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Pinoy Pulitzer winner fined $378 for driving without license

CHICAGO – Filipino Pulitzer Prize winning-journalist-turned-immigration rights crusader Jose Antonio Vargas was fined $378 Wednesday after pleading guilty to driving without a valid license during his pre-trial before Judge Marilyn Kaman of the 4th Judicial District of Hennepin County in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

According to Nancy Peters, Public Affairs-Communications Specialist of the Minnesota Fourth Judicial District, Vargas “pled guilty to driving without a valid driver’s license and paid the petty misdemeanor fine of $378. His attorney signed the fine payment slip.”

It was not known if Vargas appeared in court.

There was no response to email and phone calls to Vargas’ attorneys, Lousene Hoppe and Kevin Charles Riach, and state/city lawyer Flavio Silveira Abreu, seeking comment.

The 31-year-old Vargas was driving on Interstate 35-W near 46th St. in Minneapolis at about 9 a.m. on Oct. 5 when he was stopped by a Minneapolis State Patrol officer, who ticketed him for driving without valid license.

Vargas, a native of Antipolo City, was sentenced by Judge Kaman to pay $300 for “Highway Patrol Within Muni-NG Plea-City Prosecutor,” $75 for “Criminal/Traffic Surcharge (once per case),” and $3 for “Law Library Fees” for a total of $378.

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Judge Kaman’s staff John McKenzie earlier said that if there was a full-blown trial and Vargas was found guilty of the traffic violation for “driving without valid license for vehicle class or type,” he could have merited a maximum of $1,000 fine and jailed for 90 days.

As a misdemeanor, Vargas’ traffic violation will not earn the attention of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which only deports undocumented immigrants involved in felony cases.

In his essay in the New York Times, Vargas said he obtained a driver’s license in Washington State in 2011 after his Oregon license expired.

“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It was reported that Vargas’ driver’s license was revoked by Washington state but Vargas did not surrender his driver’s license.

In his tell-all article in the New York Times last June 2011, Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the US, hoping that his hard work and love for his adopted country would give him a path to US citizenship.

In 1993, Vargas was 12 years old when his parents sent him to the US to live with his grandfather in California. He had no idea he would become one of the 11.2 million illegal immigrants living in the US as of 2011, according to Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2009 there were about 270,000 illegal immigrants from the Philippines.

In his first-person account, Vargas said his grandfather helped him produce counterfeit documents so he could obtain a driver’s license and Social Security card.

Near the first anniversary of his outing last May in Chicago, he told a group that he had been on a speaking tour in 60 events in 20 states in 11 months after writing his first-person account in the New York Times Magazine on June 22, 2011.

He admitted that because he could not get a US government-issued ID, he is using a Philippine passport issued to him by the Philippine government.

Days after he and about 2,000 undocumented immigrants made the cover of Time magazine, President Barack Obama signed on to the new policy of Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security, allowing from 1.2 million up to 1.7 million undocumented young immigrants to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Vargas, however, did not qualify for benefits under DACA, which only accepts 30-year-old applicants. He turned 31 last February.

He put up his own website http://www.defineamerican.com/ for his immigration reform advocacy.

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