Jose Antonio Vargas' immigration confession: 4 lessons

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter revealed his many immigration lies in The New York Times Magazine. What can we learn from this illegal immigrant's story?

Jose Antonio Vargas
(Image credit: YouTube)

Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas made a shocking confession in Sunday's New York Times Magazine: He has lied about his immigration status for his entire adult life. Vargas, 30, came to the U.S. when he was 12. He lived with his grandparents, both naturalized U.S. citizens, and didn't find out until he was 16 that his green card was forged. Since then, he has lied to obtain two driver's licenses, and employment at The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among other publications. What can we learn from Vargas' revelation?

1. We need immigration reform, now

The Vargas case clearly "highlights the need for comprehensive immigration reform," says The Boston Globe in an editorial. The outline of a bipartisan solution "has been visible since the Bush years," but the Senate remains gridlocked. The victims are people like Vargas, who are "American, through and through," just not legally. I was moved by Vargas' "brave and gripping account," says Harold Pollack in The New Republic. Maybe if we deported "de facto Americans" like Vargas — and quickly realized that illegal immigrants "do more than pick our fruit and mind our kids" — we'd fix our immigration system more quickly.

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2. We need to make it harder to break the law

Of all Vargas' lies, perhaps the most galling is his claim to be an "undocumented immigrant," says Michelle Malkin at the New York Post. As he details, "he had documents coming out of his ears," just not legal ones. And he's hardly alone. "Driver's licenses are gateways into the American mainstream," for lying journalists like Vargas and "jihadists" alike. We have to crack down. The lucrative "fake document business" is evolving beyond Kinkos, says Hugh Holub in the Tucson Citizen. "When the U.S. tries to build a better mousetrap, those getting paid to assist illegal aliens build better mice."

3. Vargas' crime was more against journalism than the U.S.

"I believe in open borders and detest our current laws and their enforcement," but I'm very "disturbed with Vargas for lying to the Washington Post," says Jack Shafer at Slate. Lying to the government is one thing, but lying to Vargas' editors "violated the compact that makes journalism possible." He shouldn't be deported, except from journalism. He did lie to me and others in a profession "where facts and a more elusive truth are considered valuable commodities," says Phil Bronstein in the San Francisco Chronicle. And we editors don't appreciate being "duped."

4. Journalists are insufferable prigs

The old "journalistic scolds" never tire of pulling out "the most tired and hackneyed tropes of mainstream media ethics," says Daniel Denvir at Britain's Guardian. There is "zero evidence" he lied in any of his stories, which is what matters. And really, "lying about one's immigration status to get a job butchering chickens in Iowa" is fine, but it's a mortal sin if you lie to your editor to become "a serious journalist — or a serious anything other than, perhaps, a janitor"? Come on.

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