• Homeland Security chief vows to take a ‘hard look’ at request
• Group launches drive to ‘humanize’ immigration debate
WASHINGTON, DC — Prominent Filipino journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas and 10 other undocumented immigrants on Wednesday, August 20 appealed for deportation deferrals and the inclusion of most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in any executive action to reduce deportations.
In a letter to Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson, the 11 who came from across the nation asked for deferred action to allow them to stay in the country “we call home.”
Vargas, and the 10 others outlined their case during a press conference Wednesday at the National Press Club and made a personal appeal to President Barack Obama to “administer relief” for similarly situated immigrants “who are integral members of our evolving American community.”
Apart from the 33-year-old Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker, the 10 others are Erica Aldape, 24; Maria Guadalupe Arreola, 55; Felipe Jesus Diosdado, 35; Maria del Rosario Duarte Villanueva, 54; Michaela Graham, 52; Noemi Romero, 23; Eduardo Sanmiego, 22; Yestel Velasquez, 38; Aly Wane, 37; and Jong-Min you, 34.
Unique story to tell
Each one has a unique story to tell: a 54-year-old Mexican woman in rural Alabama who is caring for three grandchildren after their parents were deported; a son of a former UN diplomat who has lived in the U.S. for 25 year since he was eight, getting his education and working in the country; and, a German businesswoman in Los Angeles who has been living in the United States since 1986.
Vargas and his colleagues said in their letter that they represent only a few of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. “Often, we’re treated as abstractions, nameless and faceless, subjects of debate rather than individuals with families, hopes, fears and dreams,” they wrote.
They likened their plight to the pilgrims who arrived centuries before them: some came to the U.S. by choice, others by necessity in search of a better life.
“Over the past decades, we have been working, worshipping in churches, going to school and contributing to the communities we call home,” they said. “We love, fight for, and pledge allegiance to an America whose flag does not recognize us.”
Taking a hard look’
In a press statement, Johnson’s office did not mention the letter, but said the Department of Homeland Security has been “taking a hard look” at the immigration policy and would submit recommendations to President Obama within “the confines of existing law.”
Vargas, who was sent by his mother to live with grandparents in Mountain View, California as a 12-year-old, was detained by Customs and Border Patrol agents last month in McAllen, Texas, after learning of his immigration status.
Vargas, founder of the advocacy group Define American, said he was documenting the plight of tens of thousands of immigrant youth from Central America, many of them unaccompanied, who have streamed across the southern border this year.
The human surge has strained border services and rekindles the debate over immigration reform in Washington, a cause that Vargas promotes.
Vargas said a decision by Johnson to grant their request would delay any deportation proceedings with the hope that the President Obama would then use his executive authority to expand deportation protections, or that Congress would finally agree to an overhaul of immigration law.
Obama used his executive authority in 2012 under a program called Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), granting work authorization for two years or more for those who came to the United States as children. Vargas missed the age eligibility by only months.
Vargas, who was raised by hardworking grandparents from the Bay Area, became an immigration reform advocate in 2011 after he revealed he was undocumented in an essay for The New York Times Magazine.
He wrote and directed a film, “Documented,” which chronicles his struggles as an undocumented immigrant. It was aired by CNN and is currently being shown to various audiences across the nation to raise people’s awareness on the often divisive immigration debate.
1 of 11 Million campaign
At the National Press Club press conference, Define American and National Immigration Law Center launched a nationwide “1 of 11 Million” campaign seeking to highlight the stories of the undocumented immigrants.
“Our families need urgent relief now, and here’s the key question – just how inclusive and humane will President Obama’s executive action be? Who will be left out and why?” Vargas said.
For his part, immigration reform advocate Eduardo Samaniego of the Freedom House Georgia said the campaign aims to “humanize the debate on immigration.”
“We speak about why we’re here, what our families are going through, why it is necessary to be relieved from deportation,” Samaniego said.
With immigration reform legislation languishing in the Republican-controlled House, President Obama has hinted at issuing executive orders to address what he called the “broken immigration system.”
As part “1 of 11 Million” campaign, advocates believe the stories of Vargas and others are symbolic of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who may benefit from any executive orders Obama may undertake.
“He has the power to take actions, the power to exercise prosecutorial discretion, and to protect the 11 million from deportation,” Samaniego stressed.