“Documented” by Vargas gets to heart of immigration debate

By Evangeline Cafe
Northwest Asian Weekly

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A clip from the film “Documented” shows immigration reform activist Jose Antonio Vargas attending a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Iowa in December 2011. Vargas was escorted from the event. (Photo from: Documentedthefilm.com.)

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas spurred conversations about what it means to be American when he outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in an essay published in the New York Times Magazine in June 2011. Vargas is now shedding more light on his story of heartbreak and frustration in his film “Documented,” which he hopes will change people’s views about the need for immigration reform in the United States.

Vargas wrote, produced, and directed the film, which is currently being screened in cities across the nation. A preview screening will take place at the SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle on April 21 at 6:30pm. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Vargas and author and activist Eric Liu.

“Documented” chronicles Vargas’ journey to the United States as a child, his plight as an immigration reform activist, and his dreams of reconnecting with his mother, whom he has not seen in person for more than 20 years.

Vargas was born in the Philippines in 1981. When he was 12, his family gave him a fake passport and sent him to live with his grandparents in California. Vargas’ grandparents had moved to the United States legally in the 1980s.Vargas’ mother believed that sending her son to America would give him a better life. She had planned to follow him to the United States, but never did.

It wasn’t until Vargas was 16 years old that he discovered that he was living in the United States illegally. He had tried to apply for a driver’s permit, but was told that his documents were fake.

Believing that he could somehow earn his way to citizenship by working hard, Vargas went about his life in America, even if it meant deceiving other people. He paid state and federal taxes, but carried an invalid Social Security card and gave false information on his employment forms. After graduating from college, he established a career as a journalist. In 2008, Vargas was part of a Washington Post team that won a Pulitzer Prize.

Vargas’ revelation of his life of secrecy was met with both support from activists and sharp disapproval from critics. Since his revelation in the New York Times Magazine in 2011, Vargas has traveled across the nation speaking in support of comprehensive immigration reform. In 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to defer deportation and grant work permits to law-abiding undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, among other requirements. But Vargas, who had just turned 31, was four months too old to be eligible to qualify. Vargas also testified at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform in February 2013.

In “Documented,” Vargas hopes to put a human face on the immigration debate. Since Vargas lacks a valid passport, he fears traveling to the Philippines to see his mom because he would not be allowed to return to the United States, which he considers home. His mother has been denied a tourist visa and is awaiting a family visa to come to the United States. Vargas sent a crew to the Philippines to film her for the documentary.

In his director’s statement on the “Documented” website, Vargas wrote, “A broken immigration system means broken families and broken lives.”

“I did not realize how broken I was until I saw how broken Mama was. In the process of documenting myself, I ended up documenting Mama — and the sacrifices of parents who make America what it is, then and now. And in telling my own specifically universal story, I hope it incites others to tell their stories, too. At the very least, I want viewers to ask the question I posed as I filmed and traveled our country: How do you define American?”

In a trailer for the film, Vargas said, “I have this fantasy that I get this green card, and I fly, and then my mother would be there waiting for me.” (end)

Tickets of the preview screening of “Documented” are $12 and may be reserved at http://www.tugg.com/events/8670.
SIFF Cinema Uptown is located at 511 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle.

Evangeline Cafe can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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