Jose Antonio Vargas

Immigrant rights advocate, founder of Define American
Jose Antonio Vargas, author of "Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen," is the founder of Define American, a nonprofit organization that uses stories to shift the narrative on immigrants.

Why you should listen

A leading voice for the human rights of immigrants, Jose Antonio Vargas founded the nonprofit media and culture organization Define American, named one of the "World's Most Innovative Companies" by Fast Company. He published his best-selling memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, in 2018.

Vargas recently coproduced Heidi Schreck's acclaimed Broadway play What the Constitution Means to Me, which was nominated for two 2019 Tony awards, including Best Play. In 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. A year later, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine with fellow undocumented immigrants as part of a follow-up cover story he wrote. He then produced and directed Documented, an autobiographical documentary feature film that aired on CNN and received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. Also in 2015, MTV aired White People, an Emmy-nominated television special he produced and directed on what it means to be young and white in a demographically-changing America.

Among many accolades, Vargas has received the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA and honorary degrees from Emerson College, Colby College and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Passionate about the role of arts in society and promoting equity in education, he serves on the advisory board of TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students. A product of the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a proud graduate of San Francisco State University ('04), where he was named Alumnus of the Year in 2012, and Mountain View High School ('00). An elementary school named after Vargas opened in his hometown of Mountain View, California in August 2019.

Jose Antonio Vargas’ TED talk

More news and ideas from Jose Antonio Vargas


Rethinking the term ‘illegal’ immigrant: Because people can’t be illegal

April 8, 2013

Last week, the Associated Press announced its decision to remove the term “illegal immigrant” from the AP Stylebook. In a blog post by Director of Media Relations Paul Colford, AP’s executive editor Kathleen Carroll revealed the news: “The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person. […]

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