A Study in Bravery: Coming Out As Undocumented Immigrants

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This is not a rhetorical question: would you have the guts to appear on the cover of Time magazine if you were an undocumented immigrant? Honestly, I don’t think I’m brave enough for that. I couldn’t do it.

Featured on the magazine’s cover between the phrases “We Are Americans*” and “*Just not legally,” Vargas is joined by other undocumented immigrants from around the world. The men and women pictured along with Vargas also recently came out of the shadows and revealed their immigration status publicly.

In the introduction to the cover story, Vargas argues that the immigration system is fundamentally broken and that it prevents deserving candidates, many of who identify as American, from residing in the country legally. Vargas also discusses his new campaign, Define American.

“I founded a campaign called Define American, to document the lives of the undocumented and harness the support of our allies around this very controversial and misunderstood issue,” Vargas writes. “There are an estimated 11.5 million people like me in this country, human beings with stories as varied as America itself, yet lacking a legal claim to exist here,” Vargas adds.

From About Define American

Our request is simple: Let’s talk.

Our immigration system is broken — and fixing it requires a conversation that’s bigger and more effective than the one that we’ve become accustomed to.

Define American brings new voices into the immigration conversation, shining a light on a growing 21st century Underground Railroad: American citizens who are forced to fill in where our broken immigration system fails. From principals to pastors, these everyday immigrant allies are simply trying to do the right thing. Some are driven by a biblical call to social justice, while others believe this is a moral imperative. They, like Harriet Tubman and countless brave Americans before them, are willing to take personal risks in order to do what is right. These heroes need to be the center of this national conversation. Together, we are going to fix a broken system.

Our campaign is about asking: How do we define an American? Why do people come to this country? Who are the American citizens who help them? When it comes to undocumented immigrants, what would you do? As a teacher? A friend? A mother?

There has never been an American administration more likely to order the deportation of otherwise law-abiding people, with families who rely on them and have built lives in America. 397,000 were deported in 2011 alone. Would you have the guts to stand up as an illegal and call for changes to the system that breaks families apart?

(This originally appeared in different form on The Agonist)