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Undocumented immigrant addresses diversity, immigration

| Thursday, March 9, 2017

Jose Antonio Vargas spoke at Saint Mary’s on Wednesday about his experiences as an undocumented immigrant and the work he has done as a journalist and with his organization, Define American, to discuss immigration and diversity. His presentation was the final part of the Diverse Students Leadership Conference presented by the Student Diversity Club at Saint Mary’s.

Vargas said he was brought to the United States when he was 12 years old to live with his grandparents, leaving behind his immediate family. He said that he didn’t know he was undocumented until he was 16, and at that time he saw it as a burden and as a form of isolation he had to overcome.

“I internalized being on the outside — my existence was a problem to be solved,” Vargas said. “I tried to face everything that I am.”

Vargas said he wanted to become a journalist because — although he didn’t have legal citizenship papers — his name could be printed in the newspaper, next to the stories he wrote. He said he has consistently gone against the advice he has been given about being so public regarding his undocumented status.

“Twenty seven lawyers gave me a choice: ‘Do you want to self-deport? Or do you want to wait be deported?’ I went against the advice of 27 lawyers,” he said.

Vargas said a huge issue surrounding the topic of immigration is rooted in the language people use to refer to undocumented immigrants.

“I am a person — I am not illegal. I, as a person, can’t be illegal,” he said.

He said another issue arises from the assumption that all undocumented immigrants come from a single place, while, in reality, they come from all around the world.

“Forty percent of the undocumented people here have overstayed their visas,” he said. “That’s almost half who didn’t come from the border of Mexico.”

Another issue stems from the citizens of the United States implicitly approving of undocumented immigrants when it is economically convenient for themselves.

“We are country addicted to cheap labor,” Vargas said. “So long as we have what we need, it’s a border, it’s a wall.”

One way Vargas has tried to combat the stigma surrounding undocumented immigrants is through his effort of questioning everyone, regardless of ethnicity or race, what their heritage is. Vargas said he wants everyone to understand that their ancestors moved to America for a better life and that this same reason drives immigration today, as well. 

“Why do people move? Do you know your own history? When Europeans or Americans move and expand, it’s courageous, it’s necessary. When Latinos move, it’s illegal — it’s a crime,” he said.

Vargas has been told at various times in his life that he does not belong here, and he said he was confused as to exactly what that meant, as individuals cannot choose what country they are born into. 

“What did you do to deserve to be here? What are we all doing to deserve to be here? Citizenship means knowing the world doesn’t revolve around you,” he said.

According to Vargas, an important action American citizens can take to combat this issue is to care about others, and to try to see life through the eyes of another.

“I ask, in all the ways that we can, we show up for each other,” he said.

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  • Charles Brown

    We are a country of laws. The United States is NOT about who your mother or father is, but a country that enforces laws equally. We must enforce our immigration laws. President Trump should rescind DACA and we must arrest and deport all 12 million illegal aliens.

    • RandallPoopenmeyer

      There are also many unjust laws. This country certainly is about who your parents are.

      • killshot

        Yeah…starting with the cretins at places like Middlebury.

    • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

      Can you tell me what “crime” did the person mentioned in the viewpoint committed when he was 12?

      • killshot

        It is a “crime” to be here without appropriate documentation, current visa, or evidence that you are a naturalized citizen. Please buy a vowel if not a clue.

        • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

          Did your ancestors bring appropriate documentation?

          • Jerad Whitaker

            Yes they did. How about yours?

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            I’m not American and neither are my ancestors. Which means that, throughout our lives, we’ve always had access to quality healthcare and we were allowed to go to college without getting bankrupt. We also have four weeks of paid vacation and maternity leave. Meanwhile Trumpanzees like you are a bunch of masochists.

          • Jerad Whitaker

            Some of us who believe you should follow the laws of the country you live in, support Trump. Also, if you break a law and knowingly continue to break the same law, you are a criminal. Perhaps you should spend a little more on your education so you can learn what a criminal is.

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            If you want to live in a country where everybody has to support the president, you can always move to North Korea.

          • Jerad Whitaker

            It’s not a matter of supporting the President. It’s a matter of following the law. The US has appropriate steps to take if you want the laws to change. Choosing to not follow them just because you don’t like them is not the right way.

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            The law doesn’t say you have to support the president or any government institutions. Otherwise Republicans would be in jail for a long time. Inform yourself, please.

    • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

      Go back to Europe! Europeans brought crime, rape, diseases and genocide to America!

      • killshot

        And also the machine you are typing on.

        • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

          Do you have a brain? Are you that stupid?

        • Jerad Whitaker

          The Aztecs and Hurons didn’t invent them, they were common long before those civilizations.

          • killshot

            Figure of speech. Ok, then, they actually “perfected” them.

  • killshot

    “I am a person — I am not illegal. I, as a person, can’t be illegal,” he said. That is totally absurd. Try reading the law. Don’t like it? Then run for Congress or talk to your local rep. Try that one in ANY other country in the world — especially your own, Mexico. They will collar you faster than you can say, “I am a person.” And throw away the key.