CNN may have thought it was engaging viewers in a serious debate when it asked if an undocumented journalist should be removed from the United States, but instead the news outlet found itself in the middle of a Twitter firestorm.
The online controversy centers on the story of journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter and Huffington Post editor who recently unveiled that he is an undocumented immigrant.
Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Vargas explained that over the course of his life, he’s tried to live the American dream and carve out a place for himself in the United States.
“But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality,” he wrote. “It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them.
“It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.”
This past Sunday, CNN aired a documentary – titled, “Documented” – that explored Vargas’ decision to declare his status publically and speak out about the plight of illegal immigrants.
That same evening, the network also sent out the following tweet, asking, “Do you think Jose should be deported? Answer with JOSESTAY or JOSEGO using #Documented.”
— Seth Fiegerman (@sfiegerman) June 30, 2014
The post quickly came under fire from those who accused CNN of making light of the issue, or turning the topic of Vargas’ plight into a game. Critics of the tweet called it out for turning immigration into “a TV contest,” with some claiming the network “should be ashamed of itself.”
— Erin (@sqwerin) June 30, 2014
Some users turned the issue against CNN, asking if anchor Anderson Cooper could be deported or suggesting that the author of the tweet should be removed from the US.
— susan price (@sbprice) June 30, 2014
Others simply responded to the question, giving their opinion on whether Vargas should be allowed to stay or kicked out.
Amid the crossfire, CNN defended itself, saying the question is important and one that Vargas himself asks lawmakers.
— natalie baur (@nataliembaur) June 30, 2014
“Yes, really,” the tweet read. “This is the question @joseiswriting asks presidential candidates, congressional committees, etc.”
Vargas himself also defended the question, telling BuzzFeed, “I am grateful to CNN for airing this film and sparking a national conversation on immigration and family separation.”
— CNN (@CNN) June 30, 2014
“At a time of political standstill, with reporters calling immigration reform, ‘dead,’ we gotta humanize this issue. Asking ‘JoseGo’ and ‘JoseStay’ is a way of asking my fellow Americans, ‘What do you want to do with me? What do you want to do with us?’”
The issue has once again arrived at the forefront of US politics recently, with President Obama announcing on Monday that, in the face of Republican unwillingness to pass any kind of reform, he will take executive action on the issue. He is currently seeking recommendations from his staff, and is expected to consider them by the end of the summer.
His comments also came as the US government struggles to manage a flood of undocumented minors entering the US through Mexico. As RT has reported previously, tens of thousands of children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have flowed over the Mexican border, sparking what Obama called a “humanitarian crises,” and pushing him to tell Central American families to stop sending their children to the US on their own.
As for Vargas, in his New York Times Magazine article he emphasized that illegal immigrants are a significant part of American life and culture despite their ostracized status.
“There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States,” he wrote. “We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read.
“I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.”