Dispatches, United States

Jose Antonio Vargas & Immigration Activists Launch DREAM Act Initiative

September 16, 2011 By Andrew OReilly

NEW YORK — Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and a number of faith-based immigration activists launched an initiative to pass the DREAM Act Thursday in New York.

Speaking at Judson Memorial Church in New York City, Vargas and other activists including Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), promoted the “New York State Congregations in Solidarity with DREAMers.” The initiative, which is part of the national DREAM Sabbath initiative led by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), aims to spur on the passage of the DREAM Act.

“I can’t think of a more fitting place to have this conversation than a church,” said Vargas, a journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and later stirred up controversy over his admission in the New York Times Magazine that he was an undocumented immigrant. “[The immigration debate] is not just about undocumented immigrants like me. It’s about faith leaders, about educators.”

The controversial piece of legislation known as the DREAM Act, an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, was first introduced in 2001 to the U.S. Senate and most recently was re-introduced in May of this year. Among other things, the bill would provide a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before age 16, can prove they have lived in the United States for at least five consecutive years since their date of arrival and have graduated from a U.S. high school, obtained a GED or were admitted to an institution of higher education.

“Ultimately, Congress has to pass the DREAM Act, to provide a path to citizenship for young people who grew up here without status,” said Chung-Wha Hong, NYIC executive director. “The gathering today aims to keep the spotlight on DREAMers and to make clear that Congress might be in a state of paralysis now, but that doesn’t mean we are; the fight for DREAMers goes on.”


When the DREAM Act was introduced to the Senate in 2011, some Republicans who originally supported the measure – such as John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – withheld their votes, arguing that the bill should not be passed unless paired with a law enforcement component. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he would consider adding the government’s Internet-based work eligibility verification system, E-Verify, to the DREAM Act.

Vargas criticized the government’s delay in passing the DREAM Act, calling the 10 years since the bill was first introduced a “lost decade.”

“We’re talking to people in their late 20s or early 30s who could have been doctors,” he said. “Instead they have to live a shadow life…I don’t see why their education is a threat to anyone.”

Vargas also drew comparisons between today’s immigration debate and the Civil Rights movement in the United States, saying that the movement of the 1950s and 60s was not just about African-Americans in the U.S. but about all Americans. Along with being a journalist, Vargas is the founder of Define American, an organization that attempts to use citizens “to fill in where our broken immigration system fails.”

“From principals to pastors, these everyday immigrant allies are simply trying to do the right thing.” Define American’s website stated.

In addition to Vargas and immigration activists, a diverse cast of religious leaders from around New York spoke to a crowd of about 50 people inside the church.

“We at Judson Memorial Church are called by the teachings of our faith to hold a DREAMers Solidarity Service as part of this important initiative,” said Reverend Michael Ellick, Minister of Judson and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Network. “According to scripture, we must pursue justice, act with compassion, and welcome and honor the strangers among us. I urge other congregations to hold a Solidarity Service and declare their support for DREAMers and the DREAM Act.”

Photo: PoliticalActivityLaw.com @ Flickr.


Vickie says:

Vargas is a liar and a thief posing as a journalist. He needs to be deported and return legally if he wants to be an icon.

[…] activists and religious leaders kicked off a campaign promoting the DREAM Act on Thursday. Andrew O’Reilly reports from New York […]

GrayRiv says:

Vickie – There is no way to go out and come back legally. Lamar Smith and the GOP blocked that as an option in 1996, which is one reason why the population of those here illegally rises. If we had legal immigration as an alternative to illegal immigration in the first place (within limits tied to the economy, not gridlocked by politics) we would have much more control over immigration. If we removed barriers to immigrants with legitimate claims to getting legal from doing so, many more would be on the books and in the system. That’s why we need measures like DREAM and immigration reform.

Nidia says:

Vickie – GrayRiv is correct. My Dad was llegaly in the U.S.A. Since 1970 before i was born in 1974 , He had 8 kids. My mom grew up in a farm like style and had different beliefs about living in USA so they came back & forth and my Dad never settled in the USA because my Mom didn’t wanted to live here… My Dad was an Administrator that came to the USA as a Buyer for John Deere and wanted to stay.. now when my Mother was pregnant of my brother who’s is older than me by 3 year’s she was Due for labor and decided to go back to Mexico because she believed that it any of Us was to be born here could be send to a War Mandatory without your consent. So my Dad and Mother separated, My Dad continued working in USA and Mexico but continue to be a Resident. Then he got cancer and Dr’s recommended him a quiet life, he returned to Mexico. Before that I studied english in Mexico, Love accounting same as my Dad, Earned an Accounting degree and wanted to be here same as my Dad. My Dad brought me here to help me but couldn’t until he could be a citizen. Now he couldn’t be a Citizen because he left to Mexico due to his fight with cancer and the Expensive cost of Treatment for Residents in the USA.
Now someone told me that if my Dad was legally here before 1976 I can fix my papers but the cost will be high and I can’t afford to pay all the Attorney’s and cost fees. since I’ve been supporting my Younger brother and my Mom in Mexico Financially.
Many of the times people will be in debt for at least 10 years to be able to fix their Status so Instead of expending these money on Collegue that I continued to go because now I’m pursuing another career. why not to get a Dream Act Passed or a Amnesty even if we did all wrong.
My Dad didn’t know that laws will be inforce and things will changed and been a Resident will be same as Illegally since it became a practiced for this Country to start Deporting even residents if they want to?

Susan Robbins says:

Children who came here illegally by parents cannot demand America fixes their status. They have to go to their parents and demand they fix it.
This journalist…has he ever hired a lawyer to fix his status? how about four years military for theses young folks in exchange for legal status and their relatives cannot be sponsored while in the country illegally. They must go back to their native countries and wait. Immigrants should be barred from any welfare for ten years so they are not a burden. They should have to speak English to get citizenship.

For those who don’t know (because he seems to never disclose who he works for), “Gray” is the comm. dir. for Rep. Gutierrez.

And, if we followed his advice, we’d have even more illegal immig. There are *5 billion* people who are poorer than the country to our south. “Gray” would send the message that we have even looser immig. than we have now, and a mad dash for our borders would ensue. Many of those who couldn’t get in legally (due to the caps he mentions) would enter illegally.

And, the cap he describes would never be enforced in the reverse direction: there’s no way the Dems and the far-left are going to let their powerbase return home even under the worse economic conditions.

Crystal Evans says:

I agree that Vargas is a fraud and has used many people to keep his secret. I think that he should be deported back to the Philippines because he will not be able to work in the US since he has made public that he has no papers. At this time, we cannot afford the Dream Act. We cannot have these people who spent the bulk of their lives along with their parents, thumbing their noses at our laws, compete with US citizens for scarce job openings. They say that they want to go into the military, but as non citizens, they will not be able to become officers and many MOS specialities will be closed to them because these occupations require a security clearance that is not given to non citizens.

Ruth says:


Your parents created this mess. How ridiculous to say your father didn’t know the U.S. would enforce their laws. He should have assumed that! If he came here illegally in the first place, he caused all of his own problems. If you are not legal citizens of the U.S., the U.S. owes you NOTHING! Why do you think you should be rewarded with rights that are reserved for legal citizens in spite of your family breaking this country’s laws? Look to your own country for these things, not the U.S.

amo says:

If people have situations where they are stuck in legal red tape they really need a good lawyer not a ampire and not “pro se” ie with no lawyer… often good lawyers can be found in a faith based or community organization–not a notario, please!– often for low price that does not keep going up. Do some research which groups in your area do immigretion reform advocacy and ask them what legal groups are reliable. Dont only rely on what freinds tell you since every case is different….

Most of our religious communities are very concerned about the humanitarian crisis that breaks up families when bureaucracy and rigid rules go overboard.

Milan Moravec says:

University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) displaces qualified for public university at Cal Californians with $50,600 FOREIGN students

Public University of California Berkeley is not increasing enrollment. $50,600 FOREIGN students at UC Berkeley are getting into Cal at the expense of instate students.

Yours is the opinion that can make the difference email UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

John kelsey says:

I just want to point out the fact that MOST Americans are not really educated on the correct information about these students and the fact that THERE IS NO OTHER WAY FOR THEM TO GAIN LEGAL STATUS unless this bill is passed. Most of these students are outstanding young people who instead of living their regular teenage lifes they are outthere fighting for fair consideration on the American Society. I really don’t understand why most GOP use border security as an excuse for not supporting these measure, that should be a completly different topic. These children are now finding themselves on a cruel reality that congress has the power to change, education should not control by polititians “U.S. Secretary of education supports this measure”. PLEASE don’t compare these students with other illegal criminals that most opponents to the bill refferred to, because these are not only top honor children they LIVE in our Society and All they’re asking for is an opportunity to GIVE BACK and be recognize for what they are “DREAMERS!”

At least we can dream at our church. We can dream about something larger than safety and more human than borders. Thanks to all who cared enough to come and to speak.

DonaldH says:

Here we go with the Dream Act again. When will illegal aliens learn that the United States of America is a land of opportunity and not some give-away show on TV? If you want something, go after it yourself. Don’t wait for the government to hand it to you! If you are illegally here, hire an attorney to petition for legal status. If you have the money for college, then you have the money to GET LEGALIZED FIRST! Stop playing around, waiting for a hand-out. Get right with our laws and stop whining about them! That’s the right thing to do in this country.

Christian says:

Vargas has about 12 lawyers working on his case. But because of that idiot Bill Clinton, in 1996 the laws were changed so that there is NO WAY for ppl like him to get status. At all.

If you haven’t noticed, we don’t have ENOUGH WORKERS to deal with the liabilities created by Social Security and Medicare. If you want to know why Americans need MORE immigrants to maintain our national greatness – look in the mirror. Or your local public school.

America is stupider, fatter, lazier than ever. And how exactly do you think we’ll be able to compete with China? As in generations past, we need some hard-working immigrants. ppl who don’t complain or BLAME OTHERS for the fact they can’t get a job.

Ruth says:

A country’s government enforcing its borders is a duty it has to its citizens and taxpayers. That is not going overboard. And the dividing of families has been caused by people that have broken laws and entered a country illegally where they have no right to be! Then they want the U.S. to overlook all of this and make them citizens anyway. They should all be deported! The U.S. permits more legal immigration than it probably should. The fact is that everyone from every country is not entitled to be a U.S. citizen. People should work on improving their own country and if they want to be with their family, be with them in their native country. Quit trying to sneak your entire extended families into the U.S. to burden its taxpayers and bring down the quality of life here.

daniela medina says:

Most of you are incredibly ignorant to think that young people who have lived here their entire lives , who’s parents came to america looking for better oppertunites should’nt be allowed to become llegal.They have absolutey nothing to do with their parents actions and should be able to get the education they need.

hannah martinez says:

Its comical how people don’t understand that these students are outstandingly bright and should have the right to be here. Americans have become so witless and ignorant to the fact that their ancestors were obviously IMMIGRANTS who came to this country just like people in society today looking for economical oppertunities and a new start. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand what its like. DREAMers don’t give up.. EVER!

[…] activists and religious leaders kicked off a campaign promoting the DREAM Act on Thursday. Andrew O’Reilly reports from New York […]

TheSpecialOne says:

I was in Washington, D.C., this summer when Jose Antonio Vargas spoke to the DREAMers at the first-ever DREAM Act Hearing sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin. I also work closely with many undocumented people via my current job. I don’t have to read about Vargas to know that there is NO WAY for him (nor others like him in this same plight) to get LEGAL status! It amazes me that SO many people think that if the undocumented students–that are all ready living here and paying taxes–should be deported or stop complaining, or be treated like criminals. The large rates of unemployment are to be blamed by Wall Street playing its games with the U.S. economy. However, NO ONE seems to be going after them! The DREAMers have my FULL SUPPORT. As an African-American citizen I know what it’s like to live in a country that doesn’t want to give one access–or seeks to deny access wherever it’s possible. Many of the people that are complaining about undocumented workers “taking jobs away” are simply wrong and misinformed. Sadly, that’s what happens when the news media and the government is OWNED by 6 major mulitinational companies that seek to make its consumer mindless drones that can’t form an independent, articulate thought.

Pedro A. says:

This man (Vargas) is no different than his mother. He is now an adult, aware of his illegal status, yet he has chosen to do the same thing his mother did, years ago. Break the laws in order to accomodate his ambitions. If he is not willing to go back to his country of origin, apply at the American embassy and go thru the process, like i did and millions of other LEGAL IMMIGRANTS do every year, than clearly he doesn’t deserve to even be a legal immigrant, let alone an American citizen.

Ruth says:

It’s not ignorant at all. Legal citizens and taxpayers of this country are tired of the limited resources of their counties, states, and federal government being spent on people that shouldn’t even be here. These children have already received free public education through high school, and probably plenty of other government resources. Now they try to demand citizenship in a country that is not theirs and cheaper tuition for college. It’s ridiculous!

MdeG says:

What GrayRiv and others said — For people inside the country without legal status, there is essentially no way to get legal status. Why don’t they do military service? Why don’t they get legal? That’s exactly what DREAM would let them do! Why don’t they learn English? If they graduated from a US high school, they’ve presumably already done that.

Undocumented workers are paying billions into Social Security, but are presently ineligible to draw pensions from it. They’re propping up the system. And while kids born here may be eligible for some benefits, even legal immigrants are not. For the first several years, they’re limited to workers’ comp and life-saving medical aid. They’re already a net contributor to the system, as well as being treated as if they had no rights. People who blame them for our present problems are scapegoating — and remember whose sins the scapegoat carried! Hint: They weren’t the goat’s.

Chris says:

Nice article! Small correction in the section where you write “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-UT).” Reid is from Nevada!

Esther says:

Those who would participate in the DREAM Act have been educated in American schools, their parents have paid taxes all the years that they have lived here whether it be local, federal, sales, etc taxes. Their parents have contributed to the growth of wealth in their communities through the years of work they have performed. These young people are bi-lingual and bi-cultural. Many are gifted and talented. Will we continue to waste this talent and lose a generation of potential scientists, educators and leaders? Where is the wisdom in that decision?

Roque Planas says:

Thanks Chris! Corrected

Saul Aleman says:

Dream Act WIll be a playing chip in the upcoming elections. DREAM ON!! ENACT THE DREAM ACT

thinkfinity says:

To those who say there are no other ways for these illegal aliens to become documented, let me say youre wrong.

1. The US does NOT owe any illegal aliens citizenship nor permanent residency. You cannot demand a “privilege” and make it appear as a “right.”

2. I came from the Philippines myself, and I found a way to be a legal citizen here via my job. I researched, emailed people/employers and waited. I submitted myself to interviews. My family and I had to save the almost non-existent peso salaries we have for visa fees. But after some time of waiting, I came here, LEGAL and documented. Now I am a US citizen. If I could do it, then Jose Vargas could do it too.

3. Before we start helping dreamers, let’s help those who are legal citizens first. I see alot of legal citizens who are bright and who want to go to college but cant because of red tape in financial aid. I would rather put money and time on that first.

4. I have nothing against dreamers. But if alot of people found a way to be legal by way of existing laws, then there is no need for a new law. Like I said, if I found a way, so can Jose Antonio Vargas.

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