September 28, 2011

Define American |
Jose Antonio Vargas, who started lobbying for immigration reform after revealing in The New York Times Magazine that he has been in the U.S. illegally since he was 12, is now writing about immigration issues and critiquing media coverage. His stories will be published on the website of his advocacy organization Define American.

“Immigration is an issue I never squarely faced; it’s an issue I never fully and deeply reported on,” Vargas writes in his first post, noting that perhaps 10 of his 600 or so stories dealt with the issue. “That changes now.”

As to how he plans to report on immigration issues while lobbying for bills such as the DREAM Act (which would provide residency to illegal immigrants like him), he wrote:

Some have argued that, since I’m advocating for immigration reform, I’m no longer a journalist in the traditional sense. In a nod to Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University who has consistently criticized journalists for “View from Nowhere” style of reportage, mine will certainly be a “View from Somewhere.” At the end of the day, I am what I’ve always been: a storyteller. … I’m not just interested in stories that reflect positively on undocumented immigrants like me and those who support us; leaving aside the labels of “positive” or “negative,” I’m most interested in telling untold, surprising, perhaps even uncomfortable stories.

Vargas aims to gather people from around the country to monitor how the media report on issues.

His first post is a general critique of media coverage:

The way the media largely frames the conversation around illegal immigration is incomplete and at times glaringly inaccurate, stuck in a simplistic, us-versus-them, black-or-white, conflict-driven narrative, often featuring the same voices making familiar arguments, almost always in the context of a campaign’s (or a president’s) political calculation.

In the post, he also wrote about a talk he gave at the Excellence in Journalism conference about how the media cover immigration issues. A third-year journalism student, Vargas said, raised his hand and said that he, too is an undocumented immigrant.

Vargas told me by phone Wednesday that he’s dealt with about a dozen aspiring journalists who are in the country illegally. They’re all in their early 20s, he said, and most are still students or are just entering the job market. A couple are contractors for news organizations; for obvious reasons Vargas didn’t provide any details.

Vargas also told me that although the state of Washington revoked his driver’s license, he now has a Filipino passport. The U.S. government hasn’t tried to deport Vargas yet.

Prior coverage:

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Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens,…
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