Activist for Undocumented Students Punks Audience with Fake Apology for Discriminatory College Applications

Daniel Vargas, the communications director of Common Application, a widely used college application for more than 400 American colleges and universities, made a remarkable speech on Monday at this year’s National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) in American Higher Education. In accordance with the conference’s goal of addressing the resurgence of racist incidents in higher education, Vargas announced to the 2,000-plus audience that he and the Common Application “apologize to the undocumented American community for years of discrimination.”

He went on to say that the Common Application would add “Undocumented American” to the demographics section of the application, as well as “Undocumented Status” to the application’s non-discrimination clause. This second addition would legally bind all member institutions to consider and accept undocumented students who apply using the application.

In his speech Vargas spoke of the changes, saying,

In the coming days, people will call this change many things. But we gathered here know that equality is not radical but is common sense; and the undocumented American community, which is represented here today, knows that this change could not come soon enough. So for both NCORE and the Common App, our commitment to equality, integrity, and college access cannot end here. Indeed, this is where it begins.

The audience at the conference applauded and cheered.

The announcement quickly received press from, VOXXI and Cuentame where it was called a “major victory” for the undocumented community.

NCORE even tweeted: “The @Commonapp will now provide better access for #undocumented students applying for college #NCORE2013 #undocuequality”

"#Undocuequality" recieved an abundance of praise on Twitter as well. 

But amidst the celebration was a catch: Daniel Vargas doesn’t work for the Common Application. In fact, he’s not even a real person.

When Colorlines tried to verify the story with Common Application director of outreach, Scott Anderson, he said, “There is no one named Daniel Vargas on our staff or board of directors,” and that “The Common Application has not made any announcement regarding undocumented students.”

Then who was Daniel Vargas?

His real name is David Ramirez, and he is an undocumented activist who was working in collaboration with multiple immigrant rights groups including Immigrant Youth Justice League and Freedom University. His impersonation was their call for attention to the discrimination and blockades undocumented students face in higher education. According to one study, these barriers have made it so as little as 5 percent of undocumented students ever attend college.

Consulted by the satirical activist duo group the Yes Men, Ramirez’s impersonation was something the Yes Men call “identity correction,” a strategy that “corrects” the actions and behaviors of disliked persons.

When asked why they chose this tactic, Ramirez said, “Sometimes in activism we think of ourselves so seriously that we become inaccessible. So here we wanted to have some fun. Activism should be fun. Democracy should be that way.”

But the prank also had a humiliation factor. On Twitter, immigrant rights supporters further criticized the Common Application after the hoax was revealed, but also laughed along with the news. One supporter tweeted, “How embarrassing is it for #CommonApp to have to announce that they in fact still discriminate LOL #undocumented #education”

Unsurprisingly, though, the Common Application has not issued any other public statement regarding the hoax, choosing to ignore it instead. Ramirez and his undocumented peers also invited Rob Killion, the Common Application executive director, to meet with them to discuss the hopes and struggles of undocumented students. Killion has yet to respond to their invitation.

The hoax, though, ultimately represents the undocumented movement’s diversity in strategic tactics—a quality Ramirez says has proven absolutely fundamental to the resilience of the community and its activism.

He said, “I want my community to be a resilient one because we are under attack, and the Common App is just one example of that attack.”

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