A Minute With: Filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas on being 'undocumented'

Wed Jun 25, 2014 4:35pm EDT
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By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In 1993 at the age of 12, Jose Antonio Vargas said goodbye to his mother and boarded a plane in the Philippines to join his grandparents in California. It would be four more years before he would learn that he was in the United States illegally.

"Documented," the debut film of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is still without the necessary papers, premieres on U.S. cable network CNN on Sunday. It tells his story growing up and working as a newspaper reporter without legal status and without a path to reverse it.

The documentary aims to put a human face on the 11 million undocumented people in the country. Vargas said it is not "an immigration film," but a "love story between a mother and a son."

Vargas, 33, spoke with Reuters about the emotional stress of feeling "illegal," why language matters in the U.S. immigration debate and how talk show host Charlie Rose helped him act "legal."

Q: You "came out" as an undocumented person in a 2011 magazine feature. What compelled you to share your story?

A: It actually started when I was assigned to cover the presidential campaign in 2007. I spent two years and two months on that campaign trail following Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards and Sarah Palin. I didn't have the right papers and I'm on a campaign plane in Ohio.

I think that's when my madness started ... It was either someone was going to find out or I just out myself. And really for me the hardest decision to make was deciding whether I was willing to be my own story.

Q: Why make a film and not write your story?   Continued...

Journalist and director of film "Documented", Jose Antonio Vargas, poses for a photograph in Los Angeles, Californa June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian