Like any teenager, 16-year-old Jose Antonio Vargas wanted to partake in an American rite of passage: getting his driver’s license. It was at the DMV where Vargas learned the truth. The green card that he had been given four years earlier upon entering the United States from the Philippines was fake. Vargas was unknowingly one of millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Vargas, who is now a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, kept the secret to himself for years. That was until 2011, when he wrote an essay for the New York Times Magazine, revealing himself as an undocumented immigrant.
“I had enough of the lies, so I decided to come out as publicly as I could,” Vargas told MTV News. “I’m not an illegal alien. I’m not some illegal person. I’m actually an American — I just don’t have the papers to show you.”
MTV’s Power of 12 has heard your concerns as Election Day nears ever closer. With the topic of immigration reform being a hot button issue this presidential election, Vargas believes the voices of young undocumented immigrants must be heard.
“Undocumented young people coming out and sharing their stories has been the biggest game changer when it comes to immigration in this country,” he said. “All we are doing, individually and collectively, is looking Americans in the eye and saying we are not who you think we are and this is not what you think it is.”
Vargas, who is neither a Republican nor Democrat since he is not allowed to vote, has strong opinions on both of the candidates.
“Looking at what Mitt Romney has done with the issue, the fact that he continually calls people illegal aliens or illegals, that’s someone’s mom you are talking about, that someone’s sister you are talking about,” said Vargas.
“We are not going to be able to solve this issue until we have a bi-partisan group of leaders who want to lead,” said Vargas.
Vargas also stressed the importance of voting in the upcoming election, especially in the Latino and Asian communities. “Voting is a privilege. It’s a right. It’s a responsibility. Don’t throw it away,” he said. “Can you imagine if every undocumented person in the country just goes out and says, ’Don’t take for granted something that I’m fighting for, something that I want that I can’t have.’ ”
Vargas said he believes that immigration is the most provocative but most misunderstood issue in America. “You know somebody who is undocumented. They are in your classrooms, they are in your churches, they are in your communities. We’re neighbors,” he says. “We’re not taking away a slice of your pie. We are actually making the whole pie bigger.”
Stick with MTV’s Power of 12 for our countdown to Election Day on November 6!