WA Cancels Illegal Alien Journalist's Driver's License; Will ICE Investigate the Papers That Hired Him?

By Jon Feere and Jon Feere on August 4, 2011

The story of illegal alien fraudster and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas continues to unfold and he is finally beginning to feel the repercussions of his unlawful activity. While there remain many unpunished illegal acts perpetrated by a number of individuals in the Vargas saga (including violations of employment law by Peter Perl, the assistant managing editor of the Washington Post), this week the State of Washington may have set the ball in motion by canceling Vargas's fraudulently obtained driver's license. According to the Seattle Times, state licensing officials launched an investigation after Vargas's admission of multiple legal violations became public, and determined that he was never a resident of the state. In other words, he lied on the application forms. In his article in the New York Times, Vargas explained:

Early this year, just two weeks before my 30th birthday, I won a small reprieve: I obtained a driver's license in the state of Washington. The license is valid until 2016. This offered me five more years of acceptable identification – but also five more years of fear, of lying to people I respect and institutions that trusted me, of running away from who I am.

It does not appear that Washington actually revoked the license itself, however, meaning that Vargas may still show it to board airplanes, open bank accounts, and live his life like law-abiding immigrants and U.S. citizens, even though he is far from law-abiding.

Vargas previously obtained an Oregon driver's license – also fraudulently – and enlisted the help of a handful of individuals who were more than happy to engage in a conspiracy to perpetrate the fraud. In order to obtain a position at the Washington Post, Vargas needed to acquire a driver's license. Though he was living in California, Vargas found that when it came to lax driver's license security, "Oregon was among the most welcoming." One of the individuals who helped Vargas obtain the ID fraudulently was Patricia Foote, assistant managing editor for the Seattle Times. The other persons engaged in the conspiracy were Rich Fischer, superintendent for the Mountain View High School in California, Pat Hyland, the school's principal, and the duo's assistant Mary Moore. Each of these individuals sent letters to Vargas at an Oregon address belonging to a friend of Vargas's father in an attempt to create the impression that Vargas lived in Oregon. While each of these individuals is likely liable under a number of Oregon state laws, it seems they may have violated federal law as well, including 8 U.S.C. 1324, which, among other things, is focused on persons who "knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection" an illegal alien. The statute also focuses on anyone who "encourages or induces an alien to…reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such…residence is or will be in violation of law."

One of the most egregious violations of federal law was perpetrated by Peter Perl, now assistant managing editor for personnel at the Washington Post. According to Vargas, one day he and Perl sat on a park bench adjacent to the White House and had a 20-minute conversation in which Vargas told Perl that he was an illegal alien, and consequently barred from legal employment:

Peter was shocked. "I understand you 100 times better now," he said. He told me that I had done the right thing by telling him, and that it was now our shared problem. He said he didn't want to do anything about it just yet. I had just been hired, he said, and I needed to prove myself. "When you've done enough," he said, "we'll tell Don and Len together." (Don Graham is the chairman of The Washington Post Company; Leonard Downie Jr. was then the paper's executive editor.) A month later, I spent my first Thanksgiving in Washington with Peter and his family.

In the five years that followed, I did my best to "do enough." I was promoted to staff writer…

For years, the Washington Post knowingly employed, and even promoted, an illegal alien. And there's no way that Mr. Perl can argue that Vargas's job was one that "Americans won't do." Perhaps he is not aware, but under 8 U.S.C. 1324a, it is "unlawful for a person or other entity, after hiring an alien for employment…to continue to employ the alien in the United States knowing the alien is (or has become) an unauthorized alien."

While phone calls to Post's headquarters were unsuccessful, a database of E-Verify users revealed that the company does not use the online worker verification program, despite its very public lawlessness. It is unclear whether ICE will be visiting the newspaper's office anytime soon and whether Mr. Perl will be held accountable for his actions.

For his part, Mr. Perl feels no remorse for intentionally violating federal law. In fact, he appears to believe that the Washington Post is above the law:

This was, at the time, not a close call. It was clear to me that I believed that my taking action would have resulted in his losing his job and maybe being deported. And I felt like, at his age and his situation, that as much as I trust the leadership of the Washington Post, they would have been obligated to put in motion a whole series of events that were clearly going to result in real damage to Jose.

And I made a tactical judgment. … it seemed clear to me that he was OK in his current status, he had a valid driver's license.

Of course, that license was not valid, and Perl knew it. This is a prime example of how immigration lawlessness in one state can lead to additional lawlessness elsewhere. A person like Mr. Perl – who feels that his judgment as to the importance of immigration laws is superior than the collective judgment of the American citizenry which placed these laws on the books – does damage to the United States and to the legal immigrants and citizens who may have taken this job.

These violations are only the tip of the iceberg. In his article, Vargas explained that he and his family have been involved with a lot of fraud and attempts at fraud. For example, Vargas explained how his grandfather lied on immigration forms in an attempt to get his married daughter (Vargas's mother) into the United States, and also attempted to get her here through a tourist visa, which they viewed as a means towards permanent settlement. The grandfather also paid a human smuggler to bring Vargas into the United States under a fake name and fake passport. The grandfather obtained a fake Filipino passport in Vargas's real name, "adorned with a fake student visa" and "fraudulent green card." Vargas and his grandfather used the fake documents to get a Social Security card from the Social Security Administration. The grandfather then made fraudulent copies of the card, hiding the "Valid for work only with I.N.S. authorization" language.

Vargas also found work at a Subway restaurant, a Y.M.C.A., a tennis club, and seemingly a number of other positions for more than a decade. Vargas claims that the businesses rarely asked to check his original Social Security card and that, when they did, he gave them the fraudulent photocopy. In addition, Vargas checked the citizenship box on his federal I-9 forms because, as he explained, "claiming full citizenship was actually easier than declaring permanent resident green card status, which would have required me to provide an alien registration number." For this I-9 fraud alone, Vargas can be fined and jailed up to 5 years under 18 USCS § 1001(a). He also is liable for perjury. Time will tell if the federal government feels aliens can openly violate these statutes without fear of being held accountable.

The Washington Post is not the only news agency with lax employment standards. Vargas explains that the San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Daily News, the Seattle Times, the Huffington Post, and The New Yorker also do a poor job screening candidates for employment eligibility.

Thus far, the legal repercussions for all of this illegal activity – other than the driver's license invalidation – do not appear to be forthcoming.

If these violations are not investigated by the authorities, if the aforementioned media outlets don't start using E-Verify, and if Vargas isn't penalized and facing deportation before the end of the year, then the journalist class should not be surprised that the American public continues to feel that our immigration laws are not being taken seriously.