Undocumented Journalist Testifies at Senate Hearing on Immigration Reform

BY Ellen Rolfes  February 13, 2013 at 9:24 AM EDT


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday about his experience as an undocumented immigrant in America. His question for the committee: “What do you want to do with me?”

Watch all the witnesses’ testimonies on PBS NewsHour’s YouTube channel.

Updated, 4:40 p.m. ET

In the wake of a speech by President Barack Obama in Las Vegas and a bipartisan proposal crafted by a group of senators dubbed the Gang of Eight, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held its first hearing Wednesday on comprehensive immigration reform.

Comprehensive immigration reform will likely be a battle between those focusing on improving enforcement of federal immigration laws and those who desire legislative reform to overhaul laws already in place.

As the hearing was the Senate’s first official step toward crafting a bill, the committee heard testimony from individuals with various areas of expertise and political agendas.

Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who publicly revealed his immigration status in The New York Times in 2011, was one of the witnesses. Since Vargas’ “coming out,” no measures having been taken to deport him from the country.

In his testimony, Vargas said that he and others like him “dream of a path to citizenship so we can actively participate in our American democracy.” He ended his prepared statement by asking senators for their solution to undocumented immigrants.

“Immigration is about our future. Immigration is about all of us and before we take your questions, I have a few of my own: What do you want to do with me? For all the undocumented immigrants who are actually sitting here at this hearing, for the people watching online and for the 11 million of us, what do you want to do with us?”

While Democrats invited three undocumented immigrants to the 2013 State of the Union, including Alan Aleman, a DREAM student from Las Vegas who sat in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box during the president’s address, Vargas’ appearance in Congress was a touchy subject. In answering senators’ questions, Vargas acknowledged the “irony” of his presence at the hearing, as well as the presence of other undocumented immigrants who sat behind Vargas.

On Twitter last week, Center for Immigration Studies’ executive director Mark Krikorian mentioned Jose Antonio Vargas, one of the hearing’s witnesses and an undocumented immigrant.


“Because of the fact that he is a self-proclaimed illegal immigrant, an immigration and customs enforcement agent would be within the law to take him into custody,” said Jessica Vaughan in an interview with NewsHour Tuesday evening. Vaughan is a colleague of Krikorian at the Center for Immigration Studies and appeared at the hearing to give testimony arguing against any large-scale amnesty plans as a key component of comprehensive immigration reform. While it would be within federal law to arrest Vargas, Vaughan quickly added that, “the [Obama] administration’s current policy prohibits that action, even though the law is in place.”

The Obama administration has supported strong border security and enforcing federal immigration laws — as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano explained on PBS NewsHour in December — but the president has also issued a number of executive orders to curtail the arrests and deportations of immigrants.

In addition to putting a halt on deporting some undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. as children, President Obama also suspended an ICE program called 287(g) that allowed local authorities to make immigration-related arrests, enforcing federal immigration laws.

Two more players and witnesses for the hearing were Secretary Napolitano and Chris Crane, the leader of the immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) employees’ union. Two months after President Obama issued the executive order for to stop the deportation of some DREAMers, Crane filed a lawsuit against Secretary Napolitano on behalf of 10 ICE agents, stating that the administration’s orders prevent local authorities from carrying out federal law and doing their jobs properly.

Comprehensive immigration reform will likely include immigration enforcement measures, such as those proposed by the Gang of Eight — an effective verification system of immigration status and increased border security are two such examples. It will also likely include changes to the way the government deals with immigrants, including new paths to legal citizenship.

Vaughan sees these two concepts as problematic to combine in a single bill that could pass through both the House and Senate. “It is not the best idea to combine enforcement measures with legislation reform,” she said. “But politically it seems to be necessary.”


Here is a complete list of witnesses for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Watch their testimonies on PBS NewsHour’s YouTube channel:

  • Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano: A part of President Obama’s administration, Secretary Napolitano has emphasized the importance and power of immigration reform by Congress to improve and strengthen U.S. border security.

  • Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American: An award-winning journalist, Vargas made headlines in 2011 when he came out as an undocumented immigrant in The New York Times. Since then, he has become an active voice advocating for immigrant rights.

  • Steve Case, chairman and CEO at Revolution: As co-founder of AOL and a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness., Steve Case is one of the tech industry’s elite advocating for an increase in visas for high-skilled foreign-born workers as one of the issues included in comprehensive immigration reform. He has stated that these visas are part of increasing the economic competitiveness of America.

  • Chris Crane, president of the American Federation of Government Employees National ICE Council : As the leader of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement employees’ union, Chris Crane filed a suit against the Obama administration in August 2012, claiming that lenient deportation policies enacted by President Obama forced law enforcement officials to break federal law.

  • Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza: Murguía has worked heavily with other immigrant rights organizations and labor unions on their roles in pushing for immigration reform. Murguía worked in the White House from 1994-2000 as deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton.

  • Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at Center for Immigration Studies (CIS): With more than 20 years at CIS, Vaughan has worked to complete the organization’s mission of analyzing the impact of immigration on American society and educating policymakers and legislators. CIS has been particularly skeptical of amnesty programs to decrease illegal immigration to the U.S.