Jose Antonio Vargas wins June Sidney Award | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Jose Antonio Vargas wins June Sidney Award

The Sidney Hillman Foundation is very proud to announce that Jose Antonio Vargas is the winner of this month’s Sidney Award for excellence in journalism for his powerful and thought-provoking autobiographical story, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.”

When Vargas’ mother put him on a U.S.-bound flight from Manila one late summer morning in 1993, the twelve-year-old had no idea he was about to become one of our nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. He thought he was imigrating legally, as his grandparents, a security guard and a food service worker, had done years earlier. Vargas learned his true immigration status four years later when a clerk at the DMV informed his that his Green Card was forged. Like many immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, Vargas was trapped. He reasoned that if citizenship hadn’t been given to him by birth or bureaucracy, he’d have to earn it.

With the help of an “underground railroad” of sympathetic friends and mentors, Vargas rose from his hometown paper to the heights of American journalism. Along the way, he shared a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post’s coverage of the Viriginia Tech massacre, saw his reporting turned into a documentary, and profiled facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker.

All this time, Vargas was haunted by his immigration status. The strain of keeping such a terrible secret ate away at his sense of security and his ability to feel close to others.

Vargas had hoped that the DREAM Act would pass before his last piece of official ID expired on his 30th birthday. The DREAM Act is 10-year-old piece of bipartisan legislation, currently stalled in Congress, that would give undocumented young people who were brought to this country as children the opportunity to earn legal permanent residency by going to college or serving the the military.

When the DREAM Act failed in the Senate, Vargas realized that the involuntary charade had gone on long enough. He decided to come forward in the hopes that his story would catalyze a more realistic debate about immigration in this country.

Learn more about Vargas and his piece in the Backstory, an email Q&A with Lindsay Beyerstein.