“Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” By Jose Antonio Vargas. Dey Street Books, New York City, 2018. $25.99. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas has been living as an undocumented resident of the United States since 1993 when he was 12-years-old. With the best of intentions, his mother put him on a plane from the Philippines to California. But with that journey came four devastating lies — an uncle who was really a coyote, a fake passport and a fake green card. The fourth untruth — that his mother would quickly follow — was more about outsized hope than intentional prevarication. She has never been permitted entry to the United States and Vargas, at the age of 15, stumbled upon the truth of his status at the Department of Motor Vehicles. A clerk looked at his green card and refused his request for a driver’s permit. “This is fake,” she said. “Don’t come back here again.” And, thus, began an exhausting, anxious life of lying, passing and hiding. Now, 25 years later, Vargas writes in his new memoir, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” that he’s trapped. He’s “stuck” in a purgatory where he can’t vote, hold a job, travel, drive, own a home. He can and does pay taxes and Social Security. Undocumented immigrants pay approximately $12 billion annually into the Social Security Trust Fund. “Dear America” tracks the details of Vargas’s journey from his home in Manila to the present day, along with the accompanying emotional roller coaster ride. He withheld the truth of his status to attend college and to take a journalism internship at the Washington Post that launched his career as a journalist. It’s clear that this limbo was foisted on him by his well-meaning mother and her parents, who took good care of him once he arrived in Mountain View, California. His grandfather, a naturalized U.S. citizen, paid $500 for the fraudulent papers that he kept in a file cabinet. “You are not supposed to be here,” he confessed to Vargas after the incident at the DMV. “This book is about homelessness,” writes Vargas, who now lives out of a suitcase with no permanent address. His story — despite the quality of his life, the opportunities that have been afforded him because of his drive, talent, education, career in journalism, loving family and friends in positions of influence — is heartbreaking. Vargas needed to out himself again (the first time was when he told his fellow high school classmates that he was gay) in order to put an end to the deceit that was tearing him apart. He writes that most Americans know very little about immigration in this country. Among our misunderstandings is the assumption that there is recourse for people like Vargas. There is no path to citizenship for him. He does not qualify for the DACA program because of his age and he cannot apply for citizenship because he lied to get a driver’s license. His maddening dilemma is representative, in a multitude of ways, of the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. Often the only options for them are either deportation or hiding and passing. During the Obama presidency, as many as 400,000 immigrants were deported annually. The numbers have grown since Trump took office. Immigration, writes Vargas, became conflated with terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, the U.S. government has spent $100 billion on border and immigration control. Most of what Congress and the presidency have done to address immigration have been costly, punitive and fraught with grief. “Too often, we’re treated as abstractions, faceless and nameless, subjects of debate rather than individuals with families, hopes, fears and dreams,” writes Vargas. Worse, he writes, the current administration has fanned the flames, conflating “undocumented immigrants with violent MS-13 gang members, referring to us as ‘animal’ and ‘snakes,’ often in front of boisterous crowds roaring with approval.” The rancorous, threatening tone terrorizes immigrants. The acting director of ICE told Congress, “If you are in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” “I worry about everything,” says Vargas, whose status these days is tenuous. The Department of Homeland Security served him what’s called a charging document after a recent detention in Texas. With this step, immigration court could begin a removal proceeding. As Anthony Bourdain pointed out in an episode of “Parts Unknown,” 1 in 10 residents of Los Angeles is undocumented. He points out that immigrants are the backbone of the city — the planters and harvesters, the hospitality and healthcare workers, the new and vibrant artistic and entrepreneurial energy. Like Bourdain, Vargas passionately details the problems with immigration. Fair and humane solutions, so desperately needed right now, are far from apparent. — Rae Padilla Francoeur can be reached at Rae@RaeFrancoeur.com.