Journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas recounted his life as an undocumented immigrant on Wednesday in emotional testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform, pointing to the family and friends who helped him craft his career in spite of his immigration status.
“I am the only one in my extended family of 25 Americans who is undocumented,” Vargas said, seemingly fighting back tears. “When you inaccurately call me ‘illegal,’ you’re not only dehumanizing me, you’re offending them. No human being is illegal.”
Vargas, who originally “came out” as an undocumented immigrant in 2011, described himself as “American at heart, but without the right papers to show for it,” like many of the 11 million people currently residing in the U.S. without documents.
“Too often we’re treated as abstractions,” he said. “Faceless and nameless, subjects of debate, rather than individuals with hopes, fears and dreams.”
Vargas’ grandparents immigrated legally to the U.S. from the Philippines, but because his mother could not afford to do the same, his grandfather arranged for him to obtain a visa and petitioned for him to join them in America in 1993.
“My mother gave me up to give me a better life,” he said.
Vargas, who went on to work for The Huffington Post and The Washington Post (where he was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the Virginia Tech campus shooting in 2008) also mentioned the young immigrants who have become more open in their fight for legislation like the DREAM Act as part of a push for a clearer path to U.S. citizenship.
“We dream of a path to citizenship so we can actively participate in our American democracy,” he said. “We dream of not being separated from our families and our loved ones, regardless of sexual orientation, no matter our skill set.”
Watch Vargas’ testimony, posted online by Think Progress on Wednesday, below.