I get into work early on a Monday morning, hot coffee and heavy briefcase in hand, my thoughts are focused on a film that I am privileged to be attending later this evening. Jose Antonio Vargas has directed a new documentary called Documented; a personal biography of sorts that narrates his life as an undocumented American. The documentary is in itself very personal for me, with scenes and photos of my aunt and uncle, the people with whom Jose grew up with when he first came to the states at the age of 12. Jose is my cousin and my friend, but more importantly he is the voice for some 11 million undocumented Americans who want nothing more than to be allowed to be called Americans.
The debate over immigration has raged for a really long time. America was built on the shoulders of immigrants after all; Europeans came here in search of a better life and more freedoms (much like the immigrants of today), followed by immigrants from other continents. So in fact, even the "standard Caucasian" we see today and identify as "American" is in fact a descendant from another country; one who came here with no papers or supporting documentation.
Today's immigration fight appears to be upheld by the idea that immigrants who want to be here legally must do so under the laws that define what a "legal immigrant" is. But what the average citizen on the street sees has little to do with laws and definitions. We see families, with kids who graduated high school with honors, being broken apart. We see hard working men and women, who pay taxes, drive safely, and follow our laws being "captured" and sent out of the country indiscriminately. We see people like Jose, who earn Pulitzer prizes and communicate information as reporters and seasoned journalists, treated like second class citizens and criminals. But the worst of it, is watching government officials and law enforcement having to deal with convoluted laws that make the decision to deport someone more personal than official.
So when a law is dysfunctional, is it still considered a law?
I had the privilege of attending a premiere of Jose's new documentary film last night in San Francisco. The film was amazing, and the panel discussion afterwards was eye opening, and at times sobering. Stories of children from South America, Asia and Europe, who grew up in America, studied here, lived the American life, and went on to college or careers, being deported for no reason other than being here without paperwork.
I have known Jose since he was a kid, growing up in the exact same house that I grew up in as a kid. When he came out as an illegal immigrant, it made his journey a personal one for me and our family. In Jose's mind, if he can make the goal of immigration reform "personal" for all of America to see and realize, then all the risk that he and many others have gone through, will have been for the better.