Jose Antonio Vargas May Soon Become Documented Immigrant

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Jose Antonio Vargas is one of 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. expected to receive protection from deportation under the executive orders President Barack Obama signed last week.

Vargas, a journalist and activist, came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 12 years old. He grew up, went to school, got a job and pays taxes here. But he has never been able to vote, travel outside of the U.S. or visit his mother in the Philippines, for fear of being deported.

Now, he hopes his life is about to change. He speaks with Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd.

Interview Highlights: Jose Antonio Vargas

On Obama’s executive action

“He did not go far enough. This is where you’re kind of at the mercy of what Obama’s legal counsel told him what he can do, to the extent that he can do this. I know a lot of people who are undocumented and have undocumented kids — they’re called dreamers — and the parents of dreamers are not covered. I don’t know how they come up with these things. I do know that what the president did is progress, it’s the step in the right direction. When it comes to this issue, we haven’t had any sort of immigration reform since in this country since 1986. Taylor Swift was born in 1989 — that kind of tells you how far along this has been. This is one big historic move.”

On what this means for undocumented immigrants

“When you’re undocumented, you’re supposed to keep your head down and be quiet and pay taxes, social security — even though people don’t know that we do those things -- and not say anything. I think this now is a time to say something, and to come out and make yourselves be known. It is temporary but I don’t think this is something you can undo. Once you turn the faucet on, you can’t turn it back off. I dare the Republican Party and Congress to try to take this away. I don’t think our country would let that happen, I don’t think Americans would let that happen.”

On the cultural shift

“As a gay man, I think the role of culture is central to how you change politics — culture is politics. Unless people see as human beings and not as criminals, nothing about this issue is going to change. Can you imagine the LGBT movement without Ellen DeGeneres, without 'Will and Grace,' without that cultural shift happening before the political shift happened?

“How do we take this most politicized, combustible issue and take it out of this U.S.-Mexico, Republican-Democrat box and make it about human beings and people, classmates, friends, lovers and relatives — that’s what it’s about.”


  • Jose Antonio Vargas, journalist and immigration activist. He's the filmmaker behind the documentary "Documented" and founder of Define American. He was part of The Washington Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. He tweets @joseiswriting.

This segment aired on November 24, 2014.


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