“I lived the American dream, building a successful career as a journalist, but I was living a lie…I’m actually an undocumented immigrant,” said Jose Antonio Vargas to radio weekly Democracy Now! in a recent interview.  He has shared his experiences with the world since he outed himself in 2011 as an undocumented immigrant in an essay published in The New York Times Magazine (  Now a new film chronicles his experience. It’s called Documented: A Film by an Undocumented American.

Movie still from the film Documented: A Film by an Undocumented American.

Still image from the film Documented: A Film by an Undocumented American.

Documented narrates Vargas’ journey to America from the Philippines as a child and his more recent journey through America as an immigration reform activist.  Vargas’ story is told against the backdrop of Washington’s stalled immigration debate to highlight the pain of family separation and the frustration of undeveloped potential for the estimated 12 million+ undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

Vargas was born in the Philippines.  His mother flew him at age 12 to live with his grandparents in the U.S.  He realized when he tried to apply for a driver’s license at age 16 that he is an undocumented immigrant.  He was four months too old to qualify for the Obama administration’s 2012 policy of deferring deportation and offering work authorization to undocumented immigrants who arrived as children.

Jose Antonio Vargas will be the keynote speaker for a symposium sponsored by the Simpson Institute for Western Politics and Leadership, which is housed at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.  The September 18 event will, among other things, explore the themes of nationhood, citizenship and belonging; values and social otherness; borders; questions of social justice; individual, national and cultural identities; the ways in which people reinvent themselves, their cultures and their worlds in new contexts; and the role language plays in controversial conversations such as assimilation and education.

Information about the symposium and links to the latest news on immigration reform can be found at  Information about the film Documented can be found at  The film will be shown in Denver on June 20 at the Sie FilmCenter at 2510 E Colfax Avenue.

-Leslie Waggener, Simpson Institute Archivist

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