Readers React

An 'undocumented' immigrant? Try 'illegal.'

To the editor: Jose Antonio Vargas refuses to face the truth: that he is indeed an "illegal immigrant." ("What is being an American? Immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas has some ideas," Op-Ed, Aug. 5)

He insists on being classified as "undocumented" and as someone who pays taxes, attended school here and achieved some level of professional success. But none of that is relevant. The United States has laws regulating immigration, and Vargas violated them. He is not supposed to be here.

And it is not "just about who's lucky enough to get here." It is not a question of luck. It is a question of following the laws and regulations to come to the United States — like those who followed the law and those thousands around the world waiting patiently in line.

Finally, the U.S. immigration system is not broken. It is processing hundreds of thousands of immigrants, students and visitors throughout the year. And hundreds of thousands more take the oath of allegiance to become citizens of the United States every year.

Rogelio Peña Montebello

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To the editor: Vargas is ill-informed when he states that "12 million undocumented Europeans crossed the border — the Atlantic Ocean — and landed on Ellis Island without papers."

Vargas ignores that both the Italian and American governments had regulations in place during this period, and increasingly so after 1901, when mass migration reached a critical mass.

Mandatory health inspections at ports of departure ensured that individuals with contagious diseases would not travel, with shipping companies financially liable for the return tickets of persons physically or mentally unfit for entry into the U.S. Furthermore, each ship's manifest was required to list contact information in both the country of departure and that of arrival; how much money the immigrant was carrying; how long the intended stay; and age, profession and where work awaited.

And yes, all immigrants had papers. No departing emigrant would risk traveling without such documentation, knowing it would be checked at the points of departure and arrival.

Vargas makes a humane and compelling case for assimilating undocumented individuals, but distorting history serves no purpose.

Elise Magistro, Claremont

The writer, a professor of Italian at Scripps College, has lectured on the Italian immigrant experience.

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