'Documented': Alum Jose Antonio Vargas' immigration story

Thursday, May 22, 2014
Vargas (right) attends a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Iowa. Courtesy of CNN Films.

The United States is home to more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. Alum Jose Antonio Vargas is one of them, and he has taken his Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism career to advocate for immigration reform. His debut film, Documented, opened in theatres in May to critical acclaim, following several years of highly visible activism and commentary. It will debut on CNN on June 29.

“Few people have done as much to illuminate the kinks and contradictions of America’s broken immigration policy as Jose Antonio Vargas,” the Guardian writes. “Perhaps no one has done as much to put a human face on the crisis.”

Documented chronicles Vargas’ journey to America from the Philippines, his journey through America as an immigration reform activist and his journey inward as he reconnects with his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in person in more than 20 years.

“I don’t have the right papers to prove that I’m American, so I have to believe in my heart that I am American,” he said at SF State's 2012 Commencement, where he was honored as Alumnus of the Year. “I thank the kind and generous people at San Francisco State for welcoming me.”

Vargas (B.A., Political Science, ’04) moved to the U.S. at age 12, living with his grandparents in Mountain View. At 17, an SF State summer camp sparked his interest in journalism. “I attended the Bay Area Multicultural Media Academy, a two-week journalism camp for minority students. It sealed my career as a journalist,” Vargas says.

He joined the Washington Post’s news staff just two days after graduating from SF State, then in 2008 was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. In 2011, Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in an essay published in The New York Times Magazine. While accumulating professional successes, Vargas kept his citizenship status a secret until publishing his groundbreaking essay.

Vargas is founder and board co-chair of Define American, a nonprofit aimed at shaping public opinion around immigration, identity and citizenship. He also appears frequently on television to provide commentary on political topics.



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