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Illegal alien Vargas not at high risk of deportation

June 24, 2011 11:58am
UPDATED 2:30 p.m. - United States immigration officials said it will prioritize for prosecution cases presenting "the most significant threats to public safety," thus seeming to rule out the immediate deportation of Filipino Pulitzer winner Jose Antonio Vargas, perhaps now the most famous illegal alien in the United States.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) spokeswoman Nicole Navas said decisions on illegal aliens will be determined by the person's criminal history, "taking into consideration the specific facts of each case, including immigration history."

ICE is the principal investigative arm of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In a memo issued last week, ICE director John Morton directed ICE personnel to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" for the apprehension, detention and removal of aliens, guided by such grounds as:

  • being enrolled in any type of education program;
  • having family members who have volunteered for US military service;
  • living in the US since childhood; or
  • being pregnant or nursing, among others.

    Vargas has been living in the US since childhood and does not seem to pose a threat to public safety. Thus under these guidelines he would not be at high risk of being deported, despite the public knowledge that he is an illegal alien.

    Meanwhile, Eduardo Malaya, spokesman of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said on Friday, “We are not aware that he (Vargas) asked for assistance from the Embassy or the Consulate."

    "However, if he asks for help, just like any Filipino abroad who is distressed, the Philippines will provide assistance," Malaya said.

    Vargas' tell-all

    In a tell-all piece published by the New York Times on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), Vargas admitted to being "smuggled" into the US at age 12 by her mother and grandfather, with the help of a "coyote" who posed as his uncle.

    He then went on to pursue a career in journalism, using counterfeit documents to land him jobs in prestigious US publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post and the online news site Huffington Post.

    According to recent data from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics, there are more than 10 million illegal immigrants residing in the US, with many studying in public institutions and performing vital services. Of that number, at least 280,000 are Filipinos.

    Feeling duped

    Vargas' admission, coming onthe heels of a proposed Act that would legalize the status undocumented immigrants in the US, drew the admiration of many and the ire of some, including his former editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.

    In a blog post, Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, admitted that he "felt duped" by Vargas.

    “I once hired an illegal immigrant to be a reporter for the Chronicle," he wrote.

    However, Bronstein seemed to be of two minds on the issue, saying that while he felt like a felon for "harboring" Jose in his office, he might have also "unwittingly supported a potentially powerful new movement in the push for immigration reform."

    "There's no way to tell for sure when immigration laws themselves are a hopeless jumble of unenforced, unenforceable or just plain unaddressed issues covering 11 million people," he added.

    He said the "most likely road kill" in Vargas' story could be Peter Perl, the Post's training editor who knew about Vargas' secret and kept mum about it.

    "It's the knowing that sideswiped careers of people like Meg Whitman and failed federal job candidates Zoe Baird and Bernard Kerik," Bronstein said in his blog.

    Still, Bronstein acknowledged that Vargas gave a human face to an important immigration issue confronting several million people in America today.

    According to Bronstein, should Vargas' admission push the US government to craft a sane immigration policy, "[then] we should forgive him his lies."

    Obama deported 800,000 illegals

    Vargas is aware that he could easily be deported. As he says in his tell-all, “the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years."

    He would have been a shoo-in beneficiary of the DREAM Act, co-sponsored by Senators Durbin and Richard Lugar, after it passed the House late last year. But it fell through in the Senate.

    Vargas' case is the second involving a Filipino recently brought into spotlight. The first involved Mark Farrales, 31, a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University.

    He was pursuing his doctorate degree at the University of California in San Diego when he was arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents last November in his home in Los Angeles “for being in the country illegally."

    Farrales has since been released by the ICE and was given a one-year reprieve to legalize his stay. Farrales’ lawyer, Leon Hazany, did not respond when this reporter sought his comment on the Vargas case.

    Meanwhile, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) is calling on the U.S. Congress once again to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, commonly known as the DREAM Act.

    Reintroduced in the US Senate on May 11, 2011, the measure passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but failed in the U.S. Senate.

    The bill would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal alien students who graduate from US high schools, are of good moral character, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment if they complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning.

    “Approximately 40-44 percent of the undocumented student population in the Asian community are Filipino students," says NaFFAA National Chairman Eduardo Navarra. “They are among hundreds of committed activists whose tireless energy and relentless advocacy made last year’s historic vote possible. Their courage in speaking out and telling their stories made a big difference in moving this legislation forward. “

    Navarra commends Vargas for his courage in coming forward, owning up to what he has done and telling his story.

    “NaFFAA completely supports Jose’s personal advocacy to get the DREAM Act passed," adds Navarra.

    “I urge all Filipino Americans to play an active role in getting Congress to act on this measure this year. Tens of thousands of students who came to the U.S. without legal status would benefit from the passage of this act."

    Vargas is the second Filipino to win the Pulitzer. The first was the young Carlos P. Romulo, who wrote a series of stories more than 70 years ago predicting the outbreak of World War II. —JMT/VVP/HS, GMA News
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