Vargas Invites Immigrants and Allies to Share Stories

The website Define American, founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, recently launched a new feature, enabling users to upload a video, photo, audio or text file to share their thoughts on what defines an American.

In a November 15 post on the website, Vargas set a goal of 500 contributions within a week. “Why is America special to you?” and “What is the role of immigrants and immigration in America?” were two of the prompts Vargas shared to encourage submissions.

Among the submissions already posted, Vargas singled out Julie Erfle’s. Erfle’s husband, a Phoenix police officer, was shot and killed in Setpember 2007 by an illegal immigrant who had previously been deported. His death was one of the catalysts of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070. In her video, she advocates a compassionate approach and calls for “sensible immigration reform.”

In June, Vargas revealed he is an undocumented immigrant in a New York Times Magazine article. In the article, Vargas described going to a department of motor vehicles office to get his driver’s permit and being told by the clerk that his green card was counterfeit. His grandparents – naturalized American citizens – confirmed they had obtained the false documents.

Since revealing his immigration status, Vargas has become a prominent advocate for immigration reform, and the Define American site is one of his most successful platforms. Reporting on the new stories feature, the Huffington Post pointed out that immigrants – both legal and illegal – are not the only ones who have already contributed stories. Celebrities such as Stephen Colbert and Craigslist.org founder Craig Newmark have also created submissions.

The fate of Arizona’s immigration law is uncertain, as the state’s governor has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on its constitutionality, which was challenged by the federal government. However, voters recently recalled SB 1070’s primary author and champion, the Republican president of the state senate, Russell Pearce.