Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas was in Seattle last night to give an amazing speech kicking off the Guiding Lights Weekend.
The Pulitzer Prize winning Filipino American journalist was born in the Philipines and moved to California to live with his grandmother at the age of 12. Unbeknownst to him, Vargas did not have the proper paperwork at the time required to “become” an American Citizen. He didn’t discover he was undocumented until he attempted to get a driver’s license at age 16.
“It was hard to think this flag I had been pledging allegiance to for four years didn’t belong to me,” Vargas told the audience.
Vargas worked with friends and trusted mentors to conceal his undocumented status and went on to graduate from San Francisco State University. As a dedicated journalist, he picked up jobs writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post and currently writes for the Huffington Post.
In June of last year, tired of hiding his identity, Jose came out as an undocumented immigrant living and working in the United States. He now lies in legal limbo, waiting for our country’s immigration policies to catch up to the realities of the 21st century.
“No human being Is illegal. It’s as simple as that,” Vargas told the crowd. “We’re attending law schools and medical schools. We’re cleaning houses and picking fruit.”
Vargas has been a leader in the ongoing debate on immigration reform. Currently 63% of undocumented immigrants have been living in the United States for more than 10 years. In 2007, undocumented workers paid $11.2 billion dollars into Social Security, $2.6 billion into Medicare, and a difficult to approximate but significant amount into local and state coffers through sales and property taxes. These same immigrants are unable to access many of the government benefits made available to citizens with proper paperwork.
“History is changing right in front of our eyes,” reported Vargas. “Nearly 50% of kids under the age of 30 are non-white. Every 30 seconds a Hispanic American turns 18. We are undergoing a cultural makeover like America has never seen.”
“We need white people to stand up,” said Vargas, the emotion audible in his voice. “If you’ve stayed silent about this issue you have to speak up. Lives are on the line. America is on the line.”
“What if all of us here had to earn citizenship? Can you imagine what it’d be like?”
This blog post was written by Devin Glaser, longtime friend and volunteer of the Bus