Immigration is the most controversial but least understood issue in America.
I've arrived at that conclusion after nearly two years of traveling across the country as an openly gay undocumented immigrant -- or, as I often describe myself to people I meet, "an American without papers." Born in the Philippines, I emigrated to the U.S. when I was 12 and graduated from a public middle school, high school, and college (through a private scholarship) in California. (At 32 years old, I am in the older bracket of undocumented youth known as "DREAMers," named after the more than decade-old DREAM Act.) I've worked and paid state and federal taxes here, like many other undocumented workers who've collectively paid billions of dollars in taxes, according to the non-partisan Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. Even though I do not have a U.S. passport or a green card, I consider America -- more specifically the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up, and New York City, where I now live -- my home.
And since disclosing my undocumented status in an essay in the New York Times Magazine -- and subsequently starting a non-partisan campaign called Define American with a small group of friends -- I've become a walking conversation eliciting countless uncomfortable, awkward, honest, sharp, pointed questions. Questions asked to me by a cab driver in Phoenix, Arizona, home to S.B. 1070, the anti-immigrant bill that began a wave of even more threatening state-drafted legislation in South Carolina and Alabama. Questions asked via emails, Facebook notes, and tweets.
"Why haven't you gotten deported?"
"So you're not Mexican?"
"When did you cross the border?"
"Can't you marry your way into a green card?"
"Do you think you belong in a special group of people who can break any law you want?"
"What about 'illegal' don't you understand?"
"Why don't you just get in line to make yourself legal?"
If you have a question -- no matter how sharp or pointed, no matter how uncomfortable and awkward -- please come to my public Facebook page on Tuesday, April 2, at 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT. I am hosting a Q&A and look forward to your queries.
In this historic year for immigration, when talk of real reform is as close as it's ever been, all Americans need to engage with each other on this important and essential American issue. Immigration is not only a Latino issue. Immigration is not solely about the U.S.-Mexico border. Immigration is neither a Democrat nor a Republican issue. (My friend Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, never fails to remind me of that.) Immigration is intrinsic to who we were, who we are, and where we are going, economically, politically, and culturally.
There is no one in our country -- regardless of background, no matter the political leaning -- who I will not listen or talk to.
Follow Jose Antonio Vargas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joseiswriting