News Release

Undocumented American, Vargas to Speak in Dalton

March 18, 2015

Jose VargasJose Vargas

Kayla Almazan hates the negative way immigrants are often portrayed in the media.

“But Jose Antonio Vargas shows that immigrants are productive, working Americans with aspirations and goals,” said Almazan, a U.S. born Mexican-American student at Dalton State.

In 2011, Vargas – a college graduate and award-winning journalist - outed himself as an undocumented American with a piece published in The New York Times Magazine called “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” He also produced a documentary about his life called “Documented.”

Vargas, originally from the Philippines, will speak Wednesday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m. at Dalton High School about what defines Americans and what it means to be an American. The event is hosted by Dalton State College, First Presbyterian Church of Dalton, and Dalton Public Schools. This is the first event in a series by the church called “community conversations” in which they plan to discuss topics relevant to the Dalton community.

It is recommended people going to hear Vargas speak, watch the documentary, which is available on Netflix and will be shown for free publicly twice before the event: March 26 at 7 p.m. at the Mack Gaston Community Center and April 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Dalton State’s Goodroe Auditorium.

Vargas came to America at 14, but did not realize he was undocumented until he was 16 and ready to get his driver’s license. A woman at the Department of Motor Vehicles in California informed him his green card was a fake.

For 14 years – as he graduated high school, college, and rose to fame as a journalist – Vargas kept that information mostly to himself. He told only a few mentors.

Since outing himself, Vargas, who was part of a team at The Washington Post to win a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, has become a face for the millions of undocumented Americans.

“I hope to raise awareness of the issue of immigration reform,” said Alice Ensley, Mission Team chair for First Presbyterian. “I hope to open lines of communication and understanding for our community.”

Working in education, Ensley sees many families in Dalton with similar struggles as Vargas.

“I was introduced to Mr. Vargas’ story when I first watched his documentary,” she said. “I was very moved by his story and the honesty with which he shared his struggles as an undocumented American. As a teacher, I had interacted with many families who may have had the same experience, and I really didn’t understand the issue. I wanted to bring Mr. Vargas to this community to educate all of us about the need for immigration reform. I knew his story would resonate with many in our community – students, educators, business leaders, all of us.”

With such a large population of immigrants in Dalton, Ensley hopes people will begin to understand each other better and will start having conversations that are more respectful and compassionate.

“All of us in Dalton and America are impacted by immigration reform,” she said. “Mr. Vargas advocates for the creation of a path for undocumented Americans who have been educated in our schools, attend our churches, and work in our communities to obtain legal citizenship. I believe our community and nation will be stronger economically and educationally if this is the case.”

As Dalton State approaches being designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution Dr. Jodi Johnson, vice president of student affairs, believes it’s more important than ever to have conversations about immigration. An HSI is a designation given to colleges where at least 25 percent of the population is Latino. It qualifies the colleges for more federal grants that will benefit all students.

“This academic year, the Dalton State community has explored issues of inequality related to income and education,” Johnson said. “I believe as an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution that is situated in a diverse, culturally rich area, Dalton State has an obligation to bring timely topics such as immigration to the greater community. I am excited that we are able to partner with other community constituents on this event. My hope is that bringing Jose Vargas to Dalton to facilitate a conversation on immigration and citizenship will allow us to dig a little deeper into the topic of inequality. I don’t expect there will be a consensus, but I do expect all sides of the issue will be represented in a thoughtful, well-reasoned discussion.”

Almazan hopes people come to hear Vargas speak with an open mind.

“He’s relevant,” she said. “This nation was formed by immigrants. He holds all the values of an American. He’s everything we look up to – hard working, educated. Put aside your biases about immigrants and listen to all sides. Learn about them by listening to them.” .

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