New York Magazine
December 9, 2011
By Gabriel Sherman
When former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a widely read New York Times Magazine essay, he committed a cardinal sin of journalism: He made himself the story. In the process he triggered a renewed debate about immigration, one that is moving back to the center stage with the upcoming debate in Iowa on Saturday night.
Having leaped with both feet onto one of the third rails of American politics, Vargas is in Iowa to engage Republican voters and candidates directly on the issue. On Friday he was ejected by police from a Mitt Romney event in Cedar Rapids, where he was carrying a sign that stated: “I am an American without papers.”
“I was not causing a ruckus,” Vargas tweeted. “I was merely trying to ask a question, which is what a journalist does.”
The Romney campaign responded that Vargas “was attending as an activist, not a journalist,” and indeed, he doesn’t have media credentials this time around. He will be blogging and interviewing voters and candidates as part of his new organization, Define American, which he co-founded to raise awareness for the nearly 12 million undocumented workers who live in the shadows. “This is way bigger than me,” Vargas told me by phone this week as he was packing for his trip. “At the very beginning, I wanted to make sure people know this isn’t a vanity act.”