June 28, 2017

Achieving The American Dream

How an “illegal” became Santa Ana’s Greatest Police Officer.

Congress is voting on (passed) a law that would make Officer Jose Vargas, and the thousands of immigrants just like him, felons for returning to the United States after being previously removed. Officer Jose Vargas was everything a police officer should be, and his story is not only inspiring but quintessentially American.

Jose Vargas fathered three police officers, including the Anaheim’s former Police Chief Joe Vargas (read more about him here). He achieved the American Dream, became a pillar of his community, and introduced a generation of Latinos in Orange County to a police force they could trust.

Officer Jose Vargas: an American by choice

This is his story.

I am going to tell you about dreams. To be a complete human you have to be proud of your accomplishments. My dream started with my mother in Mexico. My father died when I was 11. As the head of the family, I hit the streets to sell newspapers, shine shoes, and do anything to feed my little brothers and sisters.

But my mother had a dream that someday we would live in a beautiful land called Los Estados Unidos, where everybody is wealthy and eats carne every day. The idea of eating meat everyday was hard to comprehend, but to a bunch of hungry kids, my mother was describing paradise.

At age 16, I decided to make my mother’s dream a reality. I took the high road and headed for the border. I pleaded for permission to enter, but was denied. So come nightfall, I became one of the millions that crossed the border without papers. All to survive and pursue my mother’s dream.

I was caught a few hours later. I tried to run but wound up in a hospital, bleeding, and was sent back to Mexico. I crossed again and again and again. Finally, I landed in Buena Park, where I found a job in a cabbage field making 60 cents an hour. “Wow! 60 cents an hour!” I started planning to bring my family, but I got sent back again. I was returned a total of at least 15 times over a period of four years.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It was at the Federal Detention Center in San Pedro, (yes I am probably the only police officer in the USA that has been an inmate in a federal prison), where I swore that even if I spent the rest of my life behind bars, I would come back to the United States and that someday me and my family would become American citizens. My mother’s dream was now my dream.

At age 20, I fell in love and married an American citizen. Finally, in possession of a green card, I entered the USA legally. It felt so good, I made a U-turn and went through again.

At age 25, wanting a job my children would be proud of, I enrolled at Anaheim Evening High School to learn English. I went to night school for three years, and at age 30, obtained a high school diploma from the Anaheim Evening High School.

I enrolled at Fullerton College, and while looking at majors, my dream kicked in. I remember that I was handcuffed and arrested many times but I always admired the professionalism of the agents, even if I got hurt trying to run sometimes. “God, how I would love to be in your place,” I used to think. In my hands was a pamphlet on Administration of Justice and thought “This would complete my dream. Me a cop? I am nothing but a Huichol Indian that for the grace of God wears shoes and speaks English. How can I be a cop? But, porque no?

Age 33, I applied to join the Stanton Police and when I was ready to be sworn in, somebody asked if I was a US citizen. I wasn’t, so I became one. Shortly thereafter, I took another oath, and became a police officer. I put on a blue uniform, a shiny badge, and a gun and looked at myself in the mirror and bit my hand in case I was dreaming. It was real. For 31 years, I was a good police officer.

Officer Jose Vargas and his son Anaheim Police Chief Joe Vargas

I probably earned more medals, commendations and diplomas than any other officer in California. In 1977 I was selected as one of the ten most outstanding cops in the USA by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. I was named the most commended Hispanic police officer in the state of California and given a gold medal by the Mexican Secretary of State for assisting Mexican citizens, among many other awards.

Did I fulfill my dream? You better believe it! And the dream continues; three of my children are police officers. My mother is still alive, an American citizen by choice and she is going to die happy because she started the dream for the Vargas family, and changed all our history.

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