Slipping America a Mickey

Jose Antonio Vargas wrote an article for the New York Times titled, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” Vargas writes that one morning at the age of 12, he was woken up by his mother and sent with his “uncle” on a plane to America. His mother wanted to give him a better life, and was supposed to follow him to America, but never did.

He spent the rest of his childhood living with his grandfather (a legitimate US citizen.) Vargas only learned that he had been smuggled into the country illegally with fraudulent papers and a hired coyote (a name for a person who specializes in smuggling people across the border) when he went to the DMV to apply for a license at the age of 16. He showed up and handed the person at the desk his “green card” she looked at it, handed it back to him and said, “This is fake. Don’t come back here again.”

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

I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.” –Jose Antonio Vargas with the New York Times, June 22, 2011

Among his legal violations are: Having fraudulent identification, knowingly obtaining a license with fraudulent identification, knowingly obtaining jobs with fraudulent identification, knowingly using a manipulated Social Security card and marking himself as a citizen on the federal I-9 employment eligibility forms.

He formed a web of “trusted people” who he told his story to — and who helped him break the law. He got cozy with a wide range of people including a school choir teacher, Jill Denny; school district superintendent, Rich Fischer; school principal, Pat Hyland; a Washington Post director of newsroom training and professional development, Peter Perl. Friends in high places to support this illegal undocumented, DREAM act supporting immigrant.

When Vargas says that being an illegal immigrant, “[M]eans…doing things I know are wrong and unlawful,” he makes a very important point. Sometimes illegal immigrants are looked upon as those poor people who come to America looking for the better life that they “deserve;” and that once they’re in the country they’ll be “law-abiding” citizens like the rest of us. This assumption is wrong.

When you break our laws and move to our country illegally, it’s like eating a Lay’s potato chip, you can’t just eat one. Because you broke one of our laws necessitates breaking several other laws in order to cover up for what you’ve done. It’s the same principal that you’re mom taught you about lying.

David Leopold, an immigration attorney and president of the American Immigration Law Institute, doesn’t think Vargas will be detained or deported.

You know, these lessons from the mom’s of the world go pretty far: Remember when you wanted to take a rock from the beach and you mom told you not to? And you said, “but it’s just one rock.” To which your mom explained that if everyone took a rock from the beach, there wouldn’t be any. Similarly, when we think we can let Vargas stay because he’s just one guy, we’re using the same reasoning as the child on the beach. If we let Vargas stay, what’s the standard? Why not just let everyone in?

Some would rather “accept” that we live in a globalized society, which means borders don’t matter, right? It’s a legitimate question, but the answer is not Kumbaya.

If we were to decide to dismiss borders it leaves us with several other questions: Since we are all “citizens of the world” now, why have us subjected to different laws? We’re all the same right? But, of course, once we unify the laws there’s no point in having different “heads of states” because the states don’t really exist, and the laws are the same, so we might as well put everyone under the same government. This conclusion leads us to the final, most chilling question of all: Then who gets to rule the world?

The reason we have different countries is the same reason we have different computer companies: Competition. Everyone is a consumer who will probably buy a computer, whether it be a Mac or a PC. Everyone wants the slickest, fastest, best and most efficient laptop they can get for a price. In the same way, everyone is technically a “citizen of the world” but, more importantly, everyone has a choice to move to China or the US. (Okay, I know, it’s not a perfect analogy, some people can’t move. But you get the idea.) You have different governments and different systems, everyone trying to get the best, most efficient government.

When you “unite” everything you end up with a monopoly; where every citizen is subject to whatever the CEO thinks you ought to be forced to buy. You’ve got to admit, though, there are some advantages: Geography would be substantially easier. The maps would say “land” and “water.” Now that would make the world a more simple place. But still, if we decide that borders have become legally, economically and culturally pointless, who gets to rule the world? Why do we even think world-unification was ever a good idea?

I guess Hitler was just ahead of his time.


In 2008 Vargas, with a team of others in The Washington Post, won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. The day of the announcement Vargas’ grandmother called him. The first thing she said to him was, “What will happen if people find out?”

It is for this reason Vargas wrote the article in The New York Times, “I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore.” He’s decided to blow down his house of cards. He’s decided to take his family pictures out of the shoebox.

But Vargas’ story does more than tell us about Vargas, it shows that it’s not worth it to live in the US illegally. It shows that the American Dream can only be truly lived by legitimate citizens. In other words, the American Dream can only be lived by Americans. (I don’t mean that in the way of native, but legal.) It is not enough to shove your child onto a plane and wave good-bye.

As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” If you want our rights, if you want our dream, if you want our life, then become one of us.

-Ben

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