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"It's Time" | The Text of My DREAM Graduation Speech

| Jose Antonio Vargas

This morning on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, DREAMers from across the country are gathering for a "graduation" ceremony.

This is the text of the commencement address I'll be giving shortly:

My name is Jose Antonio Vargas and I am an undocumented American.

I was born in the Philippines. My mother wanted to give me a better life, so she sent me away to live in America with her parents. It was 1993. I was 12.

I loved America immediately — the language, the culture, the people — everything. This is my home.

When I was 16, I rode my bike to the D.M.V. to get my driver's permit. When I handed the clerk my green card, she said. "This is fake. Don't come back here again." That's when I knew.

And that's when I decided that I could never give anyone reason to doubt that I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, if I did enough I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I've tried. I've worked at The Washington Post. I started the College and Tech sections at The Huffington Post. I've written for The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. I've even won a Pulitzer for my work covering the Virginia Tech Massacre. I've met Beyoncé. Twice.

Then last year, just months shy of my 30th birthday, I watched the DREAM Act fail on the Senate floor. I knew then that it was time to make a choice: I could continue to live a seemingly successful life with constant guilt and fear. Or, I could tell the truth and lose it all.

I chose to tell the truth. Parents tell their children all the time: The only way to solve a problem is to tell the truth. And here's the thing: Just as I hadn't been talking about my situation, neither had my country.

We talk about "illegal immigration." We talk about the border. We talk about sending kids to war so that maybe they can earn permanent status. We talk about immigration but we don't talk about the immigrants — the normal, hard-working people who fill the classrooms and the church pews and the offices of America. We are indistinguishable from our peers in all but one circumstance.

We aren't having a conversation about it. We need to have a conversation about it.

America needs to talk about us, its illegitimate children. But that's going to take us going and talking to America.

I came out because I was inspired by the courage of four students from Miami who walked fifteen hundred miles to make their voices heard. I was inspired by all of you. You define American.

Now we need to go out together and inspire others to tell their stories. Not just undocumented Americans but the people who know and help them — to tell them they're not alone, that there are other citizens, members of the 21st Century Underground Railroad taking risks every day in order to do what is right. They are our principals and our pastors, they are our coaches and our colleagues. People who drive below the speed limit but now feel like outlaws because they saw our humanity — our Americanness — and refused to sit by as we slipped into the cracks of a broken system. They define American.

Raise your hand if an American citizen has ever taken a risk to keep you safe.

Raise your hand if you too have an underground railroad.

Now raise your hand if you believe that America shouldn't force its own citizens to make the impossible choice between doing what is legal and doing what is right.

Our system is broken and it is time to have a serious conversation about fixing it. And we can only do that by asking our neighbors, our fellow Americans, the hard questions, questions like:

What would you do?

What would you do if you found out that a member of your parish didn't have papers?

What would you do if one of your students couldn't travel to Arizona for a school trip?

What would you do if your child's best friend wasn't here legally?

What would you do?

We aren't having a conversation about it. We need to have a conversation about it.

We need to take this conversation to living rooms that are sometimes far from our own experiences, even when they're only down the block. We need to take this conversation to the people who think they hate us, because they don't hate us — they just don't know us. We need to take this conversation to millions of well-meaning brothers and sisters who may occasionally mutter something about "the illegals" but otherwise don't think the issue has anything to do with them. We need to show them that fixing the immigration system isn't about us the 11 million but about us the 300 million. The larger us. It's about the character of this country we love, and how together we can save it.

It's time.

For me. For Gaby, Juan, Felipe, Carlos. For you. For your mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers. For every American citizen who is forced to fill in where the system fails. And for all Americans — everyone who believes that you should be able to earn your way to success in this country with hard work and determination, who believes that every generation should have more opportunity than the one before it. For every one of us who pledges allegiance to the flag. For every one of us who calls America home. It's time.

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