“It’s Time” – Jose Antonio Vargas Speaks for Himself

by Jose Antonio Vargas

This morning on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, DREAMers from across the country are gathered for a “graduation” ceremony. This is the text of the commencement address I gave… Jose Antonio Varga

My name is Jose Antonio Vargas and I am an undocumented American.

I was born in the Philippines.  My mother wanted to give me a better life, so she sent me away to live in America with her parents.  It was 1993. I was 12.

I loved America immediately — the language, the culture, the people — everything.  This is my home.

When I was 16, I rode my bike to the D.M.V. to get my driver’s permit. When I handed the clerk my green card, she said. “This is fake. Don’t come back here again.”  That’s when I knew.

And that’s when I decided that I could never give anyone reason to doubt that I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, if I did enough I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I’ve tried. I’ve worked at The Washington Post. I started the College and Tech sections at The Huffington Post.  I’ve written for The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. I’ve even won a Pulitzer for my work covering the Virginia Tech Massacre.  I’ve met Beyonce.  Twice.

Then last year, just months shy of my 30th birthday, I watched the DREAM Act fail on the Senate floor.  I knew then that it was time to make a choice: I could continue to live a seemingly successful life with constant guilt and fear.  Or, I could tell the truth and lose it all.

I chose to tell the truth.  Parents tell their children all the time: The only way to solve a problem is to tell the truth. And here’s the thing: Just as I hadn’t been talking about my situation, neither had my country.

We talk about “illegal immigration.” We talk about the border. We talk about sending kids to war so that maybe they can earn permanent status.  We talk about immigration but we don’t talk about the immigrants — the normal, hard-working people who fill the classrooms and the church pews and the offices of America.  We are indistinguishable from our peers in all but one circumstance.

We aren’t having a conversation about it. We need to have a conversation about it.

America needs to talk about us, its illegitimate children. But that’s going to take us going and talking to America.

I came out because I was inspired by the courage of four students from Miami who walked fifteen hundred miles to make their voices heard. I was inspired by all of you.  You define American.

Now we need to go out together and inspire others to tell their stories. Not just undocumented Americans but the people who know and help them– to tell them they’re not alone, that there are other citizens, members of the 21st Century Underground Railroad taking risks every day in order to do what is right. They are our principals and our pastors, they are our coaches and our colleagues.  People who drive below the speed limit but now feel like outlaws because they saw our humanity – our Americanness – and refused to sit by as we slipped into the cracks of a broken system.  They define American.

Raise your hand if an American citizen has ever taken a risk to keep you safe.

Raise your hand if you too have an underground railroad.

Now raise your hand if you believe that America shouldn’t force its own citizens to make the impossible choice between doing what is legal and doing what is right.

Our system is broken and it is time to have a serious conversation about fixing it.  And we can only do that by asking our neighbors, our fellow Americans, the hard questions, questions like:

What would you do?

What would you do if you found out that a member of your parish didn’t have papers?

What would you do if one of your students couldn’t travel to Arizona for a school trip?

What would you do if your child’s best friend wasn’t here legally?

What would you do?

We aren’t having a conversation about it. We need to have a conversation about it.

We need to take this conversation to living rooms that are sometimes far from our own experiences, even when they’re only down the block. We need to take this conversation to the people who think they hate us, because they don’t hate us — they just don’t know us. We need to take this conversation to millions of well-meaning brothers and sisters who may occasionally mutter something about “the illegals” but otherwise don’t think the issue has anything to do with them. We need to show them that fixing the immigration system isn’t about us the 11 million but about us the 300 million. The larger us. It’s about the character of this country we love, and how together we can save it.

It’s time.

For me.  For Gaby, Juan, Felipe, Carlos.  For you. For your mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers.  For every American citizen who is forced to fill in where the system fails.  And for all Americans — everyone who believes that you should be able to earn your way to success in this country with hard work and determination, who believes that every generation should have more opportunity than the one before it.  For every one of us who pledges allegiance to the flag.  For every one of us who calls America home. It’s time.

Related Posts

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This post first appeared at Vargas’ site DefineAmerica.



Photo from from screen capture with permission


Eva C.
Eva C6 years ago

Erica B.
I believe I am right in assuming that as HE WAS LEGALLY HIRED UNDER AN ASSUMED NAME his taxes HAD TO BE automatically deducted from his pay. Also, he must've been up to paying Federal and local taxes as well . There is no way the Internal Revenue Service would not have been on his heel otherwise.
Why so much antagonism against a decent person's right to a well deserved life? I WOULD HAVE MORE RESPECT FOR THE LAWS IF If THEY WERE EQUALLY APPLIED TO LEGAL CITIZENS IN HIGH PLACES. Unfortunately there is not that much attention paid to those things by many of the same people who are willing to sacrifice ONE person for their misplaced righteousness.

Erica B.
Erica B6 years ago

Amber, do you think Vargas should be forced to pay any back taxes that were not paid, due to his "illegal" status? He reaped the benefits of our education system...and has benefited greatly from it...as you stated. Should he not fork out some type of "share" of the taxes for that education? The article doesn't state that his grandparents paid those taxes...if they did, then fine. How about the newspapers and magazines that hired him? Do they get a pass for taking on an illegal alien? Or do they only get punished for the illegals who aren't in the news? Someone is dropping the ball here...in a BIG way.

john hall
john hall6 years ago

its a shame but you should never be rewarded for breaking the law .

Amber K.
Amber K6 years ago

Hi Erica B,
Thanks for your comment, yes, it would have been for the best if Mr Vargas had applied for citizenship in the legal way. But he didn’t, and we can’t go back into the past and change any of that. What he did do was make the most of every opportunity America had to offer him and came out as a well-achieving, self-sufficient individual. The point I was trying to get across is that I think it would be counter-productive for the States to deport someone who has given, and is continuing to give back so much to the country that effectively made him who he is today.

Ameer T.
Ameer T6 years ago

It would be difficult to solicit an unbiased opinon here from Americans. And i have several reasons to believe so.
They dont like immigrants to the point that there was a suggestion some time back that a wall should be built like the great wall of China to keep the immigrants out.
Also Americans feel they are select elite group of people who have been given a divine charter or a right by God to judge all other nations and decide their fate and status.
Whether they admit it or not, all Americans are immigrants. the natives were the real Americans who got eradicated in the process.
And if you still want a happy life and make your dear mother happy, go back to the Phillipines. America is in dire straights anyway with goverment shut downs, soaring unemployment, education budet cuts, social security cuts, medicare axed, rescheduled debt ceiling which means more loans and more interest and further economic slavery. If you have got talent like you say you do, you should be able make it big anywhere.

Erica B.
Erica B6 years ago

Amber, I don't think that anyone here would argue with you that Mr Vargas is talented, intelligent, and has a lot to offer America. But so do thousands...perhaps millions...of other people, who are waiting patiently and LEGALLY to immigrate here. Why should Vargas get his "in," while others must wait? Do other people that want to move here not have as much to offer America? I don't think so.

Mr Vargas should have done the right thing, if not at 16 and still a child in the eyes of the law, at 18 when he graduated from high school. The fact that he chose to do nothing, until OTHER people's actions guilted him into speaking out, says a lot about his "courage," or lack of it. If he had done the right thing years ago, he would already have been a United States Citizen by now. And he would not be feeling the regret he does now.

Amber K.
Amber K6 years ago

Awkward, Care2 just chopped off the last part of my rant, here it is:

This is a guy who has soo much intelligence, talent, courage and bravery not only to adjust to a new culture and society but to thrive in it and ultimately give back to his community. He seems like a well educated fellow, with a resume in journalism to be very proud of. Why on earth would people want to deport a man like this? He is obviously contributing to America and not sponging off state resources.

Feel free to come to New Zealand Jose, I’m sure we’d appreciate your skill and determination more than some of these Americans.

Amber K.
Amber K6 years ago

OK, so why did Mr Vargas come to the US in the first place? As he states, he is from the Philippines, and his mother sent him out of that developing LEDC so that he could get a "better life"

Those who talk about his "lack of right to be here", need to change their perspective-yeah, Samantha L and John K I'd love to see you lot spitting out those same comments if you were from a country that didn't have a social welfare system and free education for it's citizens. I guess it’s easy for you, you were lucky that to be born in a country that gives it’s citizens every opportunity out there to find success and a fulfilling life.

News to me but illegal immigrants are “animals”, well that is rude, degrading, discriminating and insulting to the extreme. You both also talk about how “parasites and criminals are living off the fat of the land”, oh please, because there are totally no Americans divulging in those activities anyway. Why do you jump to assuming that all illegal immigrants are ”criminals”? I suggest you actually READ the above article and find that many are like Mr Vargus and simply want the same a chance at obtaining the same privileges’ you got handed on a gold platter.

One last thing Samantha, you talk about your wonderful “forefathers”, what the ones that invaded North America and murdered millions of Native Americans? Don’t even try to pull that one you hypocrite.

This is a guy who has soo much

Erica B.
Erica B6 years ago

@Elizabeth K:
I think Eva was saying that the person who posted is from Brentwood, NY, USA...so why is someone who is living in this country posting in a foreign language? I believe the point is that if you are going to live in the USA, learn the English language like everyone else does. It isn't a matter of bigotry or racism, it is a matter of common sense. If any of us went to another country to live, like China or Brazil, we would have to learn their language if we wanted to work and function as citizens of that country.

I don't know Eva, but BECAUSE I don't know her I feel we should give her the benefit of the doubt. She is talking from the point of her own personal experiences, coming here to become a citizen, and how she is being respectful of her chosen country and its English speaking citizens.

John K.
John K.6 years ago

Adios Jose. The one thing that makes this country great is that we are a nation of Laws and not men. You have broken the law and it is time for you to do things the right way.
First, leave.
Then if you still wish to be a citizen, apply for it in the proper fashion. Anyone with half a brain should not care about your tale of woe. You sound like a smart, productive man. Man up, and do it the right way, and quit acting like all the sappy, deranged liberals on this site.
Admittedly, if you are productive as you have made yourself out to be, I personally would not have too much of a problem seeing that you are able to stay, as long as it is legal.
My problem is with all the parasites and criminals that have invaded our country to take advantage of all the freebies that our collectivist government likes to bestow upon them without any thought given to the cost. We can no longer afford this nonsense.
All the criminals involved in the drug cartels caught over here should be summarily executed and their fetid corpses sent back to their respective countries with a bill for delivery charges and the bullets used to kill said vermin.