Friday, June 24, 2011

Purgatory Never Promised Salvation

I’m stuck.  Normally I have a clear and firm opinion about everything but ever since I read this article two days ago, everything seems blurry to me.  This is the one about Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who just announced to the world that he is an undocumented immigrant here in the United States.  He is Filipino by ethnicity but the issue of course is not that of ethnicity but of citizenship. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/magazine/my-life-as-an-undocumented-immigrant.html?_r=2&ref=magazine&pagewanted=all

In sum, Vargas came to the US as a child, brought here by his grandparents, not knowing that all documentation used for his entry was falsified.  He was 12 years old, now 30, and since then, has not gone back to the Philippines.  All these years, he has survived using a 'fake' Social Security Number and driver’s license.  He has completed his education here in the US and undoubtedly blossomed to be a true achiever.  Amidst all the success though, he admits to feeling consumed by this dark secret; that he could not even fully savor the taste of everything he has achieved so far mainly because of this cloud hanging over him.  And so now he claims that he is tired of running and so has decided to come forward and speak his truth.

Sure I commend him for coming forward.  I admire him for believing in his dreams and having the tenacity to pursue them.  I have the utmost respect for him for being a fighter, a man focused on what is possible instead of allowing the call of his dreams to be drowned out by the echoes of all possible obstacles.  (And now do you hear a big ‘BUT’ coming?)….

I know that behind every action, especially for an intelligent human being such as himself, is an intention.  So what was his true intention for coming forward the way he did?  I refuse to believe that he only needed catharsis and wanted to finally be freed by the truth.  Did he just want to give another voice to illegal immigration, show to the world that our stereotypes don't always apply, that accomplished and articulate people like himself also do fall within said category?  If so, and then what?  So what?  In the article he did say that he is now consulting with immigration lawyers to explore his options.  Is it then absolution he is after?  Somehow I could not shake that feeling.
   
A lot of people are now rallying behind Vargas, arguing that he should be recognized as an American citizen mainly because he has truly proven himself to be a citizen in the truest sense, that he has most certainly earned it.  Citizenship speaks both of rights and responsibilities and obviously, at least from the article written, he has no doubt been faithful to his responsibilities…paying taxes and serving his community well.  However, the fact remains that all these years, he has been breaking the law.  With everything he has falsified and lied about, you cannot tell me that his sense of ethics and integrity are not questionable.  And may I remind you that he is a journalist.  Somehow that does not sit well with me.  Is it fair that Vargas was brought here as a child, without his consent, and he was not aware of the lies surrounding his migration? Absolutely not.  But in my view, legally pardoning a minor in a similar situation, a minor who does not know any better, is far different from pardoning a then-minor-turned-adult who perpetuated a lie, an illegality.
  
He has CONSCIOUSLY been doing something wrong, something illegal and yet continued to CHOOSE to go on this way.  He clearly acknowledged this in his article.  And then he added, "But what was I supposed to do?".  What about do the right thing, accept the consequences and return to your country of origin, even if it is a country you "barely know" (his own words).  If he were truly a bright and determined young man, and I think he IS, then he could easily survive in the Philippines and contribute just as much to the country and make something of himself just the same.  Why did he not choose to believe this?  What else drove his decision?  This is the part that somehow bothers me and it bothers me that he left it unsaid...unexplored.  There is something else that he is not being honest about or perhaps has not admitted to himself.  Don't tell me he had no choice.  There is always a choice.  He just chose, for whatever reason or motivation, to continue the lie, be in limbo and just blindly hope for absolution in the future....perhaps....and this is just me speculating, writing from my gut at the moment.

I’m sure he prefers not to be deported.  I don’t even want him deported not because I support his actions but mainly because he said so himself….He considers himself an American, not a Filipino.  He said it clearly...He considers the US his home, not the Philippines.  I wouldn’t want another Filipino who does not have any sense of loyalty and true love of country to live off of my country’s limited resources.  Maybe I can have a change of heart if I can have the guarantee that he will be a valued citizen of the Philippines as well and not add on to the number of people who know nothing but criticize and complain, instead of contribute and respect the Philippines for what it is (a young republic and part of the Third World).  But there are no such guarantees.  And so what now?  Like I said in the beginning, I'm kind of on the fence on this one.  I understand the complexities of immigration laws and acknowledge that there is a bigger picture of why people like him are thrust into such situations and this truly deserves closer analysis from a socio-political and global economic perspective.  I know better than to just simplistically judge undocumented aliens and personally know that each of them have their own stories to tell that, from a humanistic level, would make so much sense and justify their choices.  But there is the law, which needs to be applied universally to make real sense (instead of particularly, to borrow from Sociologist Talcott Parsons' Pattern Variables).  I am willing at this point to give him the benefit of the doubt, keeping me still on the fence, although my moral compass obviously makes me inclined to go a certain way.     









47 comments:

  1. Thanks for this very well-documented post. I think that we simply don't know how we would react if we had had the same history. I hope we won't have to find out.

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  2. Well, things like this do happen. There are so many maybes involved that it is harsh to focus on just one and ignore the others. Earlier I used to pass judgments on such issues; but if the issue is not in the larger interest of the people then it becomes a little confusing. For example, if he is granted citizenship, then there will be loads of illegal immigrants coming forward asking for the same justice. If he isn't there is a huge sympathy wave of why was he left out. He might have continued the same way and no one would have bothered.

    There are two sides to a coin and whenever we judge, we forget that we might not be seeing the case through the victims eyes. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We all may differ; but our intentions should be just.

    A very thought provoking post.

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  3. Absolutely, Hajra. Which is why I continue to feel the need to give him the benefit of the doubt. Mine is like the 'other side of the coin' so to speak, as I see that a lot of people just so easily declared him a 'hero'. I do think there is more to see, more to ponder on, in this story.

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  4. Thanks, Muriel. Yes, his is a very difficult situation although I'm sure it's not entirely unique. And as I wrote earlier on our FB page, we all respond differently given who we are. It just so happened I am too different from him, which is why I've suspended any sort of definitive 'judgement'...(plus I don't really like doing that).

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  5. The original choice wasn't his. It would be very hard to "do the right thing," if you'd grown up believing that the country where you'd grown up, gone to school, made friends, built a life, was YOUR country. What do you think of the rare instances of babies switched at birth, only to have that little fact discovered when they're 10 or 12 or so? I do think that makes a difference - the original choice wasn't his at all. He has only continued the fraud. But what on earth would any of US do? Doesn't matter what country we were born in or which we've adopted - at that point, home is home.

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  6. Have read that several times now and my opinion keeps changing.

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  7. Difficult questions, difficult issues. I'm with Lucy - my mind keeps changing on this. What I'm certain of is I hope he doesn't live in Arizona.

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  8. I hear you Thom. Arizona is definitely not the place for people like him. And like I've been saying, this is soooo complex. I guess to sum up my views, I can think of 3 main points.
    1. Do I think he did something wrong?---- YES.
    2. Am I judging his REASONS for doing so?--- NO.
    3. Do I think he should be absolved?--- like you, I keep changing my mind, thinking of the law, issue of precedence and all that, but also understanding the humanistic side of things....

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  9. Yes, I acknowledged that Holly...and as I've been saying, I'm not judging his reasons for choosing the way he chose. But he continued to choose that way. You know the saying 'When you know better, you do better'. Well, he did not do that and continued to lie despite being in a profession of telling the truth. But again, I know his reasons are complex so I don't want to oversimplify things. My real purpose was to give another side to the story. I wanted to give a different perspective to those people who were SO EASILY heroicizing him. Yes, he is exemplary in the way he pursued 'the American dream'. But is that enough to be a 'hero'? Again, this is EXTREMELY complex. I stick to what I commented above, under Thom's comment.

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  10. Joy,
    Thanks for an extremely thoughtful, well-documented post. I can see how you've tried to look at both sides of this issue and the complexity of it.

    I believe that Jose Antonio Vargas came forward because he felt compelled to do so because, given his success, he's in a position to open up this issue and by doing so, put a face to a major immigration problem in this country (and by the way, in the world where illegal refugees abound).

    He, like many others brought here as small children, were brought up as Americans and believe this country to be there own, swear the Pledge of Allegiance, pay their taxes, and become good citizens. Their association with their parents' country is vague as they have probably never been there. If, for some reason, they are caught and sent back, more often they are caught in a maelstrom of loss, bitterness, misunderstanding, and even hatred towards the country they once called their own.

    You say that he knowingly broke the law. That is true. However, if he had fessed up when he was say, 18, he would undoubtedly have been sent back to the Philippines, a country he didn't know, and therefore, it was too great a risk to take. However, once he was in a position to take a stand, he has done so, an action which I believe was very brave given the potential consequences.

    I know several young people in his situation. They are not to blame. They were too young to make a choice. They love this country as much as their fellow students or co-workers. However honest they may be in reality, the thought of being returned to a country that they don't know and where they don't belong, is similar to being condemned to a life in exile for a crime they didn't commit. While I do not condone illegal immigrants who knowingly flout the law, Jose Antonio Vargas is exposing a situation that requires review and possibly revising the law to allow for other illegals in his situation who have lived here since childhood to request legal residence in this country rather than have to return to their country of origin and be put at the back of a list that may take them up to 15 years (if they are lucky) to be allowed to reenter this country.

    Of course, the two sides are the human factor vs. the legal factor. Which is more important? Thank you, Jose Antonio Vargas, for opening up this issue, at great personal cost, because it's about time that we look beyond the black and white and see that there is also a cloudy gray area that has to be dealt with.

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  11. Eric@I've Become My ParentsJune 25, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    Thanks for this post. There's a lot to think about.

    I'm going to take a different tack . I'm going to ask why it's important that we have a clear opinion one way or another. I'd suggest that most people are on the fence because there are too many "ifs" and "it depends" that none of us understand. We all have a tendency to want to identify our opinion on issues like this, but I think there are many issues about which we cannot, and perhaps should not, judge. We should be discussing and learning from these things but I think we need to be more comfortable with not being able to have an informed opinion.

    That's my 2 cents.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

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  12. I think that Vargas needs to be sent back to the Phillipines and allowed to apply to come here properly. My husband and his mom and dad immigrated here LEGALLY from the Phillipines. They had to sacrifice alot for the life they now have. It is unfare to everyone who is waiting to come here legally to give special exceptions to someone whose parents broke the law and didn't follow the rules.

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  13. You're absolutely right, Eric. There are too many variables so really things can go either way. This is a tough one indeed but like I said, I still don't believe that some people should find it so easy to view him like a hero. There are tons of others out there in a similar situation but just not as articulate and well connected like Vargas. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  14. If anything, that's probably one thing he did indeed contribute....to again call attention to the need to review immigration laws. As I've been saying, I don't judge his reasons for choosing how he did. And now the question still remains...what to do with him and the countless like him....tough one!

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  15. It's not clear from your post at what age he found out that his documents were falsified, but he was 12 when it all started. Clearly not his fault. When he did discover the circumstances, it must have been difficult to have to rethink his life up until that point. Obviously he came to love this country. To come forward now I think is remarkable; he didn't have to. Whether he did it because of a guilty conscience or for political reasons, he is following his convictions.

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  16. @ ArmyOfMoms: Therein lies the unfairness. I've read other views online supporting exactly what you suggest; that when he turned into an adult, after even turning 20, no matter how difficult, he could've explored his other options and went through the process just like everyone else. A lot of people sacrifice so much to do the right thing. His fear of not knowing a country or not calling it home (even though his immediate family is still in the Phils), is not reason enough for me. But then again, this is ME. And obviously HE is very different. This is really a very tough debate. But thank you for your thoughts!

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  17. @Sweepy: On the NY times article (the link I provided in the blog post), it says that he found out he was an illegal alien when he tried to apply for a license at the DMV (around 16yrs of age). Yes, it was not his fault that he came here with fake documents and such. As to why he came out now, I think it's pretty obvious that one of his reasons was that he knows sooner or later he will be found out. His Oregon license is expired. He obtained another one from Washington so he says he has 5 more years...only 5 more years of lying some more had he not chosen to come forward. He says he's tired of running and hiding.

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  18. Hi Joy -

    The question here is correct about what his motives are, but then again that is like playing God...and we are not he (God). I'm not sure it is our place to judge this man or his motives. We need to take it as an act of good faith. Trust me Joy. I really know what having a guilty conscience is like having been a very wild and athletic guy in my younger days. It doesn't matter so much what his motives are as much as he is doing the right thing now. Besides that, the US Immigration will easily grant him legal status. I'm fairly sure of that. :)

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  19. @ Charlie: As I've commented after Thom's reply, I am not trying to judge his reasons for going illegal/undocumented (since it's far too complex and multidimensional). As for him being granted citizenship in the end, well, I hope the govt will grant him that for the 'right' reasons and not just because he is who he is (popular, articulate, etc) because that would be terribly unfair for the rest who are in a similar situation but just not possessing as much clout as he does...and the million others all over the world who fall in line at embassies and spends thousands and thousands of dollars just to enter the United States LEGALLY.

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  20. Wow! This is a really interesting scenario and debate! I could easily take both sides of the story. It's true that he perpetuated a lie, but I think that I wouldn't know what else to do if I were 19 years old getting my driver's license and by the time I become an adult, the lie is already deep.

    But then again, I personally wouldn't mind moving to the Philippines and considering it my home. That's the difference -- that he doesn't love the country. Tough one here!

    Thanks for having me think, Joy!

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  21. hi, new follower from voice boks. would love for you to visit my blog and follow back if you like.

    ReplyDelete
  22. @Samantha: And thanks for your comments! More importantly, thank you for saying you wouldn't mind moving back to the Phils. It'll always be home to me so like you, I understand why it's so easy for me to say I can go and leave, be deported or whatever. You cheered me up :-)

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  23. I don't know his circumstances, but if he's been here that long, he should actually be eligible for naturalization, shouldn't he? (Again, I'm ignorant to his specific facts.) One of my favorite people in the world (who is a scientist now trying to cure some of the world's deadliest diseases) was an undocumented immigrant as a child and has been eligible for citizenship for years now, so I just wondered...

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  24. What a thoughful and thorough and beautifully written post.

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  25. @ MikeB: Thank you again for your support. It has been difficult for me to think about / look back on this post because of the controversy surrounding it. The least I want to be called is judgmental and I do hope people understand that I was not trying to do that. Thank you for keeping an open mind. It means a lot!


    @Sophia: US immigration law is complex and like you I won't pretend to understand all of it. I think though that he can't just be naturalized because no one legally petitioned him and worse, he has broken the law for years. That is a big no-no for them, no matter how long you've stayed here. Oh well...we'll see where it goes. I really just wanted to voice out a different perspective here. Thanks :-))

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  26. @ MikeB: Thank you again for your support. It has been difficult for me to think about / look back on this post because of the controversy surrounding it. The least I want to be called is judgmental and I do hope people understand that I was not trying to do that. Thank you for keeping an open mind. It means a lot!


    @Sophia: US immigration law is complex and like you I won't pretend to understand all of it. I think though that he can't just be naturalized because no one legally petitioned him and worse, he has broken the law for years. That is a big no-no for them, no matter how long you've stayed here. Oh well...we'll see where it goes. I really just wanted to voice out a different perspective here. Thanks :-))

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  27. I don't know his circumstances, but if he's been here that long, he should actually be eligible for naturalization, shouldn't he? (Again, I'm ignorant to his specific facts.) One of my favorite people in the world (who is a scientist now trying to cure some of the world's deadliest diseases) was an undocumented immigrant as a child and has been eligible for citizenship for years now, so I just wondered...

    ReplyDelete
  28. hi, new follower from voice boks. would love for you to visit my blog and follow back if you like.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Wow! This is a really interesting scenario and debate! I could easily take both sides of the story. It's true that he perpetuated a lie, but I think that I wouldn't know what else to do if I were 19 years old getting my driver's license and by the time I become an adult, the lie is already deep.

    But then again, I personally wouldn't mind moving to the Philippines and considering it my home. That's the difference -- that he doesn't love the country. Tough one here!

    Thanks for having me think, Joy!

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  30. @ Charlie: As I've commented after Thom's reply, I am not trying to judge his reasons for going illegal/undocumented (since it's far too complex and multidimensional). As for him being granted citizenship in the end, well, I hope the govt will grant him that for the 'right' reasons and not just because he is who he is (popular, articulate, etc) because that would be terribly unfair for the rest who are in a similar situation but just not possessing as much clout as he does...and the million others all over the world who fall in line at embassies and spends thousands and thousands of dollars just to enter the United States LEGALLY.

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  31. It's not clear from your post at what age he found out that his documents were falsified, but he was 12 when it all started. Clearly not his fault. When he did discover the circumstances, it must have been difficult to have to rethink his life up until that point. Obviously he came to love this country. To come forward now I think is remarkable; he didn't have to. Whether he did it because of a guilty conscience or for political reasons, he is following his convictions.

    ReplyDelete
  32. If anything, that's probably one thing he did indeed contribute....to again call attention to the need to review immigration laws. As I've been saying, I don't judge his reasons for choosing how he did. And now the question still remains...what to do with him and the countless like him....tough one!

    ReplyDelete
  33. I think that Vargas needs to be sent back to the Phillipines and allowed to apply to come here properly. My husband and his mom and dad immigrated here LEGALLY from the Phillipines. They had to sacrifice alot for the life they now have. It is unfare to everyone who is waiting to come here legally to give special exceptions to someone whose parents broke the law and didn't follow the rules.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Eric@I've Become My ParentsJune 29, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    Thanks for this post. There's a lot to think about.

    I'm going to take a different tack . I'm going to ask why it's important that we have a clear opinion one way or another. I'd suggest that most people are on the fence because there are too many "ifs" and "it depends" that none of us understand. We all have a tendency to want to identify our opinion on issues like this, but I think there are many issues about which we cannot, and perhaps should not, judge. We should be discussing and learning from these things but I think we need to be more comfortable with not being able to have an informed opinion.

    That's my 2 cents.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Joy,
    Thanks for an extremely thoughtful, well-documented post. I can see how you've tried to look at both sides of this issue and the complexity of it.

    I believe that Jose Antonio Vargas came forward because he felt compelled to do so because, given his success, he's in a position to open up this issue and by doing so, put a face to a major immigration problem in this country (and by the way, in the world where illegal refugees abound).

    He, like many others brought here as small children, were brought up as Americans and believe this country to be there own, swear the Pledge of Allegiance, pay their taxes, and become good citizens. Their association with their parents' country is vague as they have probably never been there. If, for some reason, they are caught and sent back, more often they are caught in a maelstrom of loss, bitterness, misunderstanding, and even hatred towards the country they once called their own.

    You say that he knowingly broke the law. That is true. However, if he had fessed up when he was say, 18, he would undoubtedly have been sent back to the Philippines, a country he didn't know, and therefore, it was too great a risk to take. However, once he was in a position to take a stand, he has done so, an action which I believe was very brave given the potential consequences.

    I know several young people in his situation. They are not to blame. They were too young to make a choice. They love this country as much as their fellow students or co-workers. However honest they may be in reality, the thought of being returned to a country that they don't know and where they don't belong, is similar to being condemned to a life in exile for a crime they didn't commit. While I do not condone illegal immigrants who knowingly flout the law, Jose Antonio Vargas is exposing a situation that requires review and possibly revising the law to allow for other illegals in his situation who have lived here since childhood to request legal residence in this country rather than have to return to their country of origin and be put at the back of a list that may take them up to 15 years (if they are lucky) to be allowed to reenter this country.

    Of course, the two sides are the human factor vs. the legal factor. Which is more important? Thank you, Jose Antonio Vargas, for opening up this issue, at great personal cost, because it's about time that we look beyond the black and white and see that there is also a cloudy gray area that has to be dealt with.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Difficult questions, difficult issues. I'm with Lucy - my mind keeps changing on this. What I'm certain of is I hope he doesn't live in Arizona.

    ReplyDelete
  37. The original choice wasn't his. It would be very hard to "do the right thing," if you'd grown up believing that the country where you'd grown up, gone to school, made friends, built a life, was YOUR country. What do you think of the rare instances of babies switched at birth, only to have that little fact discovered when they're 10 or 12 or so? I do think that makes a difference - the original choice wasn't his at all. He has only continued the fraud. But what on earth would any of US do? Doesn't matter what country we were born in or which we've adopted - at that point, home is home.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Well, things like this do happen. There are so many maybes involved that it is harsh to focus on just one and ignore the others. Earlier I used to pass judgments on such issues; but if the issue is not in the larger interest of the people then it becomes a little confusing. For example, if he is granted citizenship, then there will be loads of illegal immigrants coming forward asking for the same justice. If he isn't there is a huge sympathy wave of why was he left out. He might have continued the same way and no one would have bothered.

    There are two sides to a coin and whenever we judge, we forget that we might not be seeing the case through the victims eyes. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We all may differ; but our intentions should be just.

    A very thought provoking post.

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  39. Thanks for this very well-documented post. I think that we simply don't know how we would react if we had had the same history. I hope we won't have to find out.

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  40. Thanks for this very well-documented post. I think that we simply don't know how we would react if we had had the same history. I hope we won't have to find out.

    ReplyDelete
  41. The original choice wasn't his. It would be very hard to "do the right thing," if you'd grown up believing that the country where you'd grown up, gone to school, made friends, built a life, was YOUR country. What do you think of the rare instances of babies switched at birth, only to have that little fact discovered when they're 10 or 12 or so? I do think that makes a difference - the original choice wasn't his at all. He has only continued the fraud. But what on earth would any of US do? Doesn't matter what country we were born in or which we've adopted - at that point, home is home.

    ReplyDelete
  42. If anything, that's probably one thing he did indeed contribute....to again call attention to the need to review immigration laws. As I've been saying, I don't judge his reasons for choosing how he did. And now the question still remains...what to do with him and the countless like him....tough one!

    ReplyDelete
  43. Wow! This is a really interesting scenario and debate! I could easily take both sides of the story. It's true that he perpetuated a lie, but I think that I wouldn't know what else to do if I were 19 years old getting my driver's license and by the time I become an adult, the lie is already deep.

    But then again, I personally wouldn't mind moving to the Philippines and considering it my home. That's the difference -- that he doesn't love the country. Tough one here!

    Thanks for having me think, Joy!

    ReplyDelete
  44. @ MikeB: Thank you again for your support. It has been difficult for me to think about / look back on this post because of the controversy surrounding it. The least I want to be called is judgmental and I do hope people understand that I was not trying to do that. Thank you for keeping an open mind. It means a lot!


    @Sophia: US immigration law is complex and like you I won't pretend to understand all of it. I think though that he can't just be naturalized because no one legally petitioned him and worse, he has broken the law for years. That is a big no-no for them, no matter how long you've stayed here. Oh well...we'll see where it goes. I really just wanted to voice out a different perspective here. Thanks :-))

    ReplyDelete
  45. @ Charlie: As I've commented after Thom's reply, I am not trying to judge his reasons for going illegal/undocumented (since it's far too complex and multidimensional). As for him being granted citizenship in the end, well, I hope the govt will grant him that for the 'right' reasons and not just because he is who he is (popular, articulate, etc) because that would be terribly unfair for the rest who are in a similar situation but just not possessing as much clout as he does...and the million others all over the world who fall in line at embassies and spends thousands and thousands of dollars just to enter the United States LEGALLY.

    ReplyDelete
  46. @ ArmyOfMoms: Therein lies the unfairness. I've read other views online supporting exactly what you suggest; that when he turned into an adult, after even turning 20, no matter how difficult, he could've explored his other options and went through the process just like everyone else. A lot of people sacrifice so much to do the right thing. His fear of not knowing a country or not calling it home (even though his immediate family is still in the Phils), is not reason enough for me. But then again, this is ME. And obviously HE is very different. This is really a very tough debate. But thank you for your thoughts!

    ReplyDelete

Let me know your thoughts!