Jose Antonio Vargas – modern day migrants’ hero and Filipino exemplar?

Filipino ‘illegal’ immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas seems to have started something big. Vargas, who lives in the United States, is a journalist of Filipino ancestry who was born in the Philippines but was sent to live with his grandparents (both naturalised Americans) when he was 12. At 16, he experienced a rude awakening to the reality of his status…

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. “This is fake,” she whispered. “Don’t come back here again.”

The rest is history. Fast forward to 2011. Shortly after winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize for excellence in his field, Vargas revealed his status as an undocumented alien in the New York Times article “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” published last year.

In the 25th June 2012 edition of TIME Magazine, a full-featured article written by Vargas details his experience after that coming out and the challenges faced by migrants who share circumstances similar to his. The article, according to a note added to the article page on the TIME website, was followed by an announcement from the US Department of Homeland Security that the agency will desist from further deportation of aliens qualified under the DREAM Act.

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Shortly after Jose Antonio Vargas’ story on the issue of the undocumented was published in TIME, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it would no longer deport young undocumented residents who qualify for the DREAM act. Those eligible will receive work permits.

More likely this follows an executive order issued by US President Barack Obama on the 15th of June this year “allowing so-called Dream Act children to stay in the country without fear of being deported and enable them to find jobs”.

The DREAM Act (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is an American legislative proposal first introduced in the Senate on August 1, 2001, by Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch.

This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal individuals of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period. Within the six-year period, they may qualify for permanent residency if they have “acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the United States” or have “served in the armed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge”. Military enlistment contracts require an eight-year commitment, with active duty commitments typically between four and six years, but as low as two years. “Any alien whose permanent resident status is terminated… shall return to the immigration status the alien had immediately prior to receiving conditional permanent resident status under this Act.” This bill would have included illegal immigrants as old as 35 years of age.

As expected, the Filipino-American (Fil-Am) community is jubilant.

Immigrant rights organizer Christina Baal said President Obama should be applauded.

“This is really a happy day. We in the immigrants’ rights and labor community are celebrating the entry of talented and energetic youth into our workforce,” she said.

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations or NaFFAA commended journalist Jose Antonio Vargas for “taking great risks in calling attention to the plight of these young people.”

“As Vargas puts it, ‘They grew up here, they were educated here, and they have so much to give back to the country they call home,’” NaFFAA said in a statement.

Filipinos make up a huge portion of the immigrant community in the United States. Numbering an estimated 3.4 million, their population is second only to the Chinese among Asian Americans.

But noted columnist Fareed Zakaria laments the “broken and obsolete” state of the great “immigrant society” the United States fancies itself to be citing how other Western societies have themselves transformed into the same — often building upon and improving on American ideas on the matter. Though Zakaria cites clear indicators of America’s lag in that aspect in how societies like Australia and Canada now sport “higher percentage[s] of foreign-born residents than the U.S.”, he highlights a more important metric than just the sheer numbers — quality:

Sixty-two percent of permanent-resident visas in Canada are based on skills, while the remainder are for family unification. In the U.S., the situation is almost exactly the reverse: two-thirds of America’s immigrants enter through family unification, while only 13% of green cards are granted because of talent, merit and work. And it’s actually gotten worse over time.

Zakaria actually highlights the elephant that sits in any room where immigration numbers are discussed. Most statistics trumpet with pride the numbers of the foreign-born in societies aspiring to be “multi-cultural” — as if homegrown native homogeneity is necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, perhaps it is countries like the Philippines that will benefit more from a bigger influx of immigrants to dilute its Juan Tamad population.

Perhaps it may not be necessarily due to any inherent quality that makes the Filipino lot not cut out to be successful in their own land. It could be more about how the Philippine Nation is home to the original whole lot — the original unscreened full human spectrum from industrious to indolent, from frugal to spendthrift, from long-sighted to short-sighted, you name it, the Islands have got it.

As one goes towards the left end of the spectrum, one increasingly finds individuals that account for much of the success — and the resulting economic output — that the country has so far achieved. On the right side of the spectrum are those that continue to undermine these successes — the “exploited” and “victimised” sectors of society.

The Philippine Islands, being a tropical environment, is one of homo sapiens’ native habitats. Our original ancestors could run around naked 365 days a year and be perfectly comfortable. Food supply did not vary significantly throughout the year — long-term bulk storage along with the planning and foresight involved with such tasks therefore did not make much sense and the development of the skills to pursue these undertakings, as a result, remained stunted. Our ancestors were in such harmony with the environment that the dynamics of survival were pretty much simple. As far as the range of human capability is concerned, it did not take much cleverness beyond pleistocene or early holocene levels of sophistication to survive in a tropical habitat.

Migration did occur, however. And, considering that the tropics were homo sapiens’ paradise, certain qualities would have existed in individuals that had a predisposition to migrate — individuals who would rather brave (and in some instances permanently settle) the unknown in search of food and adventure than sit around picking ticks off one anothers’ scalps.

This gave cultures that evolved in harsher climates a long-term advantage. They were most probably populated by individuals from the upper percentiles of the fitness spectrum of tropical populations — individuals who happened to possess traits that enabled or motivated them to, at the very least, consider leaving their natural habitats to face what, at the time, were hostile or even alien habitats. The harshness of many of the habitats these individuals chose to settle effectively served as selection pressures that worked against individuals who were not prepared to change their whole paradigm of survival — in effect, excluding them from the civilisations that eventually developed in these environments.The following diagram illustrates this concept:

Many of these “motivated” individuals of course opted to stay in their native habitats and have prospered in absolute terms. However they did so in the midst of the rest of the lot that chose to stay. Perhaps this accounts for why the Philippines is essentially two societies — a Third World one accounting for 95 percent of its population who worry about their next meal, and a First World one living within the sanctums of its most exclusive enclaves who worry about how their personal mobile device is already six months obsolete.

Part of the solution framework, therefore, needs to address this reality — that a big swath of Philippine society may have absolutely no predisposition to embrace traits that will lead them to personal prosperity.

Losers always whine about [doing] their best. Winners go home and f_ck the prom queen.” – John Mason (played by Sean Connery) in the 1996 film The Rock

Jose Antonio Vargas had the perfect excuse to be a “victim”. But instead of whining about merely doing his “best”, he went on to win the Pulitzer and wave it in front of America’s face.

[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from the article “DREAM Act” in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site.]

8 Replies to “Jose Antonio Vargas – modern day migrants’ hero and Filipino exemplar?”

  1. Geee Whiz does that mean it’s ok for me not to honor the immigration rules here! Can I just stay as long as I like and break the rules and wave my criminal status in Aquinos face! I think not but it doesn’t shock me that you all would condone it if the show was on the other foot

  2. A Fil-Am group in the USA applauded Obama’s decision.

    I wonder if they supported TNT peeps.

    Kahit nasa abroad na, maiisahan ka parin ng iba. Rule of law my behind.

  3. Can’t help but sypathize to Zakaria’s points. Filipinos are known to take advantage of benefits given to them. I fear it’s a slippery slope from here and the immigration problem in America will get worse because they keep giving concessions when they really can’t.

    1. America has created its own problems when it comes to immigration, so I agree with you to that extent — but a large part of that problem comes from paying too much attention to the ideas of neo-socialist elitists like Fareed Zakaria.

    2. I think it’s just practically human nature to take advantage of benefits. Look at Apple, they outsource a Chinese manufacturer (FoxConn) to make their products because it is economically advantageous to them caused by the benefit of cheap labor there. I’m not defending Filipinos, just stating some facts. Cheers!

  4. I think Pres. Obama is trying to win votes for the Latinos. Which have the most of undocumented aliens status…some immigrants are waiting for years, just to immigrate here in the U.S. And these people, go to the backdoor…then, by legislation to win votes…they are now legal. Canada has more stricter laws and implementation. I know a Filipino in Toronto, Canada…who was deported of the same similar case…

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