Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS


This is a book about a survivor, who bravely opened up portions of his life to us since he came out undocumented in a New York Times Magazine essay in June 2011. This is also an essential and timely book that opens up conversations about the politics of immigration.


From the cover, one may think that this book is Jose Antonio Vargas’ love letter to anything and everything that is “America” but it is actually the author’s love letter to all the people who helped him (whether they are American, Legal, documented, undocumented, white, black, etc) survive and be wherever he is right now.

The first part of Dear America recounts the author’s memoirs as he navigates his life in America as a student, as a journalist as a public figure devoid of most necessary legal documents.

The latter parts felt like some sort of a primer about the status quo of American Immigrations Laws and Policies.

Reading the book is like reading a real-life version of the earlier X-Men comics when mutants came out to public and people (who mostly don’t understand them) freaked out and persecuted them afterwards.

The power of this book is in Jose’s writing and storytelling. It is riveting and engaging at its best.  

It felt warm, like a safe space where you can feel his pain, his excitement, the thrills of his journeys, and his frustrations.  And that’s what makes it relatable not just for any Filipino immigrant, but also to anyone have felt the same shared experiences as him.

The book’s chapters flows easy and are paced in such a way that makes you yearn for more each time you finish one.

Jose’s life provides a sliver of light; some sort of a tangible perspective to the complex and ever evolving discourse about the states of the American Immigration laws and policies. 

Immigration is a topic complex enough to perplex lawmakers, journalists, newscasters, hosts, immigration officers, teachers, and most actual natural-born citizens of the United States.

However, this is not a book that will discuss immigration laws. There is a whole library of information about that out there.

This is a book that challenges us, the readers, to broaden our perspectives and to view each other more as humans as opposed to judging each other based on all the popular preconceived notions and labels of society.  

It paints one portrait of an immigrant in America but one must remember that it is just one angle from the whole spectrum that builds the whole narrative of the Immigrants in America.

“All of that aside, this country of countries, founded on the freedom of movement, must look itself in the mirror, clearly and carefully, before determining the price and cost of who gets to be an American in a globalized and interconnected twenty-first century. p.140 ”

In this book, as he opens up and narrates his stories, Jose Antonio Vargas has been questioning us all along:

It asks us “Who undocumented immigrants are supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do?” P.168

Who deserves to be in America? How do you earn your citizenship?

What have you done to deserve to be here?

How do you define American?

Why does color matter?

Does it matter if you are black, white, brown, yellow or somewhere in between?

Does being gay or being part of the LGBTQ spectrum really that important?

Are you a criminal if you are undocumented?

If you come here legally, does that make you a criminal?

If you come here legally and overstayed, what does that make you?

Don’t you think undocumented people are doing their best to get their immigration status sorted out?


Photo by  Elena Seibert

Photo by Elena Seibert

Dear America definitely opens up a personal conversation to one of the most defining and polarizing issues of our time - immigration.

And when you talk about immigration, people moving and immigrants, you also talk about survival. This is a book about a portrait of a survivor in America.


Some facts about Immigration:

Read more at:

Undocumented Americans pay $11.64 billion annually in state and local taxes.

Contributions range from almost $2.2 million in Montana with an estimated undocumented population of 4,000 to more than $3.1 billion in California, home to more than 3 million undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants nationwide pay on average an estimated 8% of their incomes in state and local taxes (this is their effective state and local tax rate). To put this in perspective, the top 1% of taxpayers pay an average nationwide effective tax rate of just 5.4%. Allowing them to work legally would increase these state and local tax contributions by an estimated $2.1 billion a year.

Source: The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP)

Undocumented Americans pay $12 billion annually to the Social Security Trust Fund.

An estimated 7 million people are currently working in the US illegally. Of those, an estimated 3.1 million are using fake or expired social security numbers, and also paying automatic payroll taxes. They pay an estimated annual net contribution of $12 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund. The SSA estimates that unauthorized workers have paid $100 billion into the fund over the past decade.

Source: Social Security Administration (SSA)/Vice News

Immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.

According to a team of economists and researchers, the economic effects of immigration are mostly positive, and encourage economic growth. Their reported “assesses the impact of dynamic immigration processes on economic and fiscal outcomes for the United States, a major destination of world population movements.”

Source: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, and be incarcerated, than the native born population.

Using data from the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey (ACS), researchers have shown that immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives, and that crime rates and levels of immigration are not correlated.

Source: CATO Institute/U.S. Census and the American Community Survey (ACS)


Jose Antonio Vargas Is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and a leading voice for the human rights of immigrants. He is the founder and CEO of Define American, the nation’s leading non-profit media and culture organization that fights injustice and anti-immigrant hate through the power of storytelling.



Dear America

Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

By Jose Antonio Vargas

Dey Street Books | Available where books are sold