Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Immigration Debate: Jose Antonio Vargas

This is one of those rare times when I'll talk politics.  I am opposed to illegal immigration.  I believe that excessive immigration, whether legal or illegal, puts downward pressure on American wages.  So those low-paying jobs "Americans won't do," remain low-paying.  Farm labor, fast food, hotel and motel work, construction all feel the effect of too many laborers willing to work for little money.  I'd also add that employers love this.  Nothing like a xenophobic employer spewing hate out one side of his mouth while he hires his undocumented Guatemalan gardner, or Mexican construction crew under the table. For me it's a class argument.  Hypocrisy abounds

I have little patience for  the cultural arguments against immigrants.  America is and always has been a home for immigrants.  The argument that illegal immigrants will somehow change our culture, as if we ever had a single American culture is ludicrous.  The suggestions that previous immigrant groups quickly adopted English and the Great White Way is silly.  Just look at the historical record.  Every big city a hundred years ago had dozens of newspapers, many of them in a foreign language.  Yiddish, Russian, German, Chinese, you name it.  Everyone did not enter the country through Ellis Island with the magic fairy whacking them on the head and granting them the knowledge of a complicated foreign language.  They typically learned English through their children who attended school and learned the language--just like the current crop of immigrants.  We are a more diverse country today than we were a hundred years ago, chiefly because we acknowledge and embrace diversity.  The anti-immigrant haters need to get over themselves.

Which leads me to Jose Antonio Vargas, whose story appears in the New York Times today.  Vargas was sent to the United States from the Philippines when he was twelve to escape the oppressive economic conditions there.  His grandparents, living in Mountainview, CA, arranged his traverse through the immigration maze with a coyote, a fixer arranging illegal immigration to the United States.  Vargas lived a model life, excelling in school, but learning about his illegal life when he unknowingly took his phoney green card to get his driver's license and was sent home with an admonition not to return with his fake residence verification.  With the knowledge and assistance of mentors Vargas was able to work on his high school newspaper, and obtain and internship with the local weekly.  He was able to obtain a drivers license in Oregon which gave him the necessary ID to open doors to colleges and financial aid. Eventually he landed a job at the Washington Post and was part of Pulitzer Prize winning team of reporters that covered the Virginia Tech shootings in 2008. 

 Vargas made the move to Huffington Post as the demands to travel internationally became to great.  One can work from home in their jammies when writing for a net mag.  He'd never be able to produce the ID for a passport.  Finally, unwilling to continue living a double life, Vargas told his story in today's NYT.  It is a moving, courageous, compelling story.  Hopefully it will flesh out some folks' few of   who and what an illegal immigrant is or is not.  They are among us, they are hard working, contributing members of society, they are our friends and colleagues.  Though Vargas should not be here illegally, I commend him for the courage to tell his story.

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