Jose Antonio Vargas mulled moving to Canada for good

red line

His family and friends adviced him to ‘just go home.’ Photos by Lambert Parong/ Kababayan Media

His family and friends adviced him to ‘just go home.’ Photos by Lambert Parong/ Kababayan Media

By Cristina DC Pastor

Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas revealed he had entertained the idea of heading north to Canada and finally leaving the country that wants to deport him.

Until Minority Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi called.

“I entertained it for a week,” said immigrant rights activist Vargas, speaking before a June 16 Know Your Rights forum held at the St. Francis of Assisi Church. “I like Canada, there are many Filipino nannies.”

This was sometime in February as Donald Trump was preparing his State of the Union (SOTU) before both Congress.

“I got a call from Nancy Pelosi,” Vargas recalled. “She said she could bring two guests to the State of the Union and she’d like to bring me. Nancy Pelosi helped me wake up.”

On February 28, he sat across from Trump as the new president unveiled plans to create VOICE, an office devoted to victims of immigration crime.

“I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called VOICE, victims of immigration crime engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests,” said Trump in his SOTU address.

Vargas said ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) under the Trump administration tends to “blur the line” between an undocumented immigrant and a criminal.

The advice to go to Canada came from Vargas’s lawyers. His legal team had cautioned him against doing a lot of traveling because he could be arrested at any time while boarding planes. In Canada, there won’t be any immigration anxieties to worry about. Vargas – who holds a Philippine passport — said he balked because “traveling is what I do” and to stop doing it would be “disorienting.”

Know Your Rights immigration forum at the St. Francis of Assisi Church

Know Your Rights immigration forum at the St. Francis of Assisi Church

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist came out as an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 essay published by the New York Times. He has since become a high-profile advocate for immigrant rights.

He recounted how his family and some friends did not support him as he was considering to disclose his illegal status. He said their advice was largely motivated by shame and fear: “nakakahiya, nakakatakot.”

His uncle, a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy, said, “I think this is a bad idea. Umuwi ka na lang in the Philippines, and maybe you can hang out with Boy Abunda.” The audience laughed.

A friend said, “Filipinos are so proud you have a Pulitzer Are you going to throw all of that away? They’re not going to remember you as the award-winning journalist but as the illegal, the TNT. Umuwi ka na lang.”

Vargas said the words ‘just go home’ rang in his ears as he was preparing to embark on a decision that would change his life.

“I’m glad they have all turned around, (realized) that this fight is worth all the effort, all the risks, and the sacrifices,” he said.

The forum is a project of the Filipino American Lawyers Association or FALA New York and the St. Francis of Assisi Church.

FALA NY President Connie Montoya praised Vargas for his bravery, generosity and boldness for breaking cultural, social and geographic barriers.

Fr. Julian Jagudilla OFM, director of the St. Francis Immigration Center, urged FilAms to be united in their “widespread advocacy” for undocumented ‘kababayan.’ Now is not the time, he said, to be “in denial or indifferent,” but the time to have a fruitful conversation about immigration.

Copyright © 2017 The FilAm

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