Award-winning Journalist Shares Story of Being an Undocumented Immigrant

“I want to give back to a community that has given me so much.”

“For me, U.S. citizenship would be an outward manifestation of an inward truth.”

Many of America’s undocumented came to the United States as young children and grew up not knowing they didn’t have the right immigration papers. They seek an education and work as hard as any American. They are a part of and give back to our communities and are accepted as friends, coworkers, family and neighbors. As they describe in TIME Magazine’s current cover story, “We are Americans, just not legally.”

In the face of outdated federal immigration laws and many states’ recent attempts to pass socially toxic and economically self-defeating immigration enforcement laws, many immigrant Americans are “coming out” as undocumented to change the conversation around immigration and call for reform. Among them is Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a former Huffington Post editor who came to the U.S. as a child from the Philippines.

In his TIME Magazine article, Vargas explains his story and how laws like Arizona’s notorious “show me your papers” immigration law, SB 1070, affects him and affects us all. He and millions of others are fighting for their right to become citizens of the United States and to change how people view undocumented immigrants. Since Vargas shared his personal story in a New York Times essay last summer, thousands of others have “come out” and shared their stories as well. In response, Vargas started a new campaign, Define American, which brings together the stories of many immigrant Americans caught in legal limbo.

Vargas’ story, and those of people like him, illustrates the value of immigrants in America and how they view themselves as Americans too, even in the face of convoluted policies that keep them from officially becoming citizens. Vargas, who came to the U.S. when he was twelve years old, did not learn he was undocumented until he tried to get his drivers license as a teenager. He describes “an underground railroad” of teachers, friends and pastors who helped him pass as an American. His story helps illustrate how many U.S.-born friends, family and colleagues — how ultimately we are all — caught in this complicated web of immigration laws.

By sharing their stories they hope to inspire more people to come forward and help change the conversation around immigration.

The undocumented immigrants profiled in TIME have been in the U.S. since they were young and have already given so much to the community. They want nothing more than to contribute to their communities, be accepted as neighbors and become citizens. They have created roots in America. They are Americans, just not legally.

Read TIME’s series online.
Read more about Vargas’ campaign at Define American.
Follow and contribute to Define American’s conversation on twitter: #WeAreAmericans
Watch TIME’s video:

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