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Who belongs in America? An undocumented journalist tells his story

Part 1 of TED Radio Hour episode What Topples Democracies.

At 16, Jose Antonio Vargas learned he was living in the U.S. illegally. As an adult, Vargas came out as undocumented and dedicated his career to broadening the idea of who belongs in America.

About Jose Antonio Vargas

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist as well as a leading voice for the human rights of immigrants. He founded the nonprofit media and culture organization Define American, named one of the "World's Most Innovative Companies" by Fast Company. He published his best-selling memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, in 2018.

In 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. A year later, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine with fellow undocumented immigrants as part of a follow-up cover story he wrote. He then produced and directed Documented, an autobiographical documentary feature film that aired on CNN and received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. Vargas is a graduate of San Francisco State University, where he was named Alumnus of the Year in 2012. An elementary school named after Vargas opened in his hometown of Mountain View, California in August 2019. He has received the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA and honorary degrees from Emerson College, Colby College and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Passionate about the role of arts in society and promoting equity in education, he serves on the advisory board of TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students.

This segment of TED Radio Hour was produced by Andrea Gutierrez, Fiona Geiran and James Delahoussaye and edited by Sanaz Meshkinpour. You can follow us on Facebook @TEDRadioHour and email us at

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Manoush Zomorodi
Manoush Zomorodi is the host of TED Radio Hour. She is a journalist, podcaster and media entrepreneur, and her work reflects her passion for investigating how technology and business are transforming humanity.
Andrea Gutierrez
Andrea Gutierrez (she/her) is an assistant producer on It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders. She's drawn to stories at the intersections of gender, race, class and ability in arts and culture.
Fiona Geiran
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
James Delahoussaye
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Sanaz Meshkinpour
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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