Jose Antonio Vargas Wins June Sidney for Account of His Life as an Undocumented Immigrant

By: Press Release | The Sidney Hillman Foundation

NEW YORK: The Sidney Hillman Foundation announced today that Jose Antonio Vargas has won the June Sidney Award for “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” published in the New York Times Magazine.  There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Vargas’s piece illustrates that their stories do not necessarily align with the usual media stereotypes.


Since the story ran, Vargas has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, Fox News, the Colbert Report and NPR, re-igniting the discussion on immigration reform. Vargas has also started Define American, an online campaign advocating for the DREAM Act, bipartisan legislation currently stalled in Congress, which would enable undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. as children to earn legal permanent residency.


Vargas arrived in America in 1993 at the age of 12, believing himself to be a legal immigrant from the Philippines. Seeking a better life for her son, his mother sent him to live with his grandparents in Mountainview, CA. He only learned that he was undocumented when he tried to apply for a driver’s license at age 16.


Vargas reasoned that if he hadn’t been given citizenship, he would have to earn it-by perfecting his English, excelling in school, and most importantly, by writing. Using forged documents he set out to pursue a career as a reporter, which took him from his hometown paper to the heights of American journalism.


Vargas shared a Pulitzer Prize, profiled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker, and saw his reporting on HIV turned into a documentary. But this all this time he lived in fear that his secret would be discovered. Finally, he decided that he was done hiding and set out to report the story of his own life as an undocumented immigrant.


Story highlights:

  • In 2003, Vargas had an opportunity to intern at the Washington Post, but he needed a drivers’ license. He managed to obtain one, but it was only good for 8 years. He decided to get on with his life and hope that immigration reform would pass before his only piece of official identification expired on Feb 3, 2011.
  • Vargas landed a reporting job at the Washington Post. He confided his status to his supervisor, who assured him that they’d handle the problem together. This boss was one of the “underground railroad” of supportive friends and mentors whom Vargas thanks for helping him survive as an undocumented immigrant.
  • In 2008, Vargas shared a Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post‘s coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre. When his grandmother phoned to give him the news she scolded him in Tagalog, “Anong mangyayari kung malaman ng mga tao?” (“What will happen if people find out?”).

Jose Antonio Vargas is an award-winning multimedia journalist. Most recently, he was a senior contributing editor at The Huffington Post, where he launched the Technology and College sections. Prior to that, he covered video game and tech culture, HIV/AIDS, and the 2008 presidential campaign for the Washington Post, and won a Pulitzer Prize as a part of a team that covered the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. His articles on the AIDS epidemic in the nation’s capital inspired a feature-length documentary, “The Other City,” which he co-produced and wrote. It world premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and aired on Showtime. An early chronicler of the social media revolution — which he’s referred to as the “me-in-media” — he wrote an intimate profile of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for The New Yorker.

Jose Antonio Vargas, courtesy of Define American.

The Sidney Award is given once a month to an outstanding piece of socially-conscious journalism, or a leading journalistic association, by the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which also awards the annual Hillman Prizes every spring. For more information please click here.

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