President Barack Obama announced June 15 that he would spare 800,000 to 1.4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation and allow them to legally work in the U.S. Insisting it was not amnesty, he said his unilateral action would apply to those who were brought to U.S. before the age of 16. But to qualify, you must not be a felon, must be enrolled in school or have a high school diploma and be 29 or younger. Vargas is 30.
Vargas reacted to the news by circulating a petition on change.org Friday thanking the president for the action and calling for more reforms.
"Starting today, DREAM-eligible youth will be able to officially come forward — no longer risking deportation — and apply to work, join the Army, or go to college," Vargas wrote, referring to the Dream Act, a bill that would provide a path to legal residency. "They will be able to give back to the country they call home."
"While this solution isn't perfect (in fact, at 30, I don't qualify for relief myself), this is a tremendous victory that couldn't have happened without the passion and dedication of hundreds of thousands of people," Vargas wrote.
The petition had more than 1,000 signatures by the end of the day.
The president's announcement came shortly after Time magazine published its latest issue with Vargas pictured on the cover with a diverse group of young immigrants brought as children to the United States. Vargas wrote the cover story, which describes his experience over the last year and the little progress that's been made to reform the country's immigration policies.
"They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper," Obama said of those who qualified for relief. He added a comment that fits Vargas' experience, which is that many "often have no idea that they're undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver's license or a college scholarship."
Vargas revealed his personal story in a New York Times magazine article last year describing how he found out he was not here legally when he tried to get a drivers license at 16 and was told by a DMV employee that his green card was fake. Vargas said he had used fake documents to work at the nation's top newspapers.
Vargas, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, quit his job at the Washington Post last year to start the nonprofit Define American, which seeks to elevate the discussion about immigration in the U.S.
Obama has been criticized for deporting more undocumented immigrants than any other president in history. Obama said his action is a temporary measure and the Congress must act to produce immigration reform. Immigrant rights advocates point to the freeze as proof that Obama can do much more than he has so far to provide relief for some 12 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.