The Immigration Debate: Readers Respond to “We Are Americans, Just Not Legally”

Jose Antonio Vargas' story on undocumented immigrants has received strong reactions — both positive and negative — online. Here are some of the best responses that readers have shared on TIME Ideas

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Just over a year ago, Jose Antonio Vargas “came out” as an undocumented immigrant in an essay for the New York Times Magazine. Now Vargas is a steady voice for the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the U.S. In this week’s issue of TIME, Vargas spotlights the growing immigration-rights movement and the difficulties of the citizenship process. His story has received strong reactions — both positive and negative — online and through social media. Here are some of the best responses that readers shared on TIME Ideas. You can also follow the social media conversation on Storify or join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #weareamericans.

“Here’s my immigration story: I studied hard in college (in my home country), got a job with a U.S. company, and they followed the legal process and got me a non-immigrant visa (H-1B) so I could work for them in the U.S. temporarily. I loved it here, so my employer followed the legal process to adjust my status to a permanent resident. I married a U.S. citizen, have a baby and am now following the legal process to become a citizen. This is how it should be done, and Mr. Vargas and everyone like him should be deported and then follow the correct process to return to the U.S. with a work visa if you meet the criteria.” —MarkNH

(MORE: From the Family Photos of an Undocumented Immigrant)

“The days of Ellis Island are gone. There is no point of entry where one can simply show up and fill out the necessary paperwork. People leave abject poverty or sometimes follow a job and end up living [in the U.S.] with no support system. Again, by the letter of the law they are criminals, but you and I know that this does not do the situation justice. Something clearly needs to change, but at the risk of bringing back a cliché, we’re a nation of immigrants. This needs to be a conversation about how we adapt our laws to fit modern immigration, while remaining stable, solvent and in line with our legacy as a melting pot.” —bcnp11 

“I’m all for changing the immigration laws to allow more people in legally, and I empathize with those inconvenienced by the current law. However, the current law is the law and should be enforced until it’s changed. This article cherry-picks the most sympathetic cases from themany millions who are here illegally. The other side could just as easily cherry-pick the violent criminals from among the millions.”  —Nonaffiliated 

“I was born here and would love to find a humane solution to [immigration] that doesn’t break-up families, require them to go back to a place they don’t recognize or feel at home, and make it hard for them to survive. They are already contributing to the American society by working hard and not becoming a burden to the system. I know a lot of these people pay into the tax system but never get anything back. They do this in hopes that one day, all the hard work they’ve done will pay off. They don’t ask for much other than recognition. [These immigrants] are invested in the American way, from education and culture to the way they think and communicate or approach problems and solutions. This type of mentality isn’t going to work back ‘where they came from.’ They love this country and would eternally invested once they get the legal status they hope for.” —CharlesCA 

(MORE: So You Want to Be An American)

“Calling illegals ‘undocumented immigrants’ is like calling a home invader an ‘unexpected houseguest.’  The act of living and working in this country without a visa, green card or citizenship is illegal. My husband had to get sponsored, fill out paperwork, submit to medical exams and wait severalyears to become a permanent resident (and ultimately a citizen) of this country.  Why do these law-breakers think they deserve special treatment?  The very fact that they don’t respect the laws of the land makes thempoor candidates for citizenship.” —Talendria

“I am proud to count several of the young people featured in this video among my friends. As a U.S. citizen, I am proud to stand with them in their love forthis country, and in their belief in what it represents. This discussion seems to draw two kinds of people: Those who believe in a great America, and those who believe in a small, weak and threatened America. I was raised by people who believed in the greatness of this country, despite their having to fight against its injustices.” —JBfromNC 

“This is simple. If you snuck across the border in the middle of the night, you are not an American. If you committed fraud and lied on an application to gain admission to our country, you are not an American. If you came on a studentvisa and just decided to stay, you are not an American. Millions of people work hard, do the right thing and wait their turn to become U.S. citizens, and God bless them we are happy you are here. But those who lie, cheat, steal or break the rules to get here deserve nothing but to be sent back.” —rennis2000 

“I agree with you Mr. Vargas. I’m having similar issues straightening out my husband’s status. I almost applauded when I heard you say on the CBS Morning Show that ‘there is no process’ to correct a statusissue in this country. I have battled immigration for more than seven years to try to get my husband back home. We have been married 14 years and have a child together. This should not take seven years to correct. There needs to be a clearer path to documentation.” —Laura Rojas 

(MOREInside the World of the ‘Illegal’ Immigrant)

“Would it be OK if I do what [Jose Antonio Vargas] did? I’m an immigrant myself and have navigated the U.S. immigration system twice. This also means that I keep regular contact with people in my little village back home. All the people I grew up with are just starting to have kids. Would it be OK if I helped all these families come to U.S. illegally, like your parents did? They have an American Dream, will pay taxes, do the work Americans won’t do, etc. I will encourage them to study journalism so they can all be Pulitzer Prize winners when they grow up, so the U.S. government won’t be able to deport them, and they can say, “It’s not our fault for being here illegally,” like you say now. It doesn’t matter if you are getting lunch or immigrating to the U.S., there is only one way, and that is by an orderly process, because you are not the only one in the world who is hungry or has an American Dream.” —Lawmen 

“[Illegal immigrants] are here to stay, whether we like it or not. It’s easy to say ‘Ship them home,’ but they have children who were born here, who have never lived in their ‘homelands’ and aren’t legal Americans either. They have already integrated their lives here, and there is no morally acceptable way to deal with the problem through mass deportation. The only option I see that is pragmatic and morally just is to offer a path of legalization for those who are already here (that’s 12 million people worth of taxes we haven’t been collecting), update our current immigration/visa laws in a comprehensive way that more accurately reflects the current times, strengthen our border against new violators, and actively recruit talented, educated and skilled professionals.” —shangda