An Evening in Boise with Journalist Jose Vargas 

Vargas will speak at The Linen Building on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Immigration policy and reform is a contentious issue in America, and immigrants are often vilified through different media and political narratives. According to The Immigration Council, there are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, and in Idaho, immigrants make up over 40% of the agriculture work force. Jose Antonio Vargas, author of Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, sees it as a humanitarian crisis.

“Immigration is without a doubt the most misunderstood issue in America,” he said.

Vargas, himself an undocumented immigrant, will be in Boise at the Linen Building talking about his book and his non-profit organization Define American on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. Brought to California from the Philippines when he was 12 to live with his grandparents, Vargas learned about his undocumented status when he tried to get a driver's license at 16. Deeply unsettled, Vargas decided to keep his status a secret.

In his 2011 essay published in The New York Times, Vargas wrote, “I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.”

However, all the accolades in the world don’t grant citizenship, and though Vargas has received a Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy and a Tony nomination, his citizenship has been denied.

“So how do we define 'American'? It’s a complex question to answer,” Vargas said.

He said he believes that by sharing his story and the personal stories of other immigrants, America can begin a new conversation about immigration—one that recognizes the individual struggles faced by American immigrants while also bringing to the forefront the contributions they make in their communities.

The rhetoric surrounding immigration reform has become more polarizing in recent years, devastating immigrants and the communities where they live.

“The goal for Define American and my book is using stories to change peoples perspectives,” Vargas said.

His book and the Define American organization clap back at narratives claiming immigrants are not part of the fabric of American society. Further, Vargas said that many of the negative attitudes about immigration come from the media.

“So much of what people know about immigrants comes from the media,” Vargas said. “And the media doesn’t really know what’s going on.”

That can create deep divides in opinion over what Americans stand for when it comes to immigration policies.

“It’s important not to think of immigration as just an urban issue,” Vargas said. “States like Idaho are very important regarding immigration.”

Agricultural states like Idaho are key to changing negative ideas about immigrants because these industries are so dependent on their labor.

“I’ve been very intentional about where I go, and in many ways the conversations in Idaho are more charged,” Vargas said.

As Idaho’s immigration population grows, conversations about how to include everyone’s voice can ensure that, no matter the position on policy, basic human dignity can be afforded to all.


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