Vargas talks need for more conversation on immigration reform and newsroom diversity

Jose Vargas, a journalist known for outing his immigration status in summer 2011, spoke at the annual Online News Association conference in San Francisco to talk about his Define American project, media diversity and the need for comprehensive and candid discussion on immigration.


  1. Jose Antonio Vargas had a busy morning before he delivered his keynote speech on Friday at the Online News Association's annual conference in the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. Vargas, a Filipino American, gained fame last year for his New York Times Magazine essay "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant" where he outed himself as living in the United States without the proper paperwork.
  2. Unite Here! Local 2 and other union supporters demonstrating outside the hotel confronted him as he tried to walk inside, urging him not to give his speech and accusing him of not supporting the workers.
  3. As soon as he took the podium, Vargas talked about the Hyatt protests and how it hit close to home for him. 
  4. Vargas opened up about his early life as a boy in the Philippines and the Bay Area and how he listened to Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson to learn English. But his life changed forever upon a conversation with his grandparents.  
  5. Vargas said after realizing he was an undocumented immigrant he found solace in journalism after a teacher said –– somewhat jokingly –– he should consider going into the profession. 
  6. Vargas said the explosion of social media use and it subsequently being his beat while at The Washington Post had him and his work more exposed to the general public and that he was interacting with more people every day using Facebook. Every day was a risk for Vargas being found out that he didn't have the proper immigration documents. Vargas said even after a successful interview with The New York Times in 2007 he knew deep down he would not be able to take a job there. He recounted for the audience how scared he was in 2008 after getting pulled over on his way to covering a Texas caucus for The Washington Post when he was a political reporter. "It was close enough that I had to figure out if I was going to keep pursuing it," Vargas said in an interview with the ONA Student Newsroom. After watching the Dream Act fail in the Senate in 2010, Vargas said he knew it was time to reveal himself. His decision to come out regarding his immigration status made him reflective during his speech, where he stood in front of many fellow journalists who had been his former colleagues in other newsrooms. 
  7. But since his infamous New York Times Magazine piece Vargas has been busy giving speeches around the country at various universities advocating immigration reform in multiple forms and developing Define American, a site dedicated to collecting stories of undocumented immigrants. He talked about several items journalists need to keep in mind when reporting on immigration issues.