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To deport or not to deport? Media bashes journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Vargas; ICE silent

Published: Monday, June 27 2011 1:57 p.m. MDT

Immigration authorities are keeping quiet about their thoughts on the Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist who revealed his status as an undocumented immigrant last week, but Jose Antonio Vargas's fellow journalists are not.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined comment on whether or not Vargas would be deported, NPR reported. Based on recent immigration policy directives, though, NPR's Corey Dade hypothesized, "the answer is likely 'no.'"

In the original New York Times Magazine article, Vargas admitted to breaking numerous laws to conceal his citizenship status. But, according to a memorandum issued by ICE director John Morton earlier this month, the agency plans to focus on deporting felons, gang members and others who present "a clear risk to national security." The memo also directs ICE officials to avoid prosecuting a wide array of individuals, including those who grew up in the U.S. and attended college — both of which Vargas did.

"ICE takes enforcement action on a case-by-case basis — prioritizing those who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by their criminal history and taking into consideration the specific facts of each case, including immigration history," spokeswoman Cori W. Bassett told NPR in an emailed statement.

Judgments from fellow journalists have been mixed.

Slate Magazine's Jack Shafer asked Americans to "table any forgiveness until they think through the full dimension of his deceptions." He said Vargas's lies about his immigration status were particularly heinous because he was a journalist.

"A news organization can't function if editors must constantly cross-examine their reporters in search of deliberate lies," he wrote. "His lies to the 'Post' violated the compact that makes journalism possible."

Vargas's former editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, Phil Bronstein told The Guardian that he believes Vargas "has disqualified himself from being a journalist – he is now an advocate."

Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of the Washington Post, called Vargas's story "compelling" and "interesting," but ultimately concluded that "what Jose did was wrong," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Daniel Denvir of the Guardian, on the other hand, argued that Vargas "is a man persecuted by unjust laws for being who he is" and should be applauded for living an extraordinary life despite the challenge of being an undocumented immigrant.

Denvir labeled other journalists negative responses an attempt to protect the "ideologically bankrupt status quo of mainstream journalism."

Vargas defended his decision to come forward in an interview with CNN's Howard Kurtz Sunday.

"I'm one of millions of undocumented people in this country who are living kind of under the shadows," he said. "At the end of the day, I think we have to tell the truth about this immigration system. And because of that, I had to tell the truth about myself."

When Kurtz confronted Vargas about "deceiving" his editors by not revealing his citizenship status, Vargas said, "I had to do what I had to do to work ... Whenever I did talk about it, people told me that I shouldn't be revealing it because then I couldn't work."

The Huffington Post, for which Vargas works as a contributing editor, reported that despite his campaign to support immigration reform, Vargas "still considers himself a journalist, not an advocate."

EMAIL: estuart@desnews.com

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