Jose Antonio Vargas on TIME Magazine cover
Image by TIME Magazine

CHICAGO – Filipino Pulitzer Prize winning-journalist-turned immigration rights crusader Jose Antonio Avaga Vargas was sentenced last Dec. 12 to pay a fine of $378 for driving without a valid driver’s license.

Nancy Peters, public affairs-communication specialist of the Minnesota Fourth Judicial District, said Vargas pleaded guilty to the charge during his pre-trial in the sala of Judge Marilyn Kaman of the 4th Judicial District of Hennepin County, Minneapolis, Minnesota

In an email to this reporter, Peters stated that Vargas “pleaded guilty to driving without a valid driver’s license and paid the petty misdemeanor fine of $378. His attorney signed the fine payment slip.”

It was not known if Vargas appeared in court.

There was no response to email and phone calls sent by this reporter to Vargas’s attorneys, Lousene Hoppe and Kevin Charles Riach, and state/city Attorney Flavio Silveira Abreu.

The 31-year-old Vargas was driving on Interstate 35-W near 46th St. in Minneapolis at about 9 a.m. on Oct. 5, 2012 when he was stopped by a Minneapolis State Patrol officer, who ticketed him for driving without a valid driver’s license.

Vargas, a native of Antipolo City, 25 miles east of Manila, was sentenced by Judge Kaman to pay $300 for “Highway Patrol Within Muni-NG Plea-City Prosecutor,” $75 for “Criminal/Traffic Surcharge (once per case)” and $3.00 for “Law Library Fees” for a total of $378.00.

Judge Kaman’s staff, John McKenzie, had earlier said that if there were a full-blown trial and Mr. Vargas were found guilty of the traffic violation for “driving without valid license for vehicle class or type,” he could have been penalized with a maximum of $1,000 fine and jailed for 90 days.

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As a misdemeanor, Vargas’s traffic violation will not earn the attention of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which only deports undocumented immigrants involved in felony cases.

In his essay in New York Times, Vargas said he obtained a driver’s license in Washington State in 2011 after his Oregon license expired.
“Early this year, just two weeks before my 30th birthday, I won a small reprieve: I obtained a driver’s license in the state of Washington.”

“The license is valid until 2016. This offered me five more years of acceptable identification – but also five more years of fear, of lying to people I respect and institutions that trusted me, of running away from who I am.”

It was reported that Vargas’s driver’s license was revoked by Washington State but he did not surrender his driver’s license.

In his tell-all article in the New York Times in June 2011, Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant, hoping that his hard work and love for his adopted country would give him a path to US citizenship.

In 1993, Vargas, then 12 years old, was sent by his parents to the U.S. to live with his grandfather in California. He had no idea he would become one of the 11.2 million illegal immigrants (as of 2011) in the US.