Pulitzer Prize Winner Speaks at Worcester State
Friday, March 16, 2012
Jose Antonio Vargas, winner of a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, spoke to the standing-room-only lounge about his personal life. Vargas, you see, is an undocumented immigrant working in the United States. Vargas revealed that he was undocumented in an essay for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, and has been living with great uncertainty ever since.
“I’m not afraid to go to jail,” Vargas told the packed Blue Lounge with a smile. “I mean, I’ve covered crime, I’ve been inside jails. I’m not afraid of that. Put me in, I’ve got my books.”
Vargas is also living with the cloud of deportation hanging over his head. But the former Washington Post reporter says it is all worth it to get the message out there that immigration is an issue the entire country must deal with.
“(Today) was a great conversation,” Vargas told GoLocalWorcester after the speech. “What we’ve been doing is going around the country and having the conversation about immigration, and tying it to American history to make people realize that immigration is everyone’s issue. It’s not just about Hispanics, and it’s not just about Asians. It’s about all of us.”
Throughout the speech, Vargas recalled how people’s perceptions of him changed once he admitted he was undocumented. He mentioned some less than pleasant e-mails he had received, and spoke in support of the DREAM Act legislation that would grant permanent resident status to illegal immigrants that graduate high school after arriving in the U.S. as minors.
Vargas himself would fall under that category. Arriving from the Philippines in 1993 at the age of 12, Vargas did not know he was undocumented until he attempted to obtain a California driver’s license in 1997. He kept his immigration status a secret from most, and avoided deportation with the help of a group of friends and school employees that worked to keep his secret.
“I was lucky enough to have friends and a group of teachers and principles that helped me,” Vargas said. “If you think about it, they were all complicit in helping me slip through the system. That’s crazy.”
Vargas would go on to mention other rules he disagreed with, such as a South Carolina law that prohibits a legal U.S. resident from driving an undocumented immigrant in their car. Vargas now works for the Huffington Post, and his work covering HIV in Washington D.C. has led to a documentary that aired on Showtime in 2010.
Despite all of his achievements, Vargas still wakes up everyday not knowing if he will be arrested or deported. He lamented in his speech how much he has spent on immigration lawyers, and told GoLocalWorcester afterward that he must now be prepared for anything.
“I’m kind of in this situation where I don’t really know what is going to happen,” Vargas said. “I wrote the essay 10 months ago and I thought that I have to be ready for anything and everything. So, to this day I’m prepared for that. I’m going to keep doing this as long as I can.”