Jose Antonio Vargas became a familiar byline, to me at least, during the last presidential primaries, when he reported on—well, his words are maybe best to explain his approach:
"So you write about the Internet?"
In the nearly two years I was on the campaign trail, a few seasoned political reporters asked me some version of that question. Usually, the question ended up being a statement, expressed in a careful, almost parental, just-hang-in-there way: "So [pause], you write about the Internet [another pause]." Sometimes, it was asked with a dismissive, get-yourself-a-real-writing-job tone: "So you write about the Internet? What about the Internet?"
Whatever the tone, I often replied, "I don't write about the Internet. I write about people who are using the Internet."
Today, he told his own story in a moving piece in the New York Times Magazine. It's called My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant. Vargas, it turns out, was sent from the Phillipines to the United States when he was 12, to live with his grandparents.
Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.
But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.
Vargas' life has involved a lot of deception, but at every turn he confided in mentors and friends, seeking the best way forward. Now, he has decided to come out for a second time and in a second way, having come out as gay while still a teenager.
By definition, winning a Pulitzer prize is exceptional. To accomplish that before age 30 when even going to college was a massive undertaking is astonishing. But he shouldn't have had to break so many laws and tell so many lies to get where he is. This is the kind of ability and drive our immigration laws stifle and deny us, and it's one more reason those laws need to be reformed.