When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
There's a scene in the new documentary Documented when former Washington Post reporter turned immigration reform advocate Jose Antonio Vargas goes to see Mitt Romney speak before the Iowa caucus. Four years before, Vargas had covered the caucus for the Post, but this time around he stood on the side of a townhall-style event in Cedar Rapids, holding a sign that read "I AM AN AMERICAN W/O PAPERS." Ever since his blockbuster New York Times Magazine article, "My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant," came out in 2011, Vargas has become, in his words, "a walking uncomfortable conversation," and his presence at the Romney talk was, well, sort of awkward.
Eventually, the local police came at the behest of the event's host and asked him to leave. On his way to the exit, Vargas turned to an officer and asked if he was being arrested. "No, no, no," replied the cop. Sensing an opportunity, Vargas pushed further: What do Iowa police do after stumbling upon an undocumented person? Identify the person, replied the cop, and call the proper federal authorities. "Are you going to do that?" Vargas asked. The officer's response was almost embarrassed: "No, sir."
Telling his personal story has in many ways become Vargas' work, starting with the Times Magazine piece and continuing with a Time cover story a year later. (And, as he freely admits, it likely has protected him from immigration enforcement.) Now, two years after he outed himself as undocumented, he's back with a new chapter, writing and codirecting a film that centers on his relationship with his mother, Emelie Salinas, whom he hasn't seen since leaving the Philippines 20 years ago.
Documented's premiere last Friday at Washington, DC's AFI Docs Film Festival—just as the Gang of Eight's immigration bill gains steam in the Senate—was timed for maximum exposure and influence. So what do Vargas and his advocacy group, Define American, have up their sleeves for this time next year? "I don't know what I'm going to do for the third anniversary," he told me last week. "I want by the third anniversary to have a green card."
Mother Jones: If I understand correctly, this wasn't exactly your initial plan for this film.
Jose Antonio Vargas: The original plan was I was going to make a film that was like Waiting for "Superman" meets the DREAM Act. I figured I had come out in the New York Times and was in a very privileged position to do that, right? After that piece I was like: I'm done, I don't have to tell you about me anymore—now I can go out there and be an undocumented journalist filmmaker and then tell the stories of other DREAMers. So that was my original conception. And then I started filming, that's why I went to Alabama, I went to Iowa, and I started finding DREAMers, mostly online, to do a film on how undocumented people are using social media to tell their own stories. Social media has been in many ways the backbone of the DREAMer movement; the DREAMer movement would not have happened if Twitter and Facebook and YouTube did not exist. I mean this is how people were literally able to find each other, form listservs, all that kind of stuff.
Nearly four years ago, former University of California-Los Angeles basketball star Ed O'Bannon sued (PDF) the National Collegiate Athletic Association and trademark and licensing firm Collegiate Licensing Co. for using his likeness in video games, TV shows, and a variety of other media—all without paying him. O'Bannon had signed a waiver granting the NCAA permission to use his image before starting his career at UCLA, but he argued that the NCAA had violated antitrust laws in partnering with CLC and others to keep student-athletes from getting paid.
Today, the case comes to a major crossroads as a federal judge hears arguments on whether to certify current and former college athletes as a class—a decision that could lead to an enormous restructuring of college sports as we know them.
A young child and his mother wait in a US border detention center before being returned to their home country.
Over the past few years, record numbers of children, usually from Mexico or Central America and often traveling alone, have crossed illegally into the United States. From October 2011 to October 2012, some 31,000 juveniles (PDF) were apprehended by the Border Patrol. And according to a new report, more and more of them have landed in immigration detention centers—alongside adults.
Data obtained by the nonprofit National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) shows that the federal government detained at least 1,366 immigrant children for three or more days in 30 adult facilities between 2008 and 2012. The data, secured in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and released Tuesday, also shows that nearly 1,000 were held longer than a week. Five children were detained more than a year, and one was held more than a decade, starting at around age 15.
And these numbers could be the tip of the iceberg: DHS provided the NIJC with data from only 30 of the 200 or so immigration detention centers currently in operation.
"The immigration detention enforcement system is broken," says Mary Meg McCarthy, the NIJC's executive director. "If there are 1,300 kids over a period of four years in adult detention facilities, there's a real problem. Because that's not what the law says. That's not what's supposed to be happening. As a country, we shouldn't be detaining these kids, period, but especially not in adult facilities."
Of the immigrant kids housed in adult detention centers, the vast majority of them were 17 years old at the time of detention—though 37 were younger than 15.
Not only does a 1997federal settlement call for apprehended undocumented children to be held in the least restrictive setting appropriate to their age and needs, but it also explicitly mandates that "juveniles will not be detained with an unrelated adult for more than 24 hours." According to DHS data, 19 immigrant children were held in adult facilities for more than 180 days.
McCarthy says the NIJC wanted data from the facilities where it had clients, as well as large, geographically dispersed detention centers. As you can see in the chart below, the 10 adult facilities with the most detained children were all located in border states, with 8 of them in either Arizona or Texas.
McCarthy, who says she's encouraged by the recent headway on immigration reform in the Senate, notes that when undocumented immigrants are detained by DHS, they often don't have access to legal counsel. "They become disappeared in the system," she says. "But when you're detaining more than 400,000 people a year in 200 jails, and you have all these different people involved in this mammoth system without any due process protections, it just lends itself to this type of problem. It just cries out for reform."
Left to right: Nets teammates Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Jason Collins in 2006
In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, the NBA's Jason Collins became the first active player in any of the big four sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) to announce he was gay. His opening paragraph: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
Toward the end of his must-read story, Collins, a 7-foot, 255-pounder who has played for six teams in his 12-year pro career, ponders the fallout from his announcement:
I've been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I'm a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I've taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn't an issue before, and it won't be one now. My conduct won't change. I still abide by the adage, "What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room." I'm still a model of discretion.
Here's what President Obama had to say about Collins when asked at his Tuesday press conference:
And here's a look at what some people—some NBA players, some not—tweeted on Monday:
Fernanda Lopez and Jonathan Halvorson started going out after sharing a journalism class as freshmen at San Jose State University. Things were going great—so great, in fact, that Lopez decided to let Halvorson in on her big secret: She's an undocumented immigrant.
"I never actually said the words, 'I'm undocumented,'" Lopez said. "I told him I couldn't get a driver's license, I couldn't really get financial aid, I can't get a job, those kinds of things—and eventually, it was out."
Lopez's immigration status didn't faze Halvorson, a US citizen; two years later, the couple is still going strong. On Saturday, Lopez shared her "coming out" story in a talk titled "Undocumented Love" at the University of California-Berkeley's sixth-annual Aspire to Rise conference, where some 400 undocumented students, family members, and advocates—some from as far away as Humboldt County, four hours north—gathered to learn about paying for college, negotiating the Obama administration's deferred-action program, and, yes, dating while undocumented.