Vargas: “Not Guilty”

by Joseph G. Lariosa


CHICAGO (jGLi) – Filipino Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Avaga Vargas pleaded not guilty Thursday (Oct. 18) when he was arraigned for driving without valid license before Judge Marilyn Kaman of the 4th Judicial District of Hennepin County in Minneapolis, Minnesota, according to Judge Kaman’s staff, John McKenzie.

The 31-year-old journalist-turned-immigrant-rights advocate waived his appearance in court and asked his lawyer Lousene Hoppe to enter on his behalf his not-guilty plea.

Vargas was driving on Interstate 35-W near 46th St. in Minneapolis at about 9 a.m. on Oct. 5 when he was stopped by a Minneapolis State Patrol officer, who ticketed him for driving without valid license.

Vargas, a native of Antipolo City, 25 miles east of Manila in the Philippines, is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 12 at 8:30 a.m. for pre-trial, according to Nancy Peters, public affairs spokesman of the Court Administration.

McKenzie said if found guilty of the traffic violation for “driving without valid license for vehicle class or type,”  Vargas could be fined a maximum of $1,000 and jailed for 90 days.

As a misdemeanor, Vargas’ traffic violation will not earn the attention of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which only deports undocumented immigrants involved in felony cases.

Vargas’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.


Email messages for comment sent by this reporter to Vargas were not answered.

It is not known what driver’s license Vargas presented to the State Patrol.

In his essay in New York Times, Vargas said he obtained a driver’s license in Washington State in 2011 after his Oregon license expired. “Early this year, just two weeks before my 30th birthday, I won a small reprieve: I obtained a driver’s license in the state of Washington,” Vargas said.

“The license is valid until 2016. This offered me five more years of acceptable identification – but also five more years of fear, of lying to people I respect and institutions that trusted me, of running away from who I am.”

It was reported that Vargas’ driver’s license was revoked by Washington State but Vargas did not surrender his driver’s license.

In his tell-all article in the New York Times last June 2011, Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S., hoping that his hard work and love for his adopted country would give him a path to U.S. citizenship.


In 1993, Vargas was 12-years-old when his parents sent him to the U.S. to live with his grandfather in California. He had no idea he would become one of the 11.2 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2011, according to Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2009, there are about 270,000 illegal immigrants from the Philippines.

In his first-person account, Vargas said his grandfather helped him produce counterfeit documents so he can obtain driver’s license and Social Security card.

Near the first anniversary of his outing last May in Chicago, he told a group that he had been in a speaking tour in 60 events in 20 states in 11 months after writing his first-person account in the New York Times Magazine on June 22, 2011.

He admitted that because he could not get a U.S. government-issued ID, he is using a Philippine passport issued to him by the Philippine government.

Days after he and about 2,000 undocumented immigrants made the cover of Time Magazine, President Barack Obama signed on to the new policy of Sec. Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security, allowing from 1.2- up to 1.7-million undocumented young immigrants to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Vargas, however, did not qualify for benefits under DACA, which only accepts 30-year-old applicants. He turned 31 last February.

Some 3,000 to 5,000 of these young immigrant beneficiaries in Illinois are Filipinos out of about 50,000 Filipinos from across the nation.


When he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for a team of Washington Post reporters covering the Virginia Tech shooting for Breaking News Reporting category, he comes after Carlos P. Romulo, the first full-bloodied Filipino to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1942. As editor of the Philippines Herald, Romulo won the Pulitzer Prize after writing a series that predicted the outbreak of World War II. Romulo’s citizenship at that time, however, could be debatable because under Commonwealth Philippines, residents of a U. S. Commonwealth territory are either U.S. Citizens or U.S. Nationals.

Vargas told this reporter last August in Chicago, aside from championing his cause DefineAmerican (, he also freelances for Time Magazine to earn a living. (


Jose Antonio Avaga Vargas is shown in this photo after speaking to a group in Chicago, Illinois last May this year. (jGLiPhoto by Joseph G. Lariosa)

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