 2001 and then the next month, the September 11th attacks hit. After that, Americans started to rethink the idea of strangers and foreigners — and rightfully so; we were just attacked. Everything immigration reform–related just got put by the wayside. George W. Bush — who was a border president — understood immigration and understood the importance of Latino voters and wanted some sort of reform. But in the politics of the post–September 11th world, it just became impossible. I read George W. Bush’s memoir a few months ago, and he says in the book that not passing immigration reform was one of the biggest regrets of his presidency. MORE