Jose Antonio Vargas' Reaction To Obama's Immigration Speech Was Powerful & Heartbreaking

As expected, the president's speech on Thursday night was both lauded by his fellow Democrats and rebuked by the GOP. But the magnitude of Obama's executive action on immigration can scarcely be measured by what politicians, who have little understanding of being undocumented in this country, think of it. Under his plan, millions of undocumented immigrants will finally be able to return to their countries of origin, reunite with their families, obtain long-awaited visas and live lawfully in the country, all without risking deportation. Immigration advocates celebrated the announcement last night, among whom one particularly outspoken and high-profile figure, Jose Antonio Vargas, reacted especially personally.

Himself an undocumented immigrant, Vargas is a filmmaker, activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. That's right — this undocumented immigrant was part of the Washington Post team whose reporting on the Virginia Tech shootings earned a Pulitzer Prize For Breaking News Reporting. Vargas moved from the Philippines at the age of 12, only learning of his undocumented status four years later during a visit to the DMV, where he was told that his papers were fraudulent.

During the president's announcement, Vargas — who has over 51,000 followers — tweeted his support for the bill while highlighting his personal struggle as an undocumented immigrant.

Vargas' plight is similar to that of many who are undocumented. It's a common misconception that undocumented immigrants consist exclusively of low-wage, unskilled workers who labor in the shadows of the service industry or in construction. The term itself carries a whole host of negative connotations, but Vargas, who is now a highly acclaimed journalist, is one among many who doesn't fit the stereotype of an undocumented immigrant — proving that one's legal status doesn't define the type of person you become.

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In a 2011 New York Times article about his life as an undocumented immigrant, Vargas wrote:

Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.
But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am.

Oftentimes it's hard to understand what people are going through by simply by hearing about it on the media or looking at statistics, because the missing human element detaches you from the situation.

Vargas, like many undocumented high-skilled workers, have toiled in this country and strongly identify as an American — but because of their status, live in constant fear and secrecy. These — and people like Diane Guerrero, whose family was wrenched apart because of existing immigration laws — are the ones who will benefit most from comprehensive immigration reform. Vargas wrote in the Times:

We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.

Fingers crossed — really tight — that a headstrong Congress will be able to get past its differences with the president, and grant people like Vargas a new lease on life.

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