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Prize-winning journalist drops bombshell

(This is a guest post from Matt O’Brien, who covers immigration issues for Bay Area News Group – East Bay.)

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who grew up in the Bay Area dropped a media bombshell this morning that took off with a brief post on his Twitter account.

“I am an undocumented immigrant,” announced Jose Antonio Vargas, a graduate of SF State and Mountain View High School who won the Pulitzer for his coverage of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre for the Washington Post. Read about his saga, he added, in a gripping 4,600-word essay posted online this morning and to be printed in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

Vargas told of how his mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in Mountain View when he was a 12-year-old in 1993. It wasn’t until years later that he found out he was living in the United States illegally:

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.”

Vargas also went public with his story in an emotional TV interview that will broadcast on ABC News tomorrow:

Another video on his newly launched “Define American” website (www.defineamerican.com) shows that this disclosure is designed to make a powerful statement in the country’s ongoing debate over illegal immigration:

Vargas isn’t the only journalist, or Pulitzer winner, for that matter, to have lived in the U.S. as an unauthorized immigrant. Orange Coast magazine reported earlier this year on the story of LA Times reporter Ruben Vives, part of the team that uncovered the Bell city government scandal and the son of a Guatemalan nanny who brought him across the border when he was a child.

But the Vargas story has caused more of a stir because the journalist is still at risk of deportation and has been in this situation throughout his career, which included early internships at The Mountain View Voice (which was unpaid) and the San Francisco Chronicle. The Seattle Times denied Vargas an internship because of his lack of proper documents, and he kept his status a secret from top managers at the Washington Post.

It was the Post that planned to publish the Vargas account first, but as Chris Suellentrop, an editor at the New York Times Magazine, explained in a blog post this afternoon, the DC paper killed the story days before it was due to run.

Posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
Under: Immigration | No Comments »

See and read Obama’s immigration reform pitch

President Obama made his pitch for comprehensive immigration reform today with a speech at Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, declaring the border more secure than ever and laying blame for delayed reforms at Republicans’ feet. Meanwhile, the White House released the President’s “Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System.”

Earlier, the President toured the cargo facility at the Bridge of the Americas Port of Entry, the largest of four crossings comprising the El Paso Port of Entry. The bridge processes inbound and outbound commercial, private vehicle, bus, and pedestrian traffic; of half a billion inspections conducted annually at 327 ports of entry across the nation, about 10 percent are at El Paso.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee’s National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, issued a statement arguing that the border isn’t as safe and secure as the President made it out to be.

“It seems premature to discuss immigration policies when thousands of criminals continue to cross our border – many of whom enter completely undetected,” Bishop said. “In his remarks today, the President failed to acknowledge the rampant criminal activity occurring on public lands throughout the southern border region. Gaining full operational control of the border should be our number one priority. If your bathtub is overflowing, your first step isn’t to start bailing out water, it’s to turn off the spigot. The same practice should apply to the border.”

The Federation for American Immigration Reform had blasted the President yesterday before the speech’s text even was released.

“In his effort to shore-up support from his political base, President Obama is choosing to reignite a divisive debate about amnesty for illegal aliens. At the same time, he is refusing to enforce immigration laws he does not like or finds politically inconvenient,” FAIR President Dan Stein said in a news release. “Sacrificed in the President’s political pandering are the concerns, interests and security of the American people – the true stakeholders of our immigration policy.”

“As the President gears up for his re-election bid, we are seeing a desperate effort on the part of the administration to use immigration as a wedge issue,” he continued. “Any pretense of honoring President-elect Obama’s pledge that, ‘I will listen to you, especially when we disagree,’ or even carrying out the responsibilities of his office on immigration have completely disappeared.”

But Rep. Michael Honda, D-San Jose, said the President “reiterated his commitment to reforming our country’s immigration system through compassionate, comprehensive legislation,” and that he and many of his colleagues in Congress “have been waiting for this moment and stand ready to work with the President on this legislation. The President should help guide Members by laying out a legislative model of what he envisions in the reform process.”

Read the President Obama’s speech in its entirety, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Under: Immigration, Obama presidency | No Comments »

PPIC on voter priorities, term limits, immigration

I wrote a story today about the latest Public Policy Institute of California survey ‘s results on Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan, but there was a lot more in the survey that’s worth unpacking.

About half of Californians (48 percent) say that if they were setting national priorities, the focus would be on spending to help the economy recover, while 44 percent say it would be on reducing the federal deficit. Likely voters feel differently: 36 percent would spend to help the economy and 58 percent say reducing the deficit is a higher priority.

But dissatisfaction is widespread: 62 percent of all adults and 64 percent of likely voters think Congress and the Obama administration are not doing enough to help create jobs.

Nearly all Californians say the federal deficit is a very serious (63 percent) or somewhat serious (28 percent) problem. When asked about three major areas of spending in the national budget:

    • 75 percent want to protect Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly. Across parties, demographic groups, and regions, adults want to spare the program from significant cuts.
    • 67 percent want to protect Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor. Partisan differences emerge on this question, with 77 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents wanting to spare the program and half of Republicans saying it is more important to reduce the deficit (51 percent) than protect Medicaid from significant cuts (41 percent).
    • 51 percent of adults say it is more important to reduce the deficit than prevent cuts in defense spending, while 40 percent say sparing the Pentagon from big cuts is a priority. Independents (57 percent) and Democrats (54 percent) prefer to reduce the deficit than protect defense spending; Republicans are more divided, with 46 percent favoring deficit reduction and 49 percent favoring prevention of defense cuts.

Even with these federal budget woes, California remains true “blue:” Almost half of Californians – 48 percent – say President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats are doing a better job on efforts to agree on a federal budget, while only a quarter say the Republicans in Congress are doing a better job.

Two months after Republicans gained control of the House and with rancorous budget negotiations still in progress, 56 percent of Californians and 52 percent of likely voters approve of the president’s job performance; 38 percent of all adults and 44 percent of likely voters disapprove.

But dissatisfaction with Congress is widespread and bipartisan. Most Californians (58 percent) and likely voters (69 percent) disapprove of its job performance; 61 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans, and 68 percent of independents disapprove. As with the state Legislature, however, Californians have more positive views of their own member of the House of Representatives. In the U.S. Senate, 45 percent of all adults and the same proportion of likely voters approve of Barbara Boxer’s performance, while Dianne Feinstein’s numbers stand at 48 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

In other findings, the economy and jobs was named as the most important issue facing the state — as it has since March 2008 — by 53 percent of all adults; far fewer mention the state budget (14 percent) or education and schools (10 percent) as their top priority, and gas prices are now mentioned by 4 percent. Most Californians – 59 percent – say the state is headed in the wrong direction, but that’s more optimistic than one year ago when 76 percent felt that way.

Solid majorities of Californians (61 percent) and likely voters (70 percent) say current legislative term limits are a good thing, although 68 percent of all adults and likely voters favor the general idea of an initiative proposing to restructure term limits that already has qualified for the ballot.

Most Californians – 65 percent – say illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years should have a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, while 30 percent say they should be deported. A majority – 68 percent – also favor a law that would let illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children gain legal resident status if they join the military or attend college.

And, questioned before the U.S. and its allies launched air strikes on Libya, most Californians – 64 percent – said the U.S. does not have a responsibility to actively promote democracy around the world.

Posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, economy, Immigration, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Bittersweet day for California’s Senators

California’s U.S. Senators are overjoyed that the U.S. Senate voted 65-31 to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy limiting gays’ and lesbians’ participation in the U.S. Armed Forces. It now goes to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

For the record, Senators Richard Burr, R-N.C., and John Ensign, R-Nev., voted against cloture on the DADT repeal, but then voted in favor of the repeal itself – perhaps having their political cake and eating it, too?

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., after the cloture vote:

“The first vote today to move forward with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was 63-33 to end discrimination against gay men and women in the United States military. Seventeen years ago, the vote was exactly the opposite, 33-63. One-third of support has changed to two-thirds of the United States Senate supporting the repeal of Don’t ask, Don’t Tell over the past seventeen years.

“I strongly believe that is emblematic of the change of thinking in the United States. Over these last years, gay Americans have established themselves as heroes, as professionals, as academicians, and as brave warriors for our country.

“There are millions of stories that demonstrate this, but I will share just a few that stand out. In 1975, I was there in San Francisco when a woman carrying a gun attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford. It was a gay man who grabbed her gun which deflected the shot aimed at our President.

“In 1982, I remember when a plane crashed on the 14th Street Bridge in Washington and passengers were on the verge of drowning in the ice-covered Potomac River. It was a gay man who jumped in the freezing water to save them.

“It was a gay woman serving as an Army medic in Iraq who saved the lives of innocent civilians who were critically wounded after a car bomb exploded in their midst. I can go on and on.

“Gays and lesbians are not the first group of Americans to be denied their civil rights. And they are not the first group to fight in service for the cherished freedom and equality which they have been denied.

“They have struggled long and hard to see this day. They have fought and died for their country, and they are out there on the battlefield today as we stand here debating whether they deserve their rights. I am proud to see this vote for them today.”

And from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“This is a historic vote for equality, civil rights and a stronger America. This vote is a continuation of our nation’s march toward full equality for all.”

But both are disappointed that the DREAM Act – which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students who go to college or serve in the military – fell five votes short of the 60 it needed in order for cloture to be invoked, debate to end and a final vote to be called.

Said Feinstein:

“I am deeply disappointed. I looked up in the galleries which were filled with bright young faces of young people whose only desire was to be good Americans – to better themselves, to become educated, to earn a living, to be willing to fight for this country, and be proud of the fact that they are American. They have no hope of becoming American without the DREAM Act.

“The DREAM Act is important to the United States. I have no doubt that this legislation will be debated on the Senate floor again. To the young people who watched this vote today and feel deep despair- keep fighting.

“For those that did not support this legislation, I ask that you think about the years that these bright young people will spend in limbo. These young people could be putting their education to good use but instead will be unable to realize their potential and give back to the country they consider home. I look forward to when I can cast my vote in favor of the DREAM Act again.”

And, from Boxer:

“It is a sad day for our country when we turn our backs on some of our best and brightest young people who grew up in America, love America and want to serve America.

“I commend the brave young men and women who have stepped forward at great personal risk to call America’s attention to this injustice, and I will not rest until the DREAM Act is the law of the land.”

Posted on Saturday, December 18th, 2010
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Immigration, U.S. Senate | 11 Comments »

‘Oakland, where all bets are off for sanity’

Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, speaking this morning on Fox & Friends, blasted Oakland for its plan to issue ID/debit cards:

Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, immediately called her bluff on that whole “most of us can’t get a thousand dollars on our debit cards” thing, noting Newsweek recently estimated her annual income at about $7 million. It also noted the program’s goal is to help city residents, including but not limited to illegal immigrants and homeless people, who might have trouble getting state-issued ID or scraping together enough money to open a traditional bank account.

Posted on Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
Under: Immigration, Oakland | 3 Comments »

DiFi moves to block SF student’s deportation

My colleague, Matt O’Brien, has written a great story about how a private relief bill introduced today by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., effectively halted the pending deportation of City College of San Francisco student Steve Li.

Li, 20, has been held at a detention center in Arizona awaiting deportation to Peru. He was born there but came to the U.S. as a child with his parents, who stayed on after their tourist visas expired. Li said he didn’t know his family’s legal situation while he was growing up, and knows no one in Peru.

Bills such as the one Feinstein introduced are extremely rare, Li’s attorney said today. Read Feinstein’s full statement, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, November 19th, 2010
Under: Dianne Feinstein, Immigration, U.S. Senate | 3 Comments »

ALIPAC: Whitman should be arrested

The Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, among the most conservative groups calling for the strictest crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, says both Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and her former housekeeper of nine years should be arrested and charged with immigration and employment violations.

William Gheen“We need equal justice for both the illegal alien and the employer,” said ALIPAC President William Gheen said in a news release. “Nicky Diaz should be charged and deported and Meg Whitman should face the existing penalties under current US law as well. No Amnesty for Whitman or Diaz, the Rule of Law must be restored in America.”

Diaz, accompanied by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, claimed yesterday that Whitman – who employed her as a housekeeper and nanny from 2000 to 2009 – knew she most likely was an undocumented immigrant but kept her on until June 2009, when she was preparing to launch her run for governor. Whitman said she’d hired Diaz through an employment agency – an agency her campaign refused to name yesterday – upon which she relied to verify the Social Security number and other bogus information Diaz provided; she said she didn’t know Diaz was here illegally until Diaz confessed it to her, at which time she was fired.

“Best illegal alien actor award of 2010 should go to Nicki Diaz for her role as the tearful victimized invader,” Gheen said in his release. “Meg Whitman’s financial gain from the movie rights should be seized by the courts to compensate the American taxpayers who have paid the price for her illegal laborer over the years.”

The ALIPAC release claims, without providing supporting data, that “the American public has indicated in numerous scientific polls that well over 80 percent of Americans want employers like Meg Whitman heavily fined. Over 50 percent want the employers of illegals, like Whitman, jailed. Americans have also shown overwhelming support for the arrest, detention, and deportation of illegal immigrants like Nicki Diaz. Both the US Constitution and the existing laws of Congress mandate that both Whitman and Diaz should be charged and treated equally under those laws.”

“We stand with the majority of American citizens who want our existing border and immigration laws enforced!” Gheen said. “Therefore we call on all appropriate authorities to arrest and charge both Meg Whitman and Nicki Diaz.”

Posted on Thursday, September 30th, 2010
Under: 2010 governor's race, Immigration, Meg Whitman | 11 Comments »

Pete Stark’s Minuteman mockery makes waves

Rep. Pete Stark’s sharp tone with critics once again has earned him national attention, as a video clip of Stark’s caustic repartee with a Minuteman anti-illegal-immigration activist earns major media coverage.

The video, shot by Steve Kemp of the Golden Gate Minutemen at Stark’s town-hall meeting last Saturday in Fremont, shows the Congressman needling a critic who asked about border security:

“This guy has been at every one of my town meetings and immediately gone to the Web sites, so he’s a regular. I do recognize him,” Stark said this afternoon. “I didn’t mind needling him a bit.”

But Kemp was interviewed today on Fox News’s “Your World;” CBS News and CNN have picked it up; and the Minuteman PAC is using it as a rallying cry.

“It’s an absolute outrage that a United States Congressman cares so little for his constituents and so little about the security and sovereignty of the United States that he had the gumption to ridicule and belittle his own constituents. But that’s exactly what happened!” Minutemen PAC development director Brett Anthony wrote in an e-mail blast today. “Americans are fed up with being shunned, lied to, tricked, and jeered at simply for fighting to uphold the freedom and liberty for which forefathers paid the ultimate price to guarantee.”

The phones are ringing off the hook on Capitol Hill. “We’re getting hundreds of calls, none of them from the district I might add, from all over the country saying, ‘What do you have against the Minutemen?’ or whatever,” Stark said.

So… what does he have against them?

“They see themselves as an independent militia, which may have been alright in George Washington’s time but today the government operates under rules and laws that control everybody,” he said, noting there are 20,000 border patrol agents – twice the number of a decade ago – deployed along 2,000 miles of border. “It seems to me just that number alone ought to convince them that the fed government is doing a pretty good job controlling the influx of people coming in from Mexico.”

Stark said the whole debate is “a xenophobic issue, it doesn’t differ much in Florida where they’re fearful of people from Haiti or Cuba, or New York where there’s a huge Puerto Rican population – and they’re citizens!” What it comes down to, he said, is fear of “people who speak with an accent.”

“I’m sad that that’s where our district is, but they’re not alone – it’s one of the premiere political issues of today,” he said.

As for his sarcasm, he said… well, he’s not really going into the ladder business. “That’s been a bad joke for a thousand years.”

“As I tried to explain in a more serious way, people who come across, particularly the Arizona border, they pay an awful fee to these coyotes to get them there and then they’re just dumped there on the border and they’ve got a couple hundred miles of the worst desert in our country to get across on foot,” Stark said. “They’re coming here to try to earn money to send home to their families and its hard to disrespect that, that’s an instinct that people with families have.”

This is the one thing on which he agreed with former President George W. Bush, he said – that the United States needs a comprehensive immigration reform bill including a path illegal immigrants can follow to attain legal, permanent residency. “I think we’re the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t have at least a system for allowing that to happen, and I think that causes us a lot of problems.”

UPDATE @ 4:14 P.M. WEDNESDAY 7/7: Steve Kemp just posted this to the comments, and I thought it should be appended to the post itself:

I posted this video to enlighten people who continually vote people like Stark in without a second thought of the consequences. I was born in Oakland & have watched as city after city passed laws that leave a sane person’s mouth hanging in disbelief.

With SF, Oakland, Richmond & SJ declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” for illegal aliens, our cities are looking more like third world countries than the USA!

Is it the American dream to break laws to enter a country, work under the table as the norm or steal identities to get a job, pack 2 or 3 families into a single family dwelling, drive without a license or insurance, & ignore the language spoken in America?

CA & its cities have broken under the stress of supporting illegal aliens. This is because liberal politicians such as Stark, Boxer, Pelosi, Newsom, Lee, De La Fuente & countless others have trashed our ‘American Dream’ in favor of illegal aliens.

We need leaders who place America & Americans FIRST. Anything else is treason.

Posted on Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
Under: Immigration, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 19 Comments »

Former minuteman blasts AZ immigration law

David LaTour, 23, of Hayward, is an activist in the “open carry” movement; one of the Ron Paul followers who got elected to, was then sued on, and then resigned from the Alameda County Republican Central Committee; and a former president of the Castro Valley Minutemen.

The Castro Valley Minutemen’s current home page says members “don’t want our country, our culture, or our language – the very foundation that was handed down to us by our forefathers who toiled and died for our freedom, to be diluted by gate crashing illegal aliens aided by bleeding heart liberals, cheap and greedy business owners, and worse yet, self-serving elected government officials!”

Yet LaTour today sent me an invitation to join a Facebook group called “Against SB 1070,” in opposition to Arizona’s new anti-illegal-immigration law which many people say institutionalizes racial profiling. That page’s administrator’s latest post says:

Although SB 1070 has passed, we must continue to stand against this new and despicable law, the fight is still not over Arizonans! “The true test of the American ideal is whether we’re able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them.” – Barack Obama

Now, I know LaTour is no fan of President Obama, but I found it interesting that a former Minuteman leader would be inviting Facebookers to stand up in opposition to Arizona’s new law. I e-mailed him, and here’s what he said:

“I am opposed to SB 1070, Real ID, and any other “show me your papers” law that violates natural rights. Specifically, SB 1070 allows law enforcement officers to stop any individual that is ‘suspicious’ and arrest if they fail to provide proof of citizenship. This is clearly unreasonable search and seizure. Rather than resorting to police state tactics, we could address the issue by removing the incentives that encourage workers to ignore the legal immigration process and come here illegally. Laws like SB 1070 are a direct attack on the American tradition of liberty and represent reactionary politics at its worst. Unfortunately, it seems the immigration issue is being used much like the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, as an excuse to erode civil liberties and turn America into a police state.”

He also recommended that I watch this video:

So it seems there’s a bloc of conservatives out there who are much more afraid of expanded police powers than of illegal immigrants. Yet despite what the guy in the video said, it appears U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the Obama Administration are not on board with Arizona’s law. From Reuters this morning:

A new Arizona law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants could divert resources from pursuing those in the country illegally who have committed more serious crimes, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Tuesday.

The new law, set to take effect later this year in the state bordering Mexico, requires police there to determine if people are in the country illegally, but critics have said it enables racial profiling and may be unconstitutional.

The Obama administration is reviewing its options for possible challenges to the new state law and Napolitano told U.S. senators that its resources for pursuing more dangerous criminals committing felonies could be sapped.

“We have some deep concerns with the law from the law enforcement perspective because we believe it will detract from and siphon resources that we need to focus on those in the country illegally who are those committing the most serious crimes,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Arizona law requires police officers to arrest those unable to provide documentation proving they are in the country legally. It also makes it a crime to transport someone who is an illegal immigrant, and to hire day laborers off the street.

“We have concerns that at some point we’ll be responsible to enforce or use our immigration resources against anyone that would get picked up in Arizona,” Napolitano said.

Posted on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Under: Civil liberties, Immigration, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Tomorrow is National Angel Island Day

Angel IslandPresident Barack Obama has proclaimed tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 21, to be “National Angel Island Day,” commemorating the 100th anniversary of the former immigration station in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.

Y’know, Angel Island State Park — one of the parks that the feds threatened to seize last summer after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed closing it due to budget cuts? Yeah, that one.

ANYhoo, President Obama used the proclamation as an opportunity to reflect upon immigrants’ contributions to the nation. Read the full text, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, January 20th, 2010
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Immigration, Obama presidency | No Comments »