Things That Matter

Exclusive: Jose Antonio Vargas Talks #EmergingUS, Political Activism, and Immigrant Rights

In 2011, Pulitzer Prize award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas revealed he was undocumented in an essay for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Since then, Vargas has started two organizations – #EmergingUS and Define American – dedicated to fighting for immigration rights. He now finds himself in Des Moines, Iowa, joining the political conversation just in time for the caucuses. Vargas spoke with we are mitú and discussed the purpose of #EmergingUS and his constant fight to help other undocumented immigrants.

Why is it important for Define American to be in Iowa right now?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Undocumented Iowa, a short documentary, was produced by #EmergingUS, a new digital platform on race, immigration, and identity that will launch very soon. And this short documentary premiered at the inaugural Define American Film Festival in Des Moines, Iowa. Actually, Undocumented Iowa opened the film festival, which showed six feature films and six short documentaries in three days. Is there an issue as central to this primary season (especially among Republicans) and as politicized and partisan as immigration? Define American’s chief goal is to humanize and personalize immigration, especially to potential caucus-goers in Iowa, where the flood of immigration-oriented television and radio ads is non-stop. Define American hosted this inaugural film festival in Des Moines because we must humanize the immigration issue to Iowans.

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Credit: Define American / Facebook

Why did you choose undocumented Iowans for your documentary?

Vargas: Far too often, undocumented immigrants are the objects of the debate, rarely the ones with the agency to tell their own stories and frame their own narratives. There are an estimated 40,000 undocumented immigrants who call Iowa their home. #EmergingUS wanted to hear from them directly.

READ: These Undocumented People Can Teach Us All How to Handle and Shut Down Haters with Humor

What do you hope people take away after watching Undocumented Iowa?

Vargas: All content from #EmergingUS strives for connection and empathy. When Kenia Calderon–one of the undocumented Iowans featured in the documentary–says that “growing up, all I wanted was to have a college degree, to give it to my parents as a gift for everything that they did, for every toilet that they have washed,” I imagine that any parent would connect with that emotion.

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One Day After A Texas Sheriff Called Undocumented Immigrants ‘Drunks,’ His Son Is Arrested For Public Intoxication

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One Day After A Texas Sheriff Called Undocumented Immigrants ‘Drunks,’ His Son Is Arrested For Public Intoxication

A Texas sheriff is eating his words after his bigotted comments came back to bite him in the worst way.

A day after Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn referred to undocumented immigrants as “drunks” who would “run over” children, his own son was reportedly arrested on charges of public intoxication. It has also been revealed that his son Sergei Waybourn has been arrested before. In 2018 he was charged with assault and in recent years he was arrested for trespassing and theft.

Sheriff Waybourn’s comments sparked controversy when he spoke against undocumented immigrants at a press conference in Washington.

Last Thursday, the sheriff spoke at the conference alongside Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Matthew Albence. Speaking in response to a ruling by a federal California judge made last month that imposed restrictions on ICE’s use of “detainers,” Waybourn underlined the consequences of releasing illegal immigrants with DWI and other crimes.

U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr.’s decision barred ICE from using online database searches to find and detain people based. Recently, the ACLU stated that since 2008, 2 million US citizens have been illegally detained because of such searches.

Waybourn pointed to his charge of inmates to give examples of high rates of repeat offenders. “If we have to turn them loose or they get released, they’re coming back to your neighborhood and my neighborhood,” Waybourn said according to New York Post. “These drunks will run over your children, and they will run over my children.”

After his comments, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens called for Waybourn’s resignation.

According to Dallas Morning News, Domingo Garcia said Waybourn ought to “resign and apologize for his bigoted comments immediately.”

In response, Waybourne said his comments had been taken out of contexts and his office released a statement saying that “Sheriff Waybourn was not referring to all legal or illegal immigrants when making his comments about DWI/DWI repeat offenders. He was speaking toward the charges of DWI and DWI repeat offender in the context of illegal immigration.”

In response to the news of his son’s arrest, the sheriff said he is “deeply saddened by Sergei’s choices.”

According to WFAA, he said that “It has been many years since he disassociated from our family. We, along with many family members have made efforts over the years to help him – all to no avail. It is always sad when drugs take control of a person’s life. His choices and actions have lead to this situation.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Is Getting Ready To Challenge Trump In The Supreme Court

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Is Getting Ready To Challenge Trump In The Supreme Court

Molly Adams / Flickr / agbecerra / Instagram

As the Supreme Court is set to take on the task of deciding the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) this fall, attorneys general from across the country sent in a filing brief in favor of the program. The 2012 Obama-era policy provided temporary legal status for participants and protected them from deportation. More importantly, it included the ability to work in the U.S. It also became a focal point in the debate over Trump’s proposed US-Mexico border wall back in February and his plans to take on illegal immigration. 

The Supreme Court decided to take on the case in June and will then hear oral arguments on the case in November with an expected ruling in the 2020 election year, putting the highest court in the land at the center of this divisive issue. For California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, this issue hits close to home. 

Of the roughly 700,000 DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, almost 200,000 of them live in California.

Credit: @XavierBeccerra / Twitter

In a brief filed last Friday to the Supreme Court, Becerra and other fellow attorneys generals from Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota argued that the Trump administration unlawfully terminated the program back in September 2017. Becerra has been at the forefront of the fight defending DACA. In his state of California, there are roughly 200,000 recipients and many of them go to school and work there. 

“The Trump Administration continues to hide behind the flimsy excuse that their hands were tied and they had to end DACA,” said Attorney General Becerra said last week. “The truth is there is no basis for that conclusion. Dreamers who have called America home for decades contribute significantly to our communities as teachers, first responders, entrepreneurs, and so much more. Many of them know no other home than the United States.”

Back in September 2017, the Trump administration initially said it was going to end the program, making the claim it was an illegal use of executive power by then-President Obama. That resulted in various lawsuits and injunctions filed by three U.S. district courts, including one in California. This would allow those who were previously granted DACA the power to renew their applications. 

When it was announced that oral arguments would be heard in front of the Supreme Court, Becerra was one of the most vocal political figures defending the program. He said then that he would do everything in his power to fight the Trump administration. 

“DACA reflects our nation’s commitment to helping hardworking people and creates hope and opportunity for a new generation – many of whom were brought to our country as toddlers. So far, both lower courts in our legal fight to protect DACA have agreed with us that the Trump Administration’s attempt to end it was unlawful,” Attorney General Becerra said back in June. “In California and across our nation, Dreamers enrich our communities as scholars, entrepreneurs, first responders, and much more. We look forward to making our case before the Supreme Court.”

The brief emphasizes the economic contributions that DACA recipients have on the U.S. and the consequences of terminating the program would have on the job market.

Credit: Unsplash

“Getting rid of DACA will reduce economic growth and cost our federal, state, and local governments about $95 billion in foregone tax revenues, without any appreciable employment gains for U.S. citizens,” Ike Branon wrote in an op-ed for Forbes last month. 

Dreamers contribute almost $9 billion in federal, state and local taxes every single tear. The result of removing the program would cause businesses to lose billions of dollars in turnover costs if their DACA-recipient employees are no longer able to legally live and work in the U.S. The statistics also show creating a pathway for legal citizenship is beneficial for all and will only cause more harm than good is rescinded. 

President Trump has repeatedly used DACA as a way to try to get lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform. So far, there has been no progress on that front as both Democrats and Republicans have not been able to come pass any legislation. 

As we wait for the Supreme Court to hear the case on DACA, thousands of people wait as their futures and livelihood in the U.S. hang in the balance. It will take more people like Becerra to stand up and voice their opinion on the program if it stands any chance of surviving. 

READ: City Officials Tell Judge Deceased Undocumented Immigrant Has No Rights Under The Constitution After Police Accidentally Killed Him