Undocumented Immigrant Jose Vargas: Obama Announcement 'Bold, Historic And Necessary'

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The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to nearly a million undocumented immigrants, who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives.

The policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who have attended college or served in the military.

The announcement applies to immigrants who:

  • Were in the U.S. before they were 16 and are now under 30-years-old
  • Have been in the country for five years
  • Have no criminal record
  • Have graduated from a U.S. high school or GED or have served in the military

These immigrants can apply for a two-year work permit.

'Extraordinary, Bold and Historic'

Jose Antonio Vargas is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
Jose Antonio Vargas is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

Journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas applauded the decision.

"This is an extraordinary, bold and historic and necessary move for the Obama administration to make. It could not have come at a better time," he told Here & Now's Robin Young.

Vargas came out as an undocumented worker in a New York Times Magazine story last year, and he will not be affected by the announcement.

"I'm 31, so I'm over the age cap," he said. "But you know, when I came out last summer in the New York Times magazine, the whole point was to say, this is way bigger than me."

Vargas says the policy change could ameliorate a problem he saw while traveling around the country. Vargas described meeting undocumented immigrants with nursing degrees, who were working as babysitters.

"Here we are with an educated class of people that cannot work, we have a broken system," he said. "This is beyond politics, this is about doing the right thing."

But many disagree with granting immunity to any undocumented immigrants, fearing it will ultimately lead to citizenship and that many undocumented immigrants are getting benefits — like in-state tuition —  that could deplete resources available to Americans.

"I completely understand their frustration but this is not a zero sum game," Vargas said. "Everybody being educated benefits everybody. The people who say that this is an overreach, what is the alternative? That we keep having people living in the shadows, that we keep having people who could be contributing to our society and contributing tax revenues, is that what we want?"

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.


  • Jose Antonio Vargas, journalist and undocumented immigrant

This segment aired on June 15, 2012.


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