Jose Antonio Vargas

Journalist | Activist

Jose Antonio Vargas, an influential voice on U.S. immigration policy, is himself at risk of being deported.

Born in the Philippines, Vargas immigrated to Mountain View, California, in 1993 at the age of 12. He originally made a name for himself in 2008 as part of a team of Washington Post journalists who won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. But it was in 2011 that Vargas thrust himself into the center of the immigration debate by “outing” himself as an undocumented immigrant in an essay he wrote for The New York Times Magazine. The essay went viral and launched Vargas as an immigration activist and a leading advocate for the DREAM Act.

Perhaps the greatest expression of Vargas’s influence came a year later when, a day after his Time cover story about the ongoing uncertainty surrounding his immigration status, the Obama administration announced it was halting deportations for undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who would be eligible for legal status via the DREAM Act.

In 2011, he founded Define America, a nonprofit that aims to change how Americans think and talk about immigration issues. Among its activities, the organization invites individuals to share their experiences via video. It also tries to persuade media outlets away from the use of such terms as “anchor baby” and “illegal immigrant.” As a result of Define America’s efforts, the Associated Press announced in April of 2013 that it would no longer use the term “illegal” to describe a person.

In February 2013, Vargas appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, presenting emotional testimony regarding his experiences as an undocumented immigrant. “In 21st century America,” he said in his opening remarks, “diversity is destiny. That I happen to be gay, that I speak Tagalog, my first language, and want to learn Spanish — that does not threaten my love for this country. How interconnected and integrated we are as Americans makes us stronger.”

In 2014, PEN America gave Vargas the Freedom to Write Award for his immigration advocacy. Four years later he published a memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.


Vargas’S IDEAS

  • Border Security

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  • Border Wall

    Vargas opposes the construction of any barriers at the southern border.

  • Detention

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  • Immigration Courts

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  • Undocumented Population

    Vargas is not only a prominent proponent for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants but he advocates for changing the public discourse around immigrants and influencing popular culture and media outlets to re-think language such as “illegal immigrants.”

  • ICE

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  • DACA

    Vargas supports making DACA protections permanent and passing the DREAM Act

  • Asylum

    Vargas has called for a re-examination of the existing asylum laws. He opposed former President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

  • Central America Policy

    Through Define America, Vargas has worked to move the country away from stock language often associated with Central Americans — such as “caravan” — to get Americans to be more thoughtful about these descriptors and move closer to viewing each migrant as a human being.

  • Visas

    Vargas pointed out in a 2019 interview that “undocumented workers in the past decade have contributed $100 billion into the Social Security fund” and yet they cannot access the social safety net because of their status. He supports increased use of temporary worker visas so that everyone who pays into government programs can use those programs when they are needed.

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