Vargas, Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, Tells His Ordeals

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (jGLi) – Jose Antonio Vargas, the Philippine-born Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who outed himself 11 months ago as an undocumented immigrant and who has become the face for the struggle for comprehensive immigration reform, has reminded his audience that the Philippine government is playing an important, if not humanitarian, role in his advocacy. But he is hopeful Filipino nurses and Filipino world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao will express solidarity with him if the inevitable – his deportation – happens.

“Imagine, if Filipino nurses will protest my deportation? Do you think some of the hospitals in America will still operate if they (nurses) go out of the street and protest my deportation?  And what do you think will Manny Pacquiao do?” Mr. Vargas told a group of hundreds of students during a talk last May 9 at the International House at the University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights (UCCIR) at Chicago’s southside.


Fears of deportation of Mr. Vargas, however, appear to be unfounded as Director John Morton of the U.S.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued on June 17, 2011, five days after Vargas outed himself, a memorandum to his field officers “to ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement resources are focused on the agency’s enforcement priorities. The memorandum also serves to make clear which agency employees may exercise prosecutorial discretion and what factors should be considered.”

Among those who will be given priority by ICE’s enforcers to be deported are “individuals, who pose a clear risk to national security, serious felons, repeat offenders, or individuals with a lengthy criminal record of any kind; known gang members or other individuals who pose a clear danger to public safety; and individuals with an egregious record of immigration violations, including those with a record of illegal re-entry and those who have engaged in immigration fraud.”

Mr. Vargas said he has been in 60 events in 20 states in 11 months since he outed himself in a New York Times Magazine first-person account on June 22, 2011 issue and he is still very much in the thick of the fight for immigration reform of a broken system that considers him an illegal immigrant “even if I pay taxes and pay for my social security that I will not benefit from.”


The same memorandum says when “weighing whether an exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be warranted for a given alien,” ICE officers should consider “the person’s length of presence in the United States, with particular consideration given to presence while in lawful status; the circumstances of the person’s arrival in the U.S. and the manner of his or her entry, particularly if the alien came to the U.S. as a young child; and the person’s pursuit of education in the U.S., with particular consideration given to those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or have successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degrees at a legitimate institution of higher education in the U.S.”

In either scenario, Mr. Vargas could not be deported because he comes under the exceptions as he arrived in the U.S. 19 years ago in a lawful status as a minor – 12 years old; and had graduated from a U.S. high school and had pursued a college program in the U.S.

Vargas said because he does not have a valid driver’s license that could serve as his identification data (ID), he was blessed to be provided by the Philippine government with a Philippine passport. “When I presented my passport at O’Hare’s TSA (Transportation Security Administration) staff, I kept it already open and hopeful that TSA people did not flip other pages that would show I have no U.S. visa and you know anything can happen.”

When asked by one in the audience if he would encourage other students into outing their illegal immigration status just like what he did, Mr. Vargas said, “Coming out, I’ve gone out twice (another as a gay). I am not to tell you how and when you are going to come out.  I am in a privileged position to be doing what I am doing. If you come out, ask a lawyer first, and join and donate to It’s your own choice; subscribe” to our website and tell your own story or watch the best friends forever series documentaries on

Vargas had also paid tribute to his fellow undocumented immigrants numbering 11 millions Americans “love to hate,” who paid $11.2 billion in local and state taxes last year and keep the “Social Security System afloat,” by paying $7-billion a year into the system although they cannot collect the benefits when they retire.


Mr. Vargas, 31, recalled his essay last year where he wrote that when his previous employer, “the Washington Post, reported that undocumented immigrants collected $4.2-billion in refundable tax credits last year, they should have pointed out that, according to the non-partisan, non-profit Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, unauthorized workers paid $11.2 billion in local and state taxes last year, and that included $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes and $8.4 billion in sales taxes.”

According to the Center for American Progress (March 2006), the undocumented immigrants’ Social Security and Medicare contributions directly support older Americans as undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive these services. The Internal Revenue Service issues an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident aliens may have Federal tax return and payment responsibilities under the Internal Revenue Code. Federal tax law prohibits the IRS from sharing data with other government agencies including the INS (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services). In 2006, 1.4 million people used ITIN when filing taxes, of which more than half were illegal immigrants.

The Manila-born Vargas advocated a “buddy system” in school boards, which should be led by “’white” or “black” teachers, who can create a memo on how to tell a teacher how to handle a situation when children or parents are undocumented. “A white teacher would certainly have the power that we need to give people space to talk about immigration. Afterwards, we can do it in a church” and other institutions, he explained. He hopes to raise the “uncomfortable conversation on immigration reform up to the national level.”


Preparing himself for a long haul, Vargas believes immigration reform will be accomplished in a generation.

Although, he lauded President Obama for favoring same-sex marriage, Vargas doubts an immigration reform would ever be passed under the Obama administration. Vargas suggested that Mr. Obama would be harshly judged by history “for deporting millions of undocumented immigrants in three years. He is wrong to do this. He will not be justified (for what Mr. Obama did).”

Mr. Vargas said immigration reform nearly came true back in the spring of 2001 when the second President Bush, a former border governor, welcomed Mexico President Vicente Fox in the White House, saying “Oh, there is no real partners to us than Mexico.” Then, the “DREAM Act was introduced or hatched by Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar. A few months later: 9/11 (attack). All of us were foreigners and strangers to each other. We were terrorized. We got terrorized.”

He cited the case of an American-born Mexican accountant in Georgia, who started crying for fear that she would be stopped in traffic after leaving her wallet behind with her driver’s license.

Vargas said for an undocumented Mexican immigrant, who wants to get past the TSA, he needs to “shave a mustache so you won’t look too Mexican; borrow a laptop so you look like a student with a backpack; wear sunglasses to look Asian; when you present your passport to a TSA, don’t shake your hand. And when you get past the TSA, don’t smile.” (


Photo 1 (Vargas listening to a member of an audience)  by J.G. Lariosa

Jose Antonio Vargas listens to a member of an audience during an open forum after his presentation last May 9 at the International House at the University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights (UCCIR) at Chicago’s southside. He disclosed that he is using a passport issued to him by the Philippine government when he could no longer obtain a driver’s license that he can use as an ID after he outed himself as an undocumented immigrant. He is now on his 11th month of his advocacy for a comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo 2 (Audience at Vargas’ presentation) by J.G. Lariosa

Hundreds, mostly students, listen to Jose Antonio Vargas during his presentation. He disclosed that he is using a passport issued to him by the Philippine government when he could no longer obtain a driver’s license that he can use as an ID after he outed himself as an undocumented immigrant. He is now on his 11th month of his advocacy for a comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo 3 (Fil Am Chicago columnist asks a question) by J. G. Lariosa

Filipino American Chicago columnist Elsie Sy-Niebar of Chicago’s Via Times monthly gives a lengthy anecdote about her immigration life in America before fielding a question to Mr. Jose Antonio Vargas on how he succeeded in getting employed in mainstream media outfits in America without his fraudulent personal information being detected. Mr. Vargas answered, “thru laughter” although  he feared being found out when he covered the White House dinner tendered by the second President Bush for a visiting Japanese Prime Minister. “Because I looked Japanese, all I did was to keep bowing, hoping the White House security would not notice my fake Social Security Service number.”

Photo 4 (With reporter J.G. Lariosa)

Jose Antonio Vargas poses for a photo op with reporter Joseph G. Lariosa last May 9 at the International House at the University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights (UCCIR) at Chicago’s southside after delivering his talk.

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