Exactly a month ago, Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, unmasked himself as an undocumented immigrant in a New York Times Magazine essay. Last time we checked in with Vargas, the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association told us he had taken a "huge risk coming forward" and could potentially be deported. While that hasn't happened, a number of debates and interviews involving the journalist have. Most recently, on Thursday, the state of Washington cancelled his driver's license, The Seattle Times reported. The state's Department of Licensing launched an investigation when he outed himself last month and gave him 20 days to prove his state residency. When the request letter was returned unopened, they canceled his license. Here's what Vargas has been up to since his story came out:
June 22: His story hits newsstands On June 22, The New York Times Magazine publishes his sweeping piece, "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant" starting with his birth in the Philippines, moving to the States and discovering he is undocumented at the age of 16 when he tried to obtain a driver's license. The story makes a big splash and launches a discussion about illegal immigration and the media ethics surrounding the publication of an undocumented immigrant's work.
June 24: He appears on NPR Soon after his story came out, he gave an interview with NPR's Michele Norris. At that point, Norris asked if he was still a journalist or an advocate. He remained steadfast, saying he still thinks of himself as a journalist "it's my church," he said. Norris also referenced a caller, who claimed to be an undocumented immigrant, who was worried that this issue would just become about Vargas and not undocumented immigration. To that, he responded. “She totally has a point, and this is totally about her. This much I promise you: As I move forward with this, I will certainly make sure that this does not just become the Jose Antonio Vargas show. The media’s going to try to do that, for the next few days and weeks. But as long as I’m doing this, I’m going to make sure this is not just about me."
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Late June: Washington Post comes under scrutiny After the sizzling story of Vargas's life came out, a number of media observers were surprised the Post hadn't published it themselves. At the same time, others leveled criticism at Vargas's Post confidante Peter Perl who was at the time, director of newsroom training and professional development, and knew that Vargas could not legally be employed by the paper. "This means that the Post violated 8 USC 1324a," wrote the National Review, "which says, in part: (2) Continuing employment It is unlawful for a person or other entity, after hiring an alien for employment in accordance with paragraph (1), to continue to employ the alien in the United States knowing the alien is (or has become) an unauthorized alien with respect to such employment." Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton explained Perl's thought process as such:
In an interview, Perl said that he informed Post leadership in an e-mail when the Vargas story was submitted to The Post in March that he had known of Vargas’s illegal status and that he had decided to keep it confidential because he was convinced that disclosing his private conversation would end Vargas’s career, if not cause his deportation. Perl said he has not been docked pay, suspended or fired, but he declined to elaborate. “I did something I believed was the right thing to do,” said Perl, who has had a distinguished 30-year career at The Post.
July 7: Calls for Vargas to leave the country On July 7, Mark Krikorian, the head of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies and columnist for National Review said Vargas should go back to the Philippines. "It's not so much that he's undocumented. It's that he's an illegal immigrant--he had illegal documents... He came here as a child [but] ... he came here with an identity formed as a Filipino. In other words, he came at 12," he told NPR. "The man has real abilities and real skills, and he should go home to his country of citizenship, the country he grew up in for most of his childhood."
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July 14: The Colbert Report Earlier this month, Vargas appeared on the Colbert Report where he distinguished "undocumented immigrant" and "illegal alien" and thanked the people he referred to as the "21st century underground railroad"--the people who helped him keep his secret along the way, such as his high school teacher who changed the class trip destination from Japan to Hawaii to ensure his safety. He told Colbert, "When we talk about undocumented immigration and illegal immigration, we need to get the politics out of it and really talk about how broken the system is. You know that it's broken." Colbert replied in character: "I don't know that it's broken. It's working for me."
July 15: The Sidney Award Vargas was given the June Sidney award for his Times essay by the Sidney Hillman Foundation. The award is given for an "outstanding piece of socially-conscious journalism" once a month. The organization said, "There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Vargas’s piece illustrates that their stories do not necessarily align with the usual media stereotypes."
July 21: 6,500 more signatures to go Ever since Vargas exposed himself as an undocumented immigrant in June, he's gone from journalist to activist for his advocacy group Define American, which is pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. His goal has been to gather 100,000 signatures to signal a call for a "new national conversation on immigration." As of today, he's got 93,541 people who signed the petition.