Former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas has written a long piece for The New York Times Magazine declaring that he’s an illegal alien and that he’s created a new advocacy group called Define American (“a project of the Tides Center”) to push for the DREAM Act that would provide permanent residency to illegal aliens brought to America as children.
Vargas, 30, lied to a string of media outlets about his immigration status with a fake driver’s license from Oregon. He came over from the Philippines at age 12. (Vargas told the truth to Post editor Peter Perl, a mentor, but he wouldn’t comment now.) In the Post story on this by Paul Farhi, Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti offered a no-comment on Vargas’s employment at the paper: “We will not comment on individual personnel matters out of respect for the privacy of our employees.”
What that no-comment seems to say: “We don’t want to condemn lying to us about your immigration status since we probably employ a pile of ‘undocumented’ people and are too liberal a media outlet to seem scandalized.”
It might also be suggested that Vargas was hired smack-dab out of college in 2004 in part because he was Filipino and gay – an affirmative action two-fer. The illegal status might have only added to the allure. In 2006, the Post egregiously celebrated large Washington rallies for amnesty for illegal aliens.
Define American’s About Us page explicitly identifies illegal aliens with black slaves and Harriet Tubman’s work to bring them north to freedom:
Define American brings new voices into the immigration conversation, shining a light on a growing 21st century Underground Railroad: American citizens who are forced to fill in where our broken immigration system fails. From principles to pastors, these everyday immigrant allies are simply trying to do the right thing. Some are driven by a biblical call to social justice, while others believe this is a moral imperative. They, like Harriet Tubman and countless brave Americans before them, are willing to take personal risks in order to do what is right. These heroes need to be the center of this national conversation. Together, we are going to fix a broken system.
The Post story on Vargas by media reporter Paul Farhi doesn’t delve into the two political sides reacting to the new Vargas crusade. At National Review's The Corner, Daniel Foster wrote:
Liberals are coming out of the woodwork to call Vargas’ confession — meant to spur that “national conversation” about immigration that is perpetually just around the corner — courageous and pioneering. It is certainly the former, and may turn out to be the latter. But in their rush to praise Vargas — who is thoroughly culturally American and has “contributed” to American society with his journalism — they conveniently leave out that at the beginning of his story is not one but a series of crimes. Vargas entered the country illegally after his grandfather paid a coyote $4,500 to smuggle him in. The grandfather then obtained a fake passport and green card for Vargas, which they used to acquire a valid Social Security card. But that card, which subjected Vargas’ right to work to the approval of the then-INS, was illegally doctored, allowing Vargas to secure job after job for more than a decade by showing nothing more than a photocopy of a fake document.
But guess what? Scratch a liberal editor who’s hired Vargas, and you find an advocate. San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein began with a bit of outrage:
I was duped. I once hired an illegal immigrant to be a reporter for the Chronicle.
"I don't think I'm a criminal," Jose Antonio Vargas told me when we met last week, right before he announced his status to the world. "Don't make me seem guiltier than I am."
Jose lied to me and everyone else he worked for, and that's not kosher, especially in a profession where facts and, more elusively, the truth are considered valuable commodities. In 2003 he wrote a story for us about illegals getting fake drivers' licenses in the Mission when he'd used phony documents to get his own. He told me last week that he decided then that was a serious conflict of interest and wouldn't cover immigration any more. But he later wrote on the topic for the Post.
Even though I didn't know he was a lawbreaker when he worked for me, and he left the paper in 2004, his story lands me a little more directly in the atrociously rudderless but vicious debate on immigration reform.
After Jose's essay was published on the New York Times website yesterday, detailing his deception in getting heady jobs here, at the Washington Post and the Huffington Post - and snagging exclusive access to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg for a New Yorker profile - I have to wonder:
Am I a dupe? A felon - at least according to a tough new Alabama law that might find me guilty of "harboring" Jose when he was in my office the other day (I also bought him coffee)? Or have I unwittingly supported a potentially powerful new movement in the push for immigration reform?
There's no way to tell for sure when immigration laws themselves are a hopeless jumble of unenforced, unenforceable or just plain unaddressed issues covering 11 million people. The most visible are Latino day laborers, but the Vargas confession may also open those gnarly closet doors for high-achieving white collar professionals.
"This is going to come off as a vanity act, but it's not," Jose told me last Tuesday, just before he left San Francisco for New York on what might be his last allowable U.S. domestic flight with his doctored-up I.D. "I tell stories for a living and this is the one I've been afraid to tell. I'm one of many like me. There have got to be undocumented workers out there even more successful than I am."
It does come across as a vanity act when you pose for pictures in Times Square (as the Post story shows its own picture today. They originally planned to run the Vargas piece in their Sunday Outlook section, but felt Vargas wasn't forthcoming enough).
Bronstein concluded that liberal “reform” is more important than honesty:
For me, despite the subterfuge, he's done what he intended: given a surprising, articulate and human face to an important issue for at least some of those millions of people out there floating in terrifying limbo. For me, it's the face of a friend
Like many successful young people blessed with talent and brains, Jose has a healthy dose of hubris. He'll have to watch that as much as he will the approaching footsteps of ICE enforcers.
But if he can come out, the force of his story - both good reaction and bad - and his project just might lubricate the politically tarred-up wheels of government and help craft sane immigration policy. If it has that effect, we should forgive him his lies.