On the matter of Jose Antonio Vargas, illegal immigrant

Read his autobiographical account on the NYT. Read everything, before you continue with my commentary. There are nuances that are distinct and important to remember. Once you’re done, read on through for my comments.

On a personal level, I am furious at Mr. Vargas’ mother. I am angry, because the worst stereotype a Filipino has to live with in the United States is that we find ways around The Rules, and in fact ignore The Rules such that we have a reputation for being cheats. It’s not just on the matter of illegal immigration either; there’s the matter of building permits, quarterly tax filing, sales tax collection. Name it: the stereotype of the Filipino businessman is that he will maximize what he can before he has to leave the country and live a comfortable life in the Philippines with all the dollars he’s earned.

His story of alienation and fear, his life of constantly looking over his shoulder, is fairly typical. What we need to remember is that throughout many points of his life, he’s had the opportunity to “get legal.” (Based on best practices and what’s in the current Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), he after ten years of residence he could’ve gotten gone through the section 245(i) process, paid his back taxes, paid a fine, and gotten legal.)

Unlike many other Filipino illegals—we call them “TNT”, tago nang tago (those who keep on hiding)—Mr. Vargas considers himself American, and would love to stay here, unlike those who have no path to legality. Those without an out work as hard as they can, save as much as they can, and then leave when getting caught becomes a distinct possibility, never to return. Thankfully, there is a legal process that allows him to do this. It carries a risk; a denial in the 245(i) process will funnel him to removal proceedings and his battle will be of a different nature.

I am torn on this, because Vargas entered illegally by way of his mother and grandparents’ machinations. However, when he became aware of this, he has become complicit in the crime. In this, he is just as deserving of legal status as any other border-jumper.

Mr. Vargas’ confession on the pages of the NYT muddle the debate because he is just one of many kinds of “illegal alien.” The proper term, legally, is an “out of status” person, and immigration law is a thorny path. Foreign students can lose status by going below their required credits per semester; someone on a tourist visa de facto loses status once he accepts gainful employment. This is not a matter of being caught, but one of Following The Rules, and yet some aliens can lose status just by turning 21 (Akhtar vs. Burzynski).

Yes, Virginia, there are people who fall out of status out of no fault of their own, and amnesty lobbyists need to focus on them instead of making every criminal, Transgressor Of The Rules, out of status person a cause célèbre with a sob story to tell.

We all have sob stories. Want to know what’s mine? My sister moved to the US after marrying a naturalized Filipino American citizen. After three years, my mom went here. After six years of me living in the Philippines, finishing high school (commuting 2 hours each way by bus and jeepney) and finishing college (living in a townhouse with a domestic and roommates), I went here. I was away from my family for a very long time. I had lonely Christmases and I didn’t have my mom to talk to when I needed her. It’s not as tough a sob story as Mr. Vargas’ but it’s mine. And my sob story doesn’t matter.

I wish, I wish the best for Mr. Vargas. I wish he succeeds in his 245(i) attempt. I wish he didn’t make a cause celebre out of himself, especially since his case is still pending. The timing of this article is offensive. He should’ve waited until he had won, or lost, his case. He will face the consequences of this choice, just as he now faces the consequences of his previous choices.

Welcome to the legal world, Mr. Vargas. It’s so very nice to see you play by the same rules we’ve been playing.

2 thoughts on “On the matter of Jose Antonio Vargas, illegal immigrant”

  1. The fact that because he was born on a certain side of an arbitrary line shouldn’t dictate that he is “without status”. He has a status that is more important then any citizenship status, and that is Human Being.

    1. I don’t at all disagree that he should be treated with his human dignity in mind, but that’s the thing about legal issues. Legal crap can get cold.

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