Tough road for undocumented teens | March 9, 2012 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - March 9, 2012

Tough road for undocumented teens

Jose Antonio Vargas brings immigration awareness project to Mountain View high

by Nick Veronin

For undocumented students at Mountain View High School, nothing has changed in the years since Jose Antonio Vargas hesitantly revealed his secret to his teachers. The fears and uncertainties that may keep them out of college are just as real more than a decade later, said the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who made waves last year by "coming out" as an undocumented immigrant.

"Is that acceptable? I don't think so," said Vargas incredulously to a standing room-only crowd at his alma mater's Spartan Theater on March 1.

The former Mountain View resident and one-time Voice intern is currently touring the country telling people about Define American — a multimedia project he started in order to "illuminate a greater universal truth about our broken immigration system."

Vargas, who covered the 2008 presidential campaign for the Washington Post and penned a profile of Mark Zuckerberg for The New Yorker, does not fit the typical mold of an undocumented migrant worker. He told the crowd at MVHS that at the time he decided to share his secret with the world (through an op-ed piece in the New York Times), he was living comfortably in New York and getting work at some of the world's most prestigious publications. Even though he had accomplished so much, there was no easy path for him to become a citizen in the country he has called home since he was 12 years old.

Before he took the stage, Vargas told the Voice he hoped his Define American project would do just what its name suggests — get people to consider, in depth, what it actually means to be an American in this day and age.

"When you think about immigration, it's usually Hispanic people in the room and some Asian people, maybe," Vargas said. "The conversation really needs to be broader than that, you know? White people and black people also need to be a part of the conversation. Illegal immigration isn't just about undocumented people. It's also about American citizens, and how they're impacted by it."

Of particular interest to Vargas is how young, undocumented students, along with their friends and peers, are affected immigration policy.

"What positions have we put teachers in?" he asked. "What is a teacher supposed to do in Mountain View, or in the Bay Area, once a kid tells them that they're undocumented? I don't even think there's even a fact sheet, or a handbook, for how teachers and principals and superintendents are supposed to deal with this issue."

Pat Hyland, principal of MVHS at the time Vargas attended and Rich Fischer, who was superintendent, were incredibly supportive when he admitted to them that he was not a citizen, Vargas said. They offered nothing but encouragement and told him not to give up on his dream of going to college — a dream he ultimately realized. However, Vargas told the crowd, he has met bright students in his travels who have told him they plan not to pursue college for fear that they, along with their entire family, may be deported.

In one of the videos created for the Define American website, Julie, a Los Altos High School graduate and current college student, told about learning that her best friend, Mandeep, was an undocumented immigrant. She "realized that this is an issue that affects people in all of our lives."

Mandeep got into college and began studying to become a doctor, but after her sophomore year, Julie said, "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Mandeep that she had to leave."

Julie decided to begin writing letters to immigration rights organizations and even started a Facebook group in support of her friend. Through her efforts, Mandeep's deportation has been postponed, if only temporarily. The moral of this story is summed up at the end of the video: Mandeep's "life is in limbo, and as her best friend, my life is impacted, too."

For his part, Vargas said he hopes stories like these, which he has been sharing on his Define American tour, spur people to think all the facets that comprise this thing we call immigration.

"All of us need to acknowledge and confront the issue," he says. "It's here. It's not going to go away. It's not just mowing your lawn and babysitting your kids and waiting for a job at Home Depot. ... We're trying to take immigration outside of the mindset in which people are so used to, and say, 'Wait up a second! This impacts you."


Like this comment
Posted by spytheweb
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Why has Jose Antonio Vargas not been deported? He has committed a number of felonies, he is still a illegal alien in the country illegally.

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Posted by Ned
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 8, 2012 at 7:28 pm

There is no such thing as an American citizen, so good luck to Vargas in trying to define one. People living in this country legally are United States citizens. You'd think he would have that one figured out by now. But I guess it's all a play on words to him.

I agree, he should be deported. Or does he think he is somehow better than those with lesser means and money and notoriety who have already been deported?

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Posted by mn_test347
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm

mn_test347 is a registered user.

The problem is that when you have a law that is readily broken, and then you relax that law to accommodate the law breakers, you are encouraging even more to break the relaxed law, since it will likely be relaxed further to accommodate them.

Mr. Vargas and many like him are in an unenviable situation, but not because of immigration laws. It is because their parents broke the immigration laws. Granting some sort of amnesty to people who's parents brought them to the US illegally as children will only encourage many more parents to do this in the future.

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Posted by
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 15, 2012 at 8:12 am

We need to rethink our immigration policy, and we need bright and courageous people such as Mr. Vargas who understand our society and the underlying impacts to lead the conversation. Immigration is one of the primary ingredients that has made the US great, and as a nation we're turning our back on this tradition when we need it most. Deporting productive members of our society like Mr. Vargas makes no sense to me.