Jose Antonio Vargas

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jose Antonio Vargas
Jose Antonio Vargas at Knight Foundation 2010 News Challenge.jpg
Vargas as a judge at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 2010 News Challenge.
Born(1981-02-03) February 3, 1981 (age 33)
Antipolo, Republic of the Philippines
EducationBachelor of Arts
Alma materSan Francisco State University
OccupationJournalist, filmmaker, activist
OrganizationDefine American[1]
AwardsPulitzer Prize
The Sidney Award
Jump to: navigation, search
Jose Antonio Vargas
Jose Antonio Vargas at Knight Foundation 2010 News Challenge.jpg
Vargas as a judge at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 2010 News Challenge.
Born(1981-02-03) February 3, 1981 (age 33)
Antipolo, Republic of the Philippines
EducationBachelor of Arts
Alma materSan Francisco State University
OccupationJournalist, filmmaker, activist
OrganizationDefine American[1]
AwardsPulitzer Prize
The Sidney Award

Jose Antonio Vargas (born February 3, 1981) is a journalist, filmmaker, and immigration activist. Born in the Philippines and raised in the United States from the age of 12, he was part of The Washington Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting in 2008 for their coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings online and in print.[2] Vargas has also worked for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Daily News, and The Huffington Post.[3]

In a June 2011 essay in The New York Times Magazine, Vargas revealed his status as an "undocumented immigrant"[3] in an effort to promote dialogue about the immigration system in the US. It was also a way to advocate for the DREAM Act, which would help children in similar circumstances have a path to citizenship. A year later, a day after the publication of his Time cover story about his continued uncertainty regarding his status, the Obama administration announced its halt to the deportation of undocumented immigrants under age 30 eligible for the DREAM Act; Vargas himself does not qualify due to his age.[4]

Vargas is the founder of "Define American", a non-profit organization intended to open up dialogue about the criteria people use to determine who is an American. About himself he says, "I am an American. I just don't have the right papers."[5]

Personal life and education[edit]

Vargas was born in Antipolo,[6] the Philippines. In 1993, when Vargas was 12, his mother sent him to live with his grandparents in the US, but without obtaining authorization for him to stay in the country permanently.[3] In Mountain View, California, he attended Crittenden Middle School and Mountain View High School.[7] He did not learn of his immigration status until 1997, at age 16, when he attempted to obtain a California driver's license with identity documents provided by his family which he then discovered were fraudulent. He kept his immigration status secret, pursuing his education and fitting in as an American, with the help of friends and teachers, using false documents including a green card, Filipino passport, and a driver’s license that helped him to avoid deportation.[3]

His high school English teacher introduced him to journalism,[8] and in 1998, he began an internship at the Mountain View Voice, a local newspaper. He later became a "copy boy" for the San Francisco Chronicle. Unable to apply for traditional financial aid due to his status, with the help of his high school principal and school superintendent Vargas secured a private scholarship[9] to attend San Francisco State University, gaining a degree in political science and Black studies. In the summers during college he interned for the Philadelphia Daily News and for The Washington Post.[7]

Vargas came out as gay in high school in 1999, a decision he describes as being "less daunting than coming out about my legal status".[3] He has spoken out against the Defense of Marriage Act, labeling it an immigration issue that disadvantages him from "marry[ing] my way into citizenship like straight people can".[10]


Work for The Washington Post[edit]

In 2004, immediately after graduating from San Francisco State he was hired by The Washington Post[7] Style section to cover the video-game boom. He became known for his anecdotal coverage of the HIV epidemic in Washington:[11] His coverage was adapted into a 2010 documentary called The Other City.[7] In 2007, he was part of the Washington Post team covering the Virginia Tech shootings, earning a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.[2]

When Vargas made a pitch for himself as a politics reporter for the Post, he told his editor, "You need someone to cover the presidential campaign who has a Facebook account and who looks at YouTube every day." Vargas went on to cover the 2008 presidential campaign,[11] including a front-page article in 2007 on Wikipedia's impact on the 2008 election.[12]

He also wrote an online column called "The Clickocracy" on the Post’s website.[13]

Pulitzer Prize[edit]

Vargas authored or contributed to three Washington Post articles about the Virginia Tech shootings that were awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.[2]

In "Students Make Connections at a Time of Total Disconnect," from April 17, 2007, Vargas reported on the role of technology in students’ experiences during the Virginia Tech shootings.[14] He described graduate student Jamal Albarghouti running towards the gun shots when he heard them, taking out his cell phone to take a shaky, one-minute video that would later air on "This is what this YouTube-Facebook-instant messaging generation does," Vargas wrote. "Witness. Record. Share." The article also discussed the role of Facebook, which students used to keep in touch during the event. Albarghouti returned to his apartment to find 279 new Facebook messages, Vargas recounted, and another student, Trey Perkins, faced a similar inundation.

Vargas contributed to the article " 'Pop, Pop, Pop': Students Down, Doors Barred, Leaps to Safety," which was published on April 17, 2007.[15] Through interviews with eyewitnesses, the story recounts the events of the Virginia Tech shootings. He also contributed to the article "That Was the Desk I Chose to Die Under," which ran in The Washington Post on April 19, 2007.[16] Vargas was able to gain an interview with an eyewitness to the shootings by approaching him through Facebook, he explained to GMA News. “I got him on the phone, we talked for about 25 minutes, and he was the only eyewitness we had on the story, so it was a critical part of it," Vargas explained.[6]

Work for The Huffington Post[edit]

In July 2009, Vargas left the Post to join The Huffington Post, part of an exodus of young talent from the paper.[17] Arianna Huffington introduced herself to Vargas at a Washington Press Club Foundation dinner after overhearing someone mistake him for a busboy.

Vargas joined Huffington Post as Technology and Innovations Editor where he created a "Technology as Anthropology" blog and launched the Technology vertical in September 2009 and the College vertical in February 2010.[18]

Other work[edit]

Vargas's articles on the AIDS epidemic in the nation's capital inspired a feature-length documentary, The Other City, which he co-produced and wrote. Directed by Susan Koch and co-produced by Sheila Johnson, it premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival[19] and aired on Showtime.[20]

In September 2010, Vargas profiled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in an article for The New Yorker.[21][22]

Immigration law advocacy[edit]

I define "American" as someone who works really hard, someone who is proud to be in this country and wants to contribute to it. I'm independent. I pay taxes. I'm self-sufficient. I'm an American, I just don't have the right papers. I take full responsibility for my actions, and I'm sorry for the laws that I have broken.

Jose Antonio Vargas[5]

In 2011, Vargas wrote an essay for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, in which he revealed that he is an "undocumented immigrant", detailing how he came to discover this as a teenager and kept it hidden for almost 15 years, during which time he worked, paid taxes, and worried that his status would be exposed.[3] Vargas's essay received much media attention and was at the top of the Times "most-emailed" list the week it was published.[23] He received the June 2011 Sidney award for his essay, an award given by The Sidney Hillman Foundation to the "outstanding piece of socially-conscious journalism" published each month.[24]

Vargas founded "Define American" in 2011, a non-profit project aimed at facilitating dialogue about immigration issues including the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship through education or service in the military.[3] The organization also invites individuals to share their experiences via video.[8][25] In 2012 through Define American, Vargas began to monitor the use of the term "illegal immigrant" in the media, hoping to influence news organizations to instead refer to them as "undocumented", what Vargas argues is a less dehumanizing term. His targets include The New York Times and the Associated Press.[26] In April 2013, the Associated Press announced that they will no longer use the term "illegal" to describe people, and specifically that they would abandon the term "illegal immigrant"; The New York Times said they also were reviewing their style guides regarding the term. Vargas hailed the AP's decision, saying that he hopes other news organizations follow their example.[27]

In 2012 Vargas worked with filmmaker Chris Weitz on a group of four short documentaries entitled Is this Alabama? about the effects of Alabama's immigration legislation.[28][29] The documentary, which advocates the repeal of HB 56, is a collaboration of Define American, America's Voice, and the Center for American Progress.[30]

In June 2012 Vargas wrote a cover story for Time magazine about the uncertainty of his life "in limbo" in the year since he revealed himself publicly as an undocumented immigrant.[4] The day after the article appeared, President Obama announced that his administration would halt deportations for undocumented immigrants under age 30 who would qualify for DREAM Act relief, and provide work permits for them, allowing them to remain in the US legally;[31] Vargas, at age 31, however, is not eligible for this program, but hailed it as a "victory for DREAMers".[32]

In the years since revealing his status in 2011, Vargas has become the public face of undocumented immigrants, including emotional testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in February 2013.[9][33][34]

Vargas has worked closely with the tech advocacy group,, in their efforts to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. He referred to the growing collaboration between Silicon Valley leaders and immigrant activists as a "marriage of unlikely allies" that bodes well for the passage of reform.[35] Mark Zuckerberg, who has mostly kept a low public profile, spoke before the screening of "Documented," to introduce Vargas and pitch to House members to keep up reform momentum. Zuckerberg recounted his experience tutoring undocumented students as his inspiration for starting[36]

In November 2013, Vargas served on the panel of judges for the DREAMer Hackathon hosted by at LinkedIn headquarters. He was joined by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman, and President Joe Green. The 24-hour hackathon brought together undocumented immigrants and Silicon Valley tech veterans to create immigration reform advocacy projects.[37] The panel selected Push4Reform, a web application developed by a team of DREAMers to connect supporters to Congress, as the winning advocacy tool.[38]


  1. ^ "Our Team". DefineAmerican. 2011. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "Breaking News Reporting". The Pulitzer Prizes ( Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Vargas, Jose Antonio. "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant", The New York Times, June 22, 2011, accessed June 22, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Vargas, Jose Antonio (June 25, 2012). "Jose Antonio Vargas' Life as an Undocumented Immigrant". TIME. Retrieved June 15, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Berestein Rojas, Leslie (June 22, 2011). "Jose Antonio Vargas: 'I'm an American, I just don't have the right papers'". Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Ilustre, Jennie L. "Jose Antonio Vargas: Pulitzer Prize Winner", GMA News Online, April 10, 2008, accessed June 23, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d "From MV to D.C.: Pulitzer Prize-winning Mountain View alumnus chats with mentor". Los Altos Online. October 15, 2008. Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Younjoo Sang (February 22, 2012). "Jose Antonio Vargas calls for immigration reform". Michigan Daily. Retrieved March 4, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b "SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TESTIMONY: Jose Antonio Vargas". United States Senate. February 13, 2013. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Jose Antonio Vargas On John McCain: Gay Undocumented Journalist Criticizes Senator's Immigration Stance (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. 2013-02-01. Retrieved 2013-03-30. 
  11. ^ a b "Blogs Are Yesterday. Now It's Vlog Time.,". Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  12. ^ Vargas, Jose Antonio (September 17, 2007). "On Wikipedia, Debating 2008 Hopefuls' Every Facet". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 5, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Jose Antonio Vargas work". Retrieved 2013-12-05. [dead link]
  14. ^ "Students Make Connections at a Time of Total Disconnect". April 17, 2007. Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  15. ^ "'Pop, Pop,Pop': Students Down, Doors Barred, Leaps to Safety". April 17, 2007. Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  16. ^ "That Was the Desk I Chose to Die Under". April 19, 2007. Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Young Stars Leaving the Washington Post". Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  18. ^ Calderone, Michael (July 21, 2009). "WaPo's Vargas heads to HuffPost". Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  19. ^ Lazarus, Catie "Tribeca Talks: The Other City". April 30, 2010, accessed June 23, 2011.
  20. ^ "The Other City", Showtime website, accessed June 22, 2011.
  21. ^ Vargas, Jose Antonio. "The Face of Facebook" The New Yorker, September 20, 2010.
  22. ^ "The New Yorker Profiles Mark Zuckerberg". September 13, 2010. Retrieved June 25, 2011. 
  23. ^ Martin, Courtney E. (June 28, 2011). "For Undocumented Immigrants, Activism Can Invite a Deportation Threat". The Nation. Retrieved June 29, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Jose Antonio Vargas Wins June Sidney for Account of His Life as an Undocumented Immigrant". The Sidney Hillman Foundation. July 15, 2011. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  25. ^ "Yes! Magazine". Yes! Magazine. Positive Futures Network. June 23, 2011. Retrieved March 4, 2012. 
  26. ^ Hesson, Ted (September 21, 2012). "Jose Antonio Vargas Challenges NYT and AP To Drop 'Illegal Immigrant'". ABC News. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  27. ^ Costantini, Christina (3 April 2013). "'Illegal Immigrant' Nixed by AP". ABC News. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  28. ^ Brookes, Julian (February 24, 2012). "Oscars: How A Better Life's Chris Weitz and Demian Bichir Got Political". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  29. ^ Bickham, Tamika (February 22, 2012). "Alabama's Illegal Immigration Law Gets Attention From Hollywood". CBS 8 News: WAKA Montgomery. Retrieved March 19, 2012. 
  30. ^ "‘Is This Alabama?’ Documentary Pushes For HB 56 Immigration Law Repeal – Huffington Post". Birmingham Observer. February 15, 2012. Retrieved March 19, 2012. 
  31. ^ Franke-Ruta, Garance (June 15, 2012). "Obama's Game Changer on Young Illegal Immigrants". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 15, 2012. 
  32. ^ Hudson, John (June 15, 2012). "New Immigration Policy Won't Save Jose Antonio Vargas". The Atlantic Wire. Retrieved June 15, 2012. 
  33. ^ Sherer, Michael (February 14, 2013). "Jose Antonio Vargas’ Emotional Senate Testimony". Time. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  34. ^ Vargas, Jose Antonio (February 13, 2013). "My Family’s Papers". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^

External links[edit]