The Rachel Maddow Show | January 29, 2013
>>> take a look at this picture. on the left, that's homeland secretary janet napolitano . on the right that is education secretary arne duncan . both of them are staying in the obama cabinet for the second term we have learned. this is an associated press picture taken at a judiciary committee hearing on immigration that was held back in june of 2011 . what is remarkable about this picture is that technically it is the job of this person, janet napolitano , to deport this person, the guy sitting right behind her. that would be jose antonio vargas . he was born in the philippines. here he is with his parents when he was a little tot in manila. when he was a 12-year-old kid, his mother sent him to the united states with someone who he thought was an uncle. actually, it was just a guy who his mom paid thousands of dollars to, to get her son into the united states , so jose could have a better life in the u.s. once he arrived, jose lived in mountainview, california, with his grandparents. he worked very hard to learn english. a couple of years after arriving in the united states , speak nothing english, he graduated from from the middle school and was named student of the year. a couple years after that it was time to get his driver's license. he rode his bike to the dmv , handed over his greencard and the clerk handed it back to him with a warning that said never come back here. he had no idea, but the greencard he had was actually a fake. his grandfather was a naturalized citizen and so was his grandmother, but jose was not a real citizen. until that day at the dmv , he had no idea, no clue that he, a kid was sent to the u.s. without the proper paperwork. he learned it all at the age of 16 from a stranger who worked at the dmv . scared, confused, but not sure what else to do, jose worked very hard. he graduated from high school . he sang in the choir when he was in high school . he applied to and was accepted to san francisco state university . he wanted to be a reporter. he got part-time work, and then internships at "the san francisco chronicle " and the philadelphia daily news, and then the " washington post ." he also got a really prestigious internship at the seattle times . that was on the table for him until the recruiter for that internship asked all the new interns, including jose , to bring in their official paperwork, to bring in a birth certificate or a passport or a driver's license, none of which he had. and so he quietly withdrew from that internship and could never explain why he had to. he went on the graduate from college in 2004 . he went back to work for the " washington post " again in washington, d.c. he reported from the campaign trail in 2008 . he wrote for " rolling stone ." he work for "the new yorker." but none of that compared to this. for his coverage of the shooting at virginia tech , jose antonio vargas won the pulitzer prize . what you're looking at here is actually the report from his hometown paper, from "the mountain view voice." think about that. the hometown paper reporting on you on winning a pulitzer. as a journalist, what is better than that? but there was a problem. the more successful he came, the higher his journalism star soared, the more likely it was that his secret was going to be found out. so in june 2011 , he decided to relieve the pressure in a very brave way. he decided to out himself publicly. he declared that he, jose antonio vargas , pulitzer prize winning famous reporter, filipino-american was actually here in the united states illegally. all the undocumented immigrants you've been hearing about all the years living in the shadows, he was one of them who had been living a very high profile life. and he declared himself as such in "the new york times" and in "time" magazine and in a video called "define american", and even on this show. and then jose attended that senate hearing, and he sat directly behind the person whose job it is to send him back to a country he has never been to since he was a little kid. jose is now no longer a journalist. he is now an activist traveling the country talking about immigration and the need to make the system more sane, more humane, yes. but also just more sane. and today when president obama went to las vegas to talk about immigration, to talk in part specifically about why kids brought to this country illegally, but who graduated high school and went to college and want to make a good productive life here, when the president talk about why it does not make cinc sense for us as a country to have as our only option that those kids should be flown somewhere else , should be kicked out of america and deported to somewhere they might not even know at all, when the president made that case today in las vegas , jose was there. and you will never guess who he was sitting right behind once again. joining us now for the interview is jose antonio vargas . jose , it is great to see you again. thanks for joining us.
>> thank you so much for having me.
>> did you really end up sitting next to janet napolitano again?
>> actually, i was seated right in front of her. and we said hi. and i introduced myself. and she said oh, i know who you are. you know, i was -- i'm privileged to be sitting there in the front row when the president gives his speech. and all i could think about, to be honest with you, or tens of thousands of undocumented people in this country, and also about two million people now that the president unfortunately has deported in the past four years. and that's the reality of immigration in this country.
>> we've been talking so far on the show tonight about how consistent the president's policy expressions are on this subject.
>> yeah, yes.
>> he has been saying the same thing, that he wants the same thing to happen for a long time. obviously, though, now, the situation is different. the political momentum to move forward on this proposals is there. republicans seem like they might want to go along. given that, given that it seems like something might happen, what do you think substantively about what is being proposed? do you think it would fix the most important problems?
>> well, i think all the focus on enforcement, right, even the president himself said that the number one priority was especially enforcement.
>> the context there, however, that the border has been secured. we've done a tremendous job. what, this is like the lowest border crossing since nixon was president. and when people talk about the border, you know, i came here on a plane from the philippines. my border was the pacific ocean , you know, a full million of the 11 million undocumented people are from asia. so i feel like this talk of the border and enforcement is code name for we don't want these people here. and i think frankly what is missing, and this is what i've been trying to do in the past year and a half now is a more honest conversation about the issue. and i think now we have it. now we're going to have it.
>> do you feel like the policy proposals and also the way this is being discussed, especially by a whole lot of people who have avoided the subject in the past.
>> do you feel like it's -- the discussion is cognizant of what it is really like to try to navigate the real immigration system? obviously you're saying it's not reflective of the fact that not everybody comes across the southern border.
>> but do people really understand how complicated the system is and the ways in which it doesn't work?
>> the first thing i should say is i applaud these leaders who are finally leading, right? i mean, the policy here -- i mean the policy here is pretty obvious, right, in terms of what needs to be done. the politics has always been what has been hard. but i feel like in terms of what the conversation is, i feel like we are still lacking in making sure that we're having a broad conversation about this issue, that it's not just about who we're keeping out, but really what do we want this country to be, right? what is the future of this country culturally and economically. i feel like that's missing. and i feel like we need to do a better job making this an american issue. this is not just about -- this is not only a latino issue. this is not just a border issue. this is about how this country is going to evolve and what we need to keep moving forward.
>> jose antonio vargas , founder of "define american." and you more than anybody i think have been very, very good about talking about the way we should think about immigration as a potential great asset and great positive for our country, a real way to move forward. you talk than in a way a lot of other people don't. and you've been really effective at communicating that, jose . thanks a lot.
>> i really, really appreciate that.
>> all right. the united states senate voted on something really, really important, and the vote was 94-3. wow. 94-3. and also, who were the three? isn't that what you always wonder? it turns out it's a very interesting story. that