Jose Antonio Vargas was born on February 3, 1981 in Antipolo, Philippines. In 1993, his grandfather paid a so-called “coyote” (smuggler) $4,500 to smuggle the boy into the United States. The grandfather subsequently obtained for Vargas a fake passport, a fake green card, and an illegally doctored Social Security card. For more than a decade, these fraudulent documents enabled Vargas to be hired by numerous employers in California.
Today Vargas claims not to have discovered that his paperwork was fraudulent until age 16, when he tried to get a driver’s permit at his local DMV and was informed that his green card was a forgery. Vargas thereafter kept his immigration status secret from most people, though he confided in his high-school principal (Pat Hyland) and a longtime school administrator (Rich Fischer), who helped him procure an illegal driver’s license.
While still in high school, Vargas in 1999 came out as gay. Years later, he condemned the Defense of Marriage Act (defining marriage strictly as a union between one man and one woman) because, among other things, it prevented homosexuals from being able to “marry [their] way into citizenship like straight people can.”
During his high-school years, Vargas interned at the local Mountain View Voice and worked as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. Hyland and Fisher then helped him secure a private scholarship that enabled him to attend San Francisco State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and black studies. During the summers between college semesters, Vargas interned for the Philadelphia Daily News and the Washington Post, the latter of which offered him a job as a reporter after he graduated in 2004.
In 2008 Vargas authored or contributed to three Washington Post articles about the April 2007 mass shootings at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University that killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. The articles were awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.
Vargas left the Washington Post in July 2009 to join the Huffington Post as a technology and innovations editor.
In a June 2011 essay published in the New York Times Magazine, Vargas publicly revealed his status as an illegal alien. Titled “My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant,” the piece received enormous publicity and elevated the author, virtually overnight, from an unknown into a high-profile immigrant-rights activist/journalist.
In 2011 Vargas collaborated with political strategist Jehmu Green, immigration activist Jake Brewer, and television commentator Alicia Menendez to establish Define American, a nonprofit initiative funded by the Tides Center for the purpose of promoting—via measures like the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform—a pathway-to-citizenship for illegal immigrants. Describing himself as a hardworking taxpayer, Vargas declared: “I’m [already] an American, I just don’t have the right papers.”
In 2012, Vargas and filmmaker Chris Weitz together produced Is this Alabama?—a documentary series advocating the repeal of HB 56, an Alabama law that: (a) authorized police to check the immigration status of criminal suspects; (b) barred illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits; (c) prohibited illegal immigrants from applying for employment; and (d) required proof-of-citizenship for voter registrations. America’s Voice and the Center for American Progress joined forces with Define American to bring the production of this documentary series to completion.
In June 2012, Vargas wrote “We Are Americans: Just Not Legally,” a Time magazine cover story about the “limbo” in which he had been living ever since revealing that he was in the U.S. illegally. In the piece, he wondered whether the Republican Party would continue to “pursue a hard-line approach, further isolating … Latinos.”
In February 2013, Vargas testified as a witness in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration. In an emotional plea to the Committee, he described himself as one of many “undocumented Americans” who “dream of a path to citizenship” and “of not being separated from our families and our loved ones.” He lamented that when people “inaccurately call me illegal,” they are “dehumanizing me…. No human being is illegal.”
That same year, Vargas wrote, produced, and directed Documented, an autobiographical movie that CNN Films broadcast in June 2014. Former Facebook president Sean Parker was the project’s lead funder and executive producer.
In July 2014 Vargas traveled (with a film crew) from Los Angeles to McAllen, Texas, “to show solidarity” with the tens of thousands of Central Americans—many of whom were minors—who were flooding illegally across America’s southern border at that time. As he prepared to return home on July 15, Vargas tweeted: “Because I don’t have any ID besides my Filipino passport, it’s going to be hard for me to actually get out of here,” and he indicated that he planned to present his Philippine passport and a pocket U.S. Constitution to airport authorities in lieu of a valid ID. When he was predictably arrested by airport security, his camera crew posted a photo of the handcuffed Vargas on Twitter.
In November 2014 Vargas praised President Barack Obama’s executive order granting immunity-from-deportation to millions of illegal immigrants as a “step in the right direction.” Citing the Constitution’s pronouncement that “all men are created equal,” Vargas said: “I actually thought they [the Constitution’s framers] were talking about me.”
In February 2015 the Los Angeles Times announced that it was partnering with Vargas in a new editorial venture, titled EmergingUS, where Vargas would “lead an effort to write commentary and produce original video, graphics and other digital content that focuses on the intersection of race, immigration, identity and the complexities of multiculturalism.”
Also in 2015, Vargas produced White People, an MTV documentary focusing on five white millennials who shared their thoughts on “white privilege,” white guilt, affirmative action, and racial identity in modern America.
Vargas has worked closely with the immigration-reform group FWD.us, whose founder, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, strongly supports Vargas’s agendas. Another close ally of Vargas and Define American is the Center for American Progress.
In 2018, Vargas published the book Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen. He described the book as follows:
“This is not a book about the politics of immigration…. This book is about homelessness … in the unsettled, unmoored psychological state that undocumented immigrants like myself find ourselves in. This book is about lying and being forced to lie to get by; about passing as an American and as a contributing citizen;… This book is about constantly hiding from the government and, in the process, hiding from ourselves. This book is about what it means to not have a home.”
In 2019, Vargas co-produced Heidi Schreck’s Broadway play What the Constitution Means to Me, which portrays the U.S. Constitution as a document that excluded and ignored the rights of women.
For additional information on Jose Antonio Vargas, click here.
Further Reading: “Jose Antonio Vargas: Pulitzer Prize Winner” (GMA News, 4-10-2008); “On Jose Antonio Vargas” (National Review, 6-22-2011); “My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant” (by Jose Antonio Vargas, NY Times, 6-22-2011); “Jose Antonio Vargas: Being an Illegal Alien Made Me a Better Reporter” (by Warner Todd Huston, 12-7-2011); “Pulitzer Prize-Winning Mountain View [High School] Alumnus Chats with Mentor” (Los Altos Town Crier, 10-15-2008); “Jose Antonio Vargas: ‘I’m an American, I Just Don’t Have the Right Papers’” (SCPR.org, 6-22-2011); “We Are Americans: Just Not Legally” (by Jose Antonio Vargas, Time, 6-25-2012); “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Hearing Before the [Senate] Committee on the Judiciary” (2-13-2013); “Jose Antonio Vargas: Why I made ‘Documented’” (CNN, 3-13-2014); “Jose Antonio Vargas: The Face of the Entitled Illegal Immigrant” (by Michelle Malkin, 7-16-2014, re: Vargas’s trip to McAllen); “Honk if You’re Ticked Off” (American Thinker, 6-6-2014, re: Vargas’s trip to McAllen); “Immigration Poster Boy Jose Antonio Vargas: Soros & Unions Linked Yet Again?” (PJ Media, 7-16-2014, re: Vargas’s trip to McAllen); “Illegal Immigrant Activist Jose Antonio Vargas: American Flag Closer to Recognizing Me” (Breitbart.com, 11-20-2014); “L.A. Times Teams with Left-Wing Illegal Alien Activist” (by John Nolte, 2-17-2015); “Gay Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ New Show ‘White People’ Is Hella Uncomfortable …” (TowleRoad.com, 7-9-2015); Jose Antonio Vargas’s Description of Dear America (JoseAntonioVargas.com, 2018); “About Jose Antonio Vargas” (JoseAntonioVargas.com).