An unjust law is no law at all
- St. Augustine
I, like many people in America, woke up to the Essay by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. In it, he confessed to the world a secret he kept for almost two decades: that he is an illegal alien. Even more illuminating was his detailed description of what life is like being an illegal in this country. Among them, not having a drivers license, unable to travel abroad, constant fear of being caught, and the support he found in friends and colleagues.
What I found most admiring, is although he lacked the proper documentation, his spirit is nonetheless completely American. Being an illegal did not stop this spirit in the pursuit of his dreams, his American Dream. With this indomitable spirit, he won an 8th grade spelling bee without even speaking the language properly. With the same spirit, he inspired his teachers, his bosses, and his friends to help him hide the secret. And it is also this spirit that led him from college to internships and finally to his dream of being a journalist. Finally, there's a Pulitzer Prize to attest that this spirit also had talent.
What I found most disheartening, is reading some of the bigoted, xenophobic, and idiotic statements this news prompted from average Americans. Not only did most of these people didn't bother to read the original essay, the pure vitriol spilled forth from their keyboards can only be attributed to a combination of ignorance and racism.
Notwithstanding the most bigoted arguments, the one I see most often is that no matter what Vargas' accomplishments are, he broke the law and should be punished for it. But those who espouse the legality argument forget that both George Washington and Rosa Parks broke the law. One we now call Founding Father and the other, First Lady of Civil Rights. If we go by the letter of the law, Washington should be executed and Parks jailed. This issue has crossed the boundary from a legal issue to a moral issue.
There's a strange belief among a subset of Americans, that by the accident of their birth, they are somehow entitled to an Americanness not afforded to others without this happy accident. No matter how good, smart, and hardworking someone is, as long as it is not accompanied by the proper paperwork, this person can never truly be American. But I aspire for a better America. An America where people earn the right to be called citizens. An American where people are judged, not by the place of their birth, but by the content of their character.