My university has a political union that brings some of the most compelling and inspiring speakers to campus to speak to students about their experiences and offer advice in a myriad of areas. Some of the major figures that have spoken are Bill Clinton, Anderson Cooper, Dick Cheney, Ron Paul, and Lilly Ledbetter. On October 6th, I had the opportunity to hear Jose Antonio Vargas speak. Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a filmmaker, an undocumented immigrant, and a champion of immigration reform in the United States.
Vargas shared his story with us, explaining that he came to the United States from the Philippines as a young boy. By using fake documents, he avoided being deported and was able to finish high school. While in High school, he came out as gay. Upon graduating from San Francisco State University, Vargas was hired by The Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his breaking news reporting of the Virginia Tech shootings. He then joined The Huffington Post in 2009. In 2011, Vargas wrote an essay for Times Magazine in which he came out to the country as an undocumented immigrant. A tax-paying, working man, Vargas has avoided deportation since he figured out that he was in the United States illegally; and even after his article was published, Vargas was never contacted about being deported. He even contacted the government to ask what they were going to go with him. Still nothing.
Since the release of his article, Vargas has introduced a campaign called “Define American,” meant to compel discussion about immigration. His talk at AU was part of this campaign. In addition to being an incredibly fascinating speaker, Vargas asked the hard-hitting questions- as every strong journalist does. He revealed himself as an undocumented immigrant and asked the government to take a stand; he asked about what the government is going to do with all of the immigrants that are living in this country, as they are not applying the rules equally? Vargas said, “As far as I am concerned, I’m an American. I’m just waiting for my country to recognize it.”
The movement for immigration reform is one that cannot be separated from any other social justice movement, especially the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Vargas noted that “every movement needs an ally.” The ally voice is a powerful one, one that is necessary to a movement. PFLAG’s dedication to empowering allies of the LGBTQ movement can also be taken as an effort to empower allies in general. The issues that the LGBTQ community faces and the immigrant community faces are similar; they are facing violations to their basic human rights. Being an ally to a human rights movement should be natural. The Fifth Amendment states that “nor shall any person...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This means that people in the United States have a duty to hold the people who are depriving various communities of their basic rights accountable for their actions. We, as allies, need to be an active part of the pursuance of human rights for all. As Vargas said, “You’re living in a time in which the country is only going to get gayer, blacker, more Latino and Asian, and women are going to continue to lean in and breaking barriers.” It is crucial that we stand up with these communities and keep pushing forward.