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Undocumented Immigrants React To Obama Decision


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, we remember Rodney King. He died this weekend in California.

But first, we're going to continue our conversation on a new initiative from the White House that could spare some young, undocumented immigrants from deportation proceedings.

Still with us are Jose Antonio Vargas. He is a journalist, and he came out last year and acknowledged that he was brought here without proper authorization from the Philippines. Also with us, Gaby Pacheco. She is also a young woman who was - came here as a seven-year-old, with her parents. She's also speaking out about her status. We're also joined by immigration attorney Sarah Moshe.

Thank you all so much for staying with us. Jose, I'm going to go to you first on this, because even before the decision was announced, we were starting to get, you know, emails from people who are very angry about this.

One of them - I'll just - I'll try to - I'll edit around the profanity, but that gives you a sense of just how angry this person is.

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: No. I mean, I deal with these emails every day. So...

MARTIN: I'm sure you do.


MARTIN: And he says that - dear Michel Martin, no wonder my cousin, who was born in the USA, like many in his family before him, who was a straight-A student in high school, had a 3.95 GPA in college and who had years of local community newspaper experience couldn't get a job at the Washington Post because the Post, we learn today from Time magazine, was hiring illegal immigrants.

And it goes on to make some very unflattering comments about the president. I believe that comment is aimed at you, and I wondered if you were all - because you did work at the Washington Post for many years and built...

VARGAS: For five years. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...a successful career there. Are you at all worried about a backlash from people who believe that the president's exceeded his authority here, and that, in a way, that the people who are meant to benefit from this will then become a target, in a way?

VARGAS: I mean, of course I worry about backlash. I mean, that's something that all of us think about. But I think, you know, when I get those kinds of emails, I actually try to engage with people as much as I can. And one of the points that I really try to make is, you know, this is not a zero-sum game. America is not a zero-sum game. I mean, it's - you know, I remember actually being in Alabama, for example, last fall and talking to unemployed, white conservatives who were blaming the undocumented, you know, Latinos around the area for their job losses, right?

And then, when you actually talk to them, when you actually - finally, when you get through some of the unfortunate language, you realize that what they're really upset about is at the government. Right? They're upset that they can't have their slice of the pie, and they feel like someone else is taking the slice of that pie.

And you have to explain to them, you know, my existence doesn't threaten yours. You know, the state of Alabama lost millions of dollars after it passed its copycat Arizona immigration bill, because all of the migrant farmers got up and left, and so all the crops didn't get picked.

So, from my perspective, you know, as a journalist - I mean, I remember getting the internship at the Washington Post back in 2003. You know, there were, like, 1,000 applicants or something like that, and only 22 people get it. I remember when I got it, my first phone call was my principal. She was like my mother. And I said, oh, my God, you know, like, am I taking somebody else's spot, you know? And Pat Hyland is her name, and she literally said to me, Jose, don't think that way. You've earned this. You've worked hard for this.

And, you know, I've kept that in my mind all these years, that I did earn it, that I did work hard for it.

MARTIN: Gaby, what about you?

GABY PACHECO: Well, I think that just growing up in this country, I learned to also be competitive. And that's part of, you know, the values of our country, right, being competitive and just trying to work as hard as you can to be able to get the things that you have. And I think that - like Jose said, you know, I think I've earned a lot of the things that I've had, not because of the people that I know, but rather of the work that I've been doing.

And one of the things that we see all the time is that we always have to find a scapegoat, always have to blame somebody for what is happening. And the fact is that, you know, there's an economic crisis in the country and, you know, we're not really the problem. We're actually, you know, part of the solution, and we're hoping that people recognize and see that. You know, we could, you know, sit here and play the blame game, but there's a real fundamental issue in our country and immigration, and if we do not start trying to figure out how to solve it, that, you know, just blaming is not going to, you know, create the real solution that we need.

MARTIN: Sarah, what about you? Do you have thoughts about this?

SARAH MOSHE: Yes. I would encourage the people immigration attorneys refer to as restrictionists to remember four or five very important things about this policy: one, the compelling nature of the population served. I mean, we're talking about the most - some of the most promising youth in our nation.

Two, it's been a bipartisan issue since 2010, and three, it's temporary. It's a temporary reprieve. It's not an amnesty, as they're saying. It's not an immunity. These kids and young adults will not be able to vote. They can't petition their own family members. It's not permanent, by any means.

And five, with work authorization, we're talking about having more licensed drivers on the road, being able to staff our laboratories, create new businesses, like Jose said, pay taxes. I mean, these are some pretty positive issues coming forward.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Jose Antonio, I've got to go back to you, because as we mentioned, it does appear that this policy, even though this is something that, you know, you've been writing about and talking about and, in some ways, many people could argue that by outing yourself, you kind of jumpstarted the conversation. It does not apply to you, because you are one year past the cutoff enumerated by the administration. So I wanted to ask: What's next for you? What do you do?

VARGAS: Oh. I mean, to me, this is - now opens up the larger conversation about comprehensive immigration reform. Right? Remember now, we have 11.5 million undocumented Americans - and they are Americans, in all but papers - who are here in this country. And my feeling is we had a big, huge win on Friday, and there's another big, huge win to have. And so I'm in this for the long run. And so I'll keep doing what I'm doing, and hopefully, there's going to be relief for most of us and all of us soon enough.

MARTIN: That's journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. He was with us from our bureau in New York. He's on the cover of - and produced this week's Time magazine cover about this issue. Gaby Pacheco is project coordinator for Education Not Deportation. She joined us from our studios in Washington, D.C. And with us from member station WFYI in Indianapolis, Sarah Moshe. She's an immigration attorney with the firm Lewis & Kappas.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

MOSHE: Thank you.

PACHECO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.