One year ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former HuffPost editor Jose Antonio Vargas "came out" to the world as an undocumented immigrant. In this week's TIME Magazine cover story, the Filipino writer and activist describes his year as a public figure without legal status and argues that he too is an American.
Featured on the magazine's cover between the phrases "We Are Americans*" and "*Just not legally," Vargas is joined by other undocumented immigrants from around the world. The men and women pictured along with Vargas also recently came out of the shadows and revealed their immigration status publicly.
In the cover story's introduction, Vargas argues that the immigration system is fundamentally broken and that it prevents deserving candidates, many of whom identify as American, from residing in the country legally. Vargas also discusses his new campaign, Define American:
"I founded a campaign called Define American, to document the lives of the undocumented and harness the support of our allies around this very controversial and misunderstood issue," Vargas writes. "There are an estimated 11.5 million people like me in this country, human beings with stories as varied as America itself, yet lacking a legal claim to exist here," Vargas adds.
An aunt and family friend brought Vargas to the United States illegally at the age of 12 with a fake passport, Vargas wrote in The New York Times Magazine last year. He discovered the truth about his immigration status at 16, when he attempted to obtain a driver's permit and was told his documents were fake.
For Vargas and many other Filipinos, the wait for a visa to the United States can span decades. Those who marry an American citizen or have professional skills and training needed in the United States may be able to migrate more rapidly. However, U.S. immigration officials are in the process of issuing visas to Filipinos who requested permission to immigrate in 1989, but did not meet the criteria for more rapid entry, according to federal data. Mexican immigrants also face similar wait times.
"It's been almost a year since I published my 'coming out' essay in The New York Times and created, with the help of friends, Define American," Vargas said in an email to the Huffington Post Wednesday. "From the very beginning, our goal at Define American was to elevate how we talk about immigration in America. The moment is now, especially given the upcoming Supreme Court decision on Arizona and the presidential election. More and more undocumented Americans and the American citizens who support us -- the people who make up our underground railroad -- are coming out, challenging the way politicians and the media frame the issue. We need more honest conversations."
This week's TIME cover story comes at a moment when immigration policy and the debate about reform appears likely to serve as a key election issue and topic of national debate. The Supreme Court is expected to decide on the legality of Arizona's state-level immigration enforcement law, SB1070, this summer. The Department of Justice is working to reign in immigration hardliner Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio faces a lawsuit brought by the nation's top law enforcement agency for alleged discrimination against Latinos. Furthermore, possible Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Marco Rubio continues to defend his DREAM Act-like proposal that, although not yet introduced as a formal bill, has faced criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Vargas' TIME story also comes just months after the same publication ran another cover story which argued that the Latino vote would be the deciding factor in the presidential election, based on population growth in key states. The February issue also included an editorial by Univision anchor Jorge Ramos and an interview with Marco Rubio, addressing the heated topic.
"Across the country, every day, more and more undocumented Americans and the people who support us are speaking out," Vargas writes, "challenging how our politicians, the media and the Supreme Court (in its expected decision on Arizona’s immigration law) frame the issue."
Watch the undocumented immigrants in TIME Magazine's cover story discuss their experiences:
Fermin Vasquez serves as the statewide Communications Coordinator for Californians for Justice. One of Los Angeles' youngest emerging Latino leaders, Fermin was a Front Line Leaders Academy Fellow with the People for the American Way Foundation, based in Washington D.C. In 2010, Fermin became the first one in his family to graduate from college, and received his degree in Political Science from California State University, Los Angeles. He was also a founding member and President of Students United to Reach Goals in Education (S.U.R.G.E.), a support and advocacy organization for those that may not have come here with the right papers, but have been raised with the right values. He is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fermin-vasquez" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Laura E. Enriquez
Laura E. Enriquez is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles where she does research on the experiences of undocumented young adults. She is a dedicated scholar-activist and specializes in immigration, race/ethnicity, and gender. She has been mentoring, teaching, and organizing with undocumented young adults for the past five years. She is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and her posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-e-enriquez" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Fernando Romero is the Coordinator for the Justice for Immigrants Coalition of Inland Southern California; he is also a co-founding member of <a href="http://dreamersadrift.com/" target="_hplink">Dreamers Adrift</a>, a new media project for undocumented students, by undocumented students. He is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fernando-romero" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Alma Castrejon was born in Mexico City and came to the United States at the age of seven. In 2008, she graduated from UC Riverside with B.A. degrees in Political Science - International Relations and Chicano Studies. While at UCR she founded Providing Opportunities, Dreams and Education in Riverside (PODER), a support group for undocumented students on campus. In 2011, Alma received her Master of Arts degree in Education at CSU Long Beach. She has been a member of Dream Team Los Angeles (DTLA), a community and student group that advocates for undocumented student rights and immigrant rights, since 2009; she is also an active member of Graduates Reaching a Dream Deferred (GRADD), a group of undocumented graduate students that addresses the needs of immigrant students interested in pursuing graduate education. Alma will be applying to law school in the fall of 2012. She is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and her posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alma-castrejon" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Juan Escalante is an undocumented student and recent graduate from Florida State University. He is a core-member of <a href="http://www.dreamactivist.org/" target="_hplink">DreamActivist.org</a> and the founder of <a href="http://dreamactivistfl.org/" target="_hplink">DreamActivistFL.org</a>; both are online organizations that provide resources for undocumented students across the country. He is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/juan-escalante" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Nancy Meza is a human being from Jalisco, Mexico. She was brought to the U.S. by her responsible and courageous mother at the age of two and proudly grew up in East Los Angeles California. She is a graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. After High School she attended East Los Angeles Community College and transferred to UCLA where she became actively involved in organizing around undocumented and immigrant rights issues with IDEAS at UCLA and Dream Team Los Angeles. She graduated with a degree in Chicana/o Studies and a Labor and Work Place Studies minor in 2010. She is currently an intern at the Dream Resource Center; a project out of the UCLA Labor Center and continues to organize with Dream Team Los Angeles where she is a member of the media and communications team. She is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and her posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-meza" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Erick Huerta is majoring in journalism at East Los Angeles College. As a member of Dream Team Los Angeles, he is one of the coordinators handling the group's communications and social media endeavors. He has lived in the U.S. for the past 20 years and has been chronicling his personal experiences as an undocumented resident for the last eight years on his personal <a href="www.justarandomhero.blogspot.com" target="_hplink">blog</a>. He's also a community reporter for the community of Boyle Heights and an avid cyclist. He can be recognized by his trademark bigotes. He is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erick-huerta" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Jonathan Perez is a queer undocumented political exile from Colombia, and a Co-Founder of the Immigrant Youth Coalition in Southern California. On why he contributes to the series, he writes, "It is shocking to most, but I don't actually advocate for the DREAM Act. I organize for the rights of undocumented immigrants. I believe that in order to have meaningful changes we must first address the root causes. In order to change our realities we have to build a global movement and a global revolution. I write for the Huffington Post <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em> because it gives me the opportunity to give a different perspective to what the issues of undocumented people are." You can read his posts <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-perez" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Mayra Hidalgo Salazar
Originally from Naranjo, Alajuela, Costa Rica, Mayra immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 6-months-old. She is undocumented and has dedicated her life to the immigrant movement in Florida. She lives in Lakeland, Florida where she is an organizer for Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), a grassroots organization founded by undocumented immigrant youth in Florida. She also serves on the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) and United We DREAM (UWD) Board of Directors. She helped start an immigration legal clinic that offers free legal immigration consultation to low-income immigrants in her community and serves as the Clinic Coordinator. She also serves as the Migrant Scholar Advocate for Scaffold the Scholar, a professional development initiative for former farm-worker women working in early childhood education and is a member of the Polk County School Board Diversity Council. She was a project manager for the Trail of Dreams campaign in 2010, a 1,500 walk from Miami, FL to Washington, D.C., demanding that President Obama stop the deportation of undocumented students. Currently a undergraduate college student, she aspires to eventually earn a law degree specializing in immigration law so she can continue to serve the community that taught her to persevere against all odds.
Jesus Cortez is an undocumented graduate student at the California State University, Long Beach College of Education. He grew up in Anaheim, California and is a member of the Orange County Dream Team. He is a contributor to the <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesus-cortez" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Angy Rivera is a Colombian-born, New York-raised undocumented immigrant who started the first undocumented youth advice column, Ask Angy, while a core member at the New York State Youth Leadership Council. She also blogs for DreamActivist.org.