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In Documented, a Reporter Outs Himself as "Illegal"

Jose Antonio Vargas attends a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Jose Antonio Vargas attends a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

With "dreamers" — people brought illegally to the United States as children — the proponents of immigration reform have found a winning word.

It fails, though, to capture the peculiar mess faced by those the term describes: They're Americans through and through, possibly "more American" culturally than many legal immigrants, yet they've got no legal standing.

Documented is the well-told story of Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who outed himself as undocumented, a situation he finds terrifying and exhausting. He grew up in California, brought by his legal-resident grandparents when he was 12.

They thought he'd get a menial job, get married, slip through. They never told him about his illegal status; he never told them he was gay. Mostly, they didn't count on him being a bright, curious student and then an award-winning journalist.

Vargas lingers for long stretches over his personal story and his complicated relationship with his mother, still in the Philippines — a place he dare not visit for fear of being unable to return.

But his story is a vivid illustration of the pickle we're in. The United States remains a land of opportunity and a magnet for the strivers who keep the dream alive. It's frustrating and weird that we seem to have no place for people whom any one of us would easily recognize as, like the politicians love to say, "fellow Americans."

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