Jose Antonio Vargas on TIME Magazine cover
Image by TIME Magazine

CHICAGO – Last May 9 in this city, Filipino Jose Antonio Vargas did not sound upbeat about the possibility that immigration reform will be introduced by the Obama administration.

In fact, Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who had earlier come out in the open to admit that is an undocumented immigrant, even remarked that President Obama would be harshly judged by history “for deporting millions of undocumented immigrants in three years.[box type=”default” size=”large”] DREAMers laud order halting deportation of children [/box]But in a startling turn of events, Vargas told his supporters last June 15, “This is huge. Today, our country embraces upwards of one million young new Americans: DREAMers.”

Vargas was reacting to a new Obama policy stopping the deportation of children who are 30 years old and younger and who are illegal immigrants.

“They grew up here, they were educated here, and they have so much to give back to the country they call home. With a stroke of President Obama’s pen, our country lives up to its ideals and finds a fair and pragmatic solution — ending the nightmare of a generation of young people who are Americans in all but documents. Please join me in supporting the President’s courageous act.”

Although Vargas said that President Obama’s order to stop deportation and begin granting work permits to hundreds of thousands of Dream Act-eligible students does not benefit him as “in fact, at (age) 30, I don’t qualify for relief myself, today’s announcement marks tremendous progress that couldn’t have happened without the passion and dedication of hundreds of thousands of people like you, raising your voices together.”

The policy change, which took effect on June 15, 2012, came four months late for Vargas, who turned 31 on Feb. 3, 2012.

Vargas is urging his supporters to sign a petition at http://chn.ge/1MillionDreams as a gesture of appreciation. He said he and a team from Define American will deliver soon the petition to the White House.

He thanked everybody “for continuing to stand with me for a new conversation about immigration in America and for sharing this message with your friends and family. I am honored and deeply moved by your support.”

Earlier, Vargas and 35 other undocumented young people were featured in a cover story of Time Magazine.

Speculations had it that in issuing the new policy, Obama is courting the votes of a big group of Latino voters, who helped him get elected in 2008 on a promise of immigration reforms.

Meanwhile, Ed Navarra, national chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), welcomed “President Obama’s announcement, deferring the deportation of young immigrants, whose parents came to this country without legal status.

“We are grateful for the courage of activists like Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino journalist, who has taken great risks in calling attention to the plight of these young people. We urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act.”

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano had earlier told reporters that the policy change is part of a general shift of the Obama administration’s focus on deporting high-priority undocumented immigrants.

“This grant of deferred action is not immunity,” she said. “It is not amnesty. It is an exercise of discretion so that these young people are not in the removal system. It will help us continue to streamline immigration enforcement and ensure that resources are not spent pursuing the removal of low-priority cases involving productive young people.”

Still, there will be no pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants eligible for the policy change because “only Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights,” a DHS announcement stated.

In a recent press conference, Secretary Napolitano said that effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children, do not present a risk to national security or public safety and meet several key criteria will be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings.

Those who can demonstrate that they meet the criteria `will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization, she said.

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.

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