Define American: Jose Antonio Vargas Tells His Story

Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas opens up about his life as an undocumented immigrant—and the “underground railroad” that made it possible.
Jose Antonio Vargas as a child


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas moved from the Philippines to the United States when he was 12 years old. Ever since, he has been living in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant.

Yesterday, he "came out" as undocumented in the New York Times Magazine. The decision means that he could be deported at any time; it will also make future employment very difficult. But he was inspired by the courage of others who have announced their immigration status—including four students who walked from Miami to Washington, D.C. in support of the DREAM Act—to humanize the debate about immigration in America.

Vargas also founded an organization, Define American, whose goal is to start a conversation about the moral decisions involved in our immigration debate, in part by spotlighting "a growing 21st century Underground Railroad: American citizens who are forced to fill in where our broken immigration system fails. From principals to pastors, these everyday immigrant allies are simply trying to do the right thing."


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