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'Documented' review: CNN's eloquent look at immigration issue

Jose attends a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally

Jose attends a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. in "Documented," a CNN documentary by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. Credit: CNN Films


WHEN|WHERE Sunday at 9 and 11 p.m., CNN. (It also airs July 5 at 9 and 11 p.m.)

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas shows what happened after he revealed in a New York Times article that he had arrived in the United States illegally from the Philippines when he was 12 and began lying about his citizenship when he was 16.

The documentary, which Vargas wrote, directed and produced, uses his story to speak for the more than 11 million people who arrived in the country illegally when they were children through no fault of their own and now find themselves unable to become citizens.

"What do you want to do with me?" Vargas asked, as he testified before a congressional panel on immigration reform. With more or less all immigration reform efforts currently stalled in Congress, Vargas' question remains unanswered, and he's hoping that "Documented" will help reignite the debate.

MY SAY "I have become kind of a walking uncomfortable conversation," Vargas says, adding that most people just keep asking him, "Why don't you just make yourself legal?"

He has to explain that there isn't a pathway to citizenship for him and for those in his position. And, valiantly, he has said that he isn't looking for special treatment for himself because of his connections at The Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer Prize, or The New Yorker, where he exclusively interviewed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Vargas wants to help solve the problem for all those in his position, not just himself.

What makes "Documented" so effective, though, aren't his arguments or even the frustration of the circular logic of his predicament. It's the very real relationship he has with his mother and their struggle to deal with her decision to illegally send him to the United States. Vargas certainly had more opportunities here than he would have had in the Philippines, but the cost is his life filled with secrets and lies and her exile from his life -- she has to plead to have him accept her Facebook friend request.

Is that too high a price? It's one of the many questions too often ignored in the thorny immigration debate. That "Documented" raises it so eloquently is a triumph in itself.

BOTTOM LINE Hoping to sway policy with an intensely personal story.


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