You know the scene in the movie, where the guy (it’s usually a guy) comes before the Senate committee and delivers a rising monologue. By the end, Senator so-and-so is banging his gavel, and flash bulbs are going off, and the gallery is in chaos. Well, in all my years covering this stuff, I’ve never seen it happen in real life, and not just because the photographers don’t use those old fashioned flashbulbs anymore.
But on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jose Antonio Vargas took a shot at making a Senate hearing more than just Senate hearing, overcoming terrible production values with an emotional appeal. Vargas is a former campaign reporter colleague of mine, who wrote a cover story for TIME last year about his new life as an activist fighting for a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented Americans, including himself. He is also a fine writer, and he came to the hearing to do what he has been doing for the last couple years, to offer himself up as a public example of what it means to be a person often called “illegal” living in America.