An Accomplished Fraud

Erica Holloway Erica Holloway Leave a Comment

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Today kicks off the hugely popular BlogHer ’11 conference in San Diego, a woman blogger-centric arena where the stronger sex gathers to share tips of the trade, network and even discuss some heavy topics.

In Southern California, fewer hot buttons exists above immigration. This border town’s seen it’s share of debate on the subject that if polled would yield varying opinions on the matter.

One man recently thrust himself on the mercy of the public after hiding his illegal status for 14 years and on Saturday, I’ll join him and other bloggers on a panel to discuss immigration.

The man: Jose Antonio Vargas, a 30-year-old Filipino man whose mom sent him to America via a coyote at the age of 12 never to see him again. He lived with his naturalized grandparents unknowing until 15 that he was undocumented. His grandparents couldn’t sponsor him and despite a couple attempts, his mother preceding his journey could not join them in California. So, he was sent on alone.

His grandparents bought him a fake green card. When he tried to use it to get his driver’s permit, he found out the truth. The DMV worker spotted the phony document and sent him on his way. His grandfather admitted everything, telling him he must hide his identity lest he be caught and deported.

His life of lies began and didn’t stop until he confessed in a moving New York Times confessional, where he detailed how he gamed the system from getting a social security number to a driver’s license, paying taxes and working not as a keep-your-head-down worker bee – but a celebrated journalist. The pinnacle of his still-young career being a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Virginia Tech campus shootings.

He’s now on a crusade to push for the decade-old DREAM Act, which California Governor Jerry Brown recently took up in part one of two by signing a law that allows private donations to pay for undocumented students to attend college. Part two entails allocating public money to pay for undocumented kids.

Much of the coverage surrounding his fairly shocking admittance oscillate between conservatives saying it’s not fair – he should be deported to the country where he lived almost as long as America. While liberals defend his brains and accomplishments saying he should stay, he’s the kind of American we want.

He is the kind of American we want, but he’s not a legal American and each year, more than 10 million undocumented people are deported to respective countries of origin.

But as Senator Dick Durbin said about Monji Dolon, a 25-year-old born in Bangladesh, and slated for deportation: “… We could use people with Monji’s talents in America.”

So, is this a matter of fair? Is it a matter of morals? Or are we to read the strict letter of the law and enforce it regardless of storied background? What about all those waiting for years to naturalize?

Coverage I’ve read of Mr. Vargas say he’s unlikely to be deported as he doesn’t fit the profile of an unsavory type.

A few days ago, I and fellow panelists met via conference call to discuss this richly complex subject. The moderator opened it up for questions and I asked Mr. Vargas if he’s faced anger from those whose family members who were following the naturalization process and faced deportation. He said he did and that he could understand the anger on all sides of the argument, which he’s placed himself squarely in the middle.

To his credit, he’s facing the situation come what may because as he wrote in the New York Times piece, he was tired of the elaborate entrapment of lies and anxiety of hiding a hefty secret.

While I marvel at his talents, especially as a former journalist, and sympathize with his confusion at a young age, I have to wonder if he’s being given a free pass because he’s tapped into his media expertise and leaned on the shoulders of those giants who helped him along the way. Is his situation too hot to handle? Were he Jose Antonio Vargas, the truck driver, would he and all those who helped him be investigated?

Is the lesson here to work hard to get around the system? Or does the system need to change for those who work hard?

– Follow me @erica_holloway.

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