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University of Oregon chooses undocumented immigrant to chair politics institute

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University of Oregon’s Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics has appointed Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant and award-winning journalist and filmmaker, to serve as chair for the 2017-2018 school year. As such, Vargas will steer the center’s conversations around “Borders, Migration and Belonging” for the school year.

Vargas became a prominent figure for undocumented immigrants in America in 2011 when he wrote an essay for the New York Times Magazine in which he revealed that he was an undocumented immigrant. Vargas later appeared on the cover of Time magazine for a follow-up story that he wrote.

Part of Vargas’ role as chair is to give talks at the university and in the surrounding community. On Tuesday night, Vargas spoke at an event called “Define American: My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” Two screenings of his documentary “Documented” will be held later in the semester with in-person question and answer sessions with each viewing. Vargas also released a documentary called “White People” in 2015.

Vargas is also co-teaching a class in the Department of Romance Languages named after his non-profit, “Define American,” which uses storytelling to shift the conversation about immigration. The course will “explore the relationship between media and public perception, address diverse histories of immigration in the U.S., and review academic research about portrayals of immigrants and immigration in the mainstream U.S. entertainment media,” according to an online course description.

Housed in the University of Oregon School of Law, the Law and Politics center, named after Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, “trains future public leaders to reach beyond partisan labels and conflicts to encourage fresh thinking and effective solutions to public problems,” according to the center’s website.

“The Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics encourages civic engagement and inspires enlightened dialogue by bringing students, scholars, activists, policymakers, and communities together to discuss issues affecting Oregon, our nation, and the world.” Through the years, Morse switched from Republican to Independent to Democrat.

“Living through the Trump era, I cannot think of a more compelling, provocative and harder question than ‘How do we define American?’” Vargas said in a release.

According to Vargas, Oregon is home to about 400,000 immigrants, 130,000 of whom are undocumented.

Vargas’ talk on Tuesday was co-sponsored by several university groups including the University of Oregon Division of Equity and Inclusion, The Be Series, University of Oregon Department of Cinema Studies, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, the Center for Latino/a & Latin American Studies, and the Oregon Humanities Center.

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