Jose Antonio Vargas: In the real immigrants’ doghouse

OPINION Throughout history, immigration has been a volatile political issue, dating back to the Naturalization Act and the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s,…
Jose Antonio Vargas: In the real immigrants’ doghouse

Jose Antonio Vargas, a former journalist for the Washington Post outed himself as an undocumented migrant in 2011. He’s become an activist and journalist fighting for the cause, but criticism from some immigration activists indicates he might have lost touch with the movement of the ordinary migrant.   (Photo/ Bill Moyers)


Throughout history, immigration has been a volatile political issue, dating back to the Naturalization Act and the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s, documenting how even in the presidency of George Washington, Americans harbored a suspicion of immigrants.

It’s a no-win situation even for presidents today, as President Barack Obama has learned, and for those who would like to be president.

SEE ALSO: Jose Antonio Vargas: ‘What do you want to do with me?’

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who might run for president in 2016, goes so far as to point to a poignant voice-mail warning from his mother on his iPhone after the 2012 election that he failed to heed.

“Some loving advice from the person who cares for you most in the world,” she told her son in Spanish. “Don’t mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don’t mess with them. They’re human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don’t mess with them.”

Rubio, of course, has now had his own missteps on immigration reform, with the only question being just how much it will haunt him should he get into the presidential campaign.

Jose Antonio Vargas

So imagine, if immigration is that much of a hot potato for a president or wannabe president, what lies in store for people such as Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who became a cause celeb for immigration when in 2011 he revealed he was an illegal immigrant from the Philippines?

As he tries to legalize his status, Vargas has made immigration his scarlet letter and the keystone to his livelihood as a journalist, filmmaker and activist.

But there is such a thing as overplaying your hand, especially when you don’t have to, and all things can happen when you do, such as being seen as an opportunist willing to use the plight of those less privileged than you to remain front and center as the symbol of the immigration debate.

A few days ago, that’s exactly what Vargas did, going down to the Texas-Mexico border, telling immigration authorities he was in the country illegally and being apprehended – something that apparently had not happened in the three years since he made it known he was in the U.S. illegally.

Whether he intended to do it or not, Vargas stole the thunder from the real issue at the border – the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have been apprehended for crossing the border and whose plight has become an international crisis.

Vargas has now written about his situation for, and “Documented,” a film about the U.S. immigration debate that he wrote and directed — and aired on June 29 on CNN – is now likely to get more looks and attention.

Who knows? This could be the third act for the screenplay about his life circulating in Hollywood.

Perhaps not since the late gonzo reporter Hunter Thompson, who bragged openly about his drug binging while hounding politicians for Rolling Stone magazine, has a journalist been such a self-promoter.

But finally Vargas has been called on it, most fittingly by immigration activists themselves.

“We are compelled now to address you so publicly because your actions, even if they are not intentional, harm our movement and work against our communities,” a group calling itself Immigrant Youth Coalition of Los Angeles wrote in an open letter to Vargas posted on “Huffington Post.”

“You have played those politics, you have played the media, but you will not play us.”

In the letter, Vargas is called to task on most everything he has done or failed to do in the group’s viewpoint on immigration, from not criticizing Obama to what it sees as Vargas’ lukewarm positions on the issue.

An agent and dog inspect a car at a Border Patrol checkpoint for illegal immigrants in Arizona.

A U.S. Border Patrol Senior Agent and his dog Mirza inspect a car at a check point outside Organ Pipe Cactus National Park in Why, Ariz. Critics say Jose Antonio Vargas doesn’t receive the same treatment an ordinary undocumented immigrant would get at a checkpoint like this one. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

“Throughout the years, we have seen you waver in your solidarity with those who you position yourself to speak for and whose voices many assume you embody,” writes Luis Serrano, an organizer with itself Immigrant Youth Coalition of Los Angeles.

At another point, the group says to Vargas:

“You have condoned, supported, even celebrated the role of Mark Zuckerberg, Joe Green and others who espouse a vision of immigration based on meritocracy; a vision which by its nature calls for the imprisonment and deportation and which facilitates the total marginalization of those who once looked at you with admiration.”

Sadly, Vargas told CNN that he traveled to the border to document the plight of refugees, which is far from what he wound up doing.

But, hey, Jose Antonio got his name and mug out there once again on all the television news shows in one of the biggest stories of the day, millions of dollars in free publicity.

It is fair to say, though, that the doghouse of the real illegal immigrants is not where Vargas expected to find himself, effectively being told he is too elite of an immigrant to be taken seriously by the immigrants at the heart of the issue today.

SEE ALSO: Children at the border are a personal and not a political crisis

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