Sunday, September 30, 2012

Undocumented or Illegal?

I have become a big fan of Jose Antonio Vargas over the last couple years. I first encountered him when I was looking for an article on Facebook to teach in my ENG 100 class. Vargas wrote a compelling New Yorker article that profiled Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, which came out around the same time the movie The Social Network. After that, I heard him the following summer on NPR, talking about his decision to publicly "come out" as an undocumented immigrant in an article for the New York Times Magazine. This essay really blew me away, and I taught it in several classes from Summer 2011 to Spring 2012 as a model of a personal essay that eloquently blends compelling narrative and subtle argument. This semester I am teaching his latest piece, which was a cover story for Time this summer, called "Not Legal Not Leaving." Here is a video from Time in which he discusses the article:

I admire Vargas both for his courage and his extraordinary talent as a writer. His articles effectively break down stereotypes about undocumented immigrants and show the fundamental unreasonableness of current U.S. immigration policy. At the same time, I recognize that immigration is a touchy, controversial issue, and I'm sure many of my students will not be as receptive to Vargas's rhetoric as I am. I hope we can have spirited and civil discussions about this issue this week.

My own ideas on immigration are admittedly a little extreme. My brother-in-law looked at me in horror last Christmas when I suggested that perhaps some undocumented immigrants should be allowed to vote. I definitely think they should be allowed to get drivers licenses, apply for financial aid, and qualify for in-state tuition at state universities. Sometimes I question the basic right of a national government to arbitrarily decide how many and which people may cross its border. I believe an individual should be welcomed in any community where she is willing to contribute and abide by existing laws. Maybe that's idealistic, but I think a world with open borders would be a better world.

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