- • Member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus • Supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens
Juan Vargas was born in National City, California, on March 7, 1961. His father had immigrated from Mexico to the United States in the late 1940s by way of the Bracero Program, which brought millions of Mexican guest workers to America. Juan earned a BA in political science from the University of San Diego in 1983, a Master of Humanities from Fordham University in 1987, and a JD from Harvard Law School, where he was a classmate of Barack Obama, in 1991.
As a young adult, Vargas entered the Jesuit religious order and worked for a number of years with poor communities in El Salvador. He then returned to San Diego to pursue a career as a lawyer. Turning an eye toward politics as well, Vargas served in the San Diego City Council from 1993-2001, and in the California State Assembly from 2000-06 (including a stint as Democratic majority leader).
After leaving politics for four years in order to work again as an attorney, Vargas was elected to the California State Senate in 2010. Two years later, the voters of California’s 51st Congressional District elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he continues to serve as a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), among others.
For a single day during his first term in Congress — December 5, 2013 —Rep. Vargas participated in an organized fast whose purpose, he explained, was to raise public awareness regarding the need for “humane comprehensive immigration reform.” On numerous occasions, Vargas has made it clear that such reform must include a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal aliens residing in the United States.
In the summer of 2014, when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were illegally flooding across the Mexican border and into a number of southern U.S. states, Vargas and other CHC members issued individual statements urging immediate government action on this “humanitarian crisis.” “It is our duty and international obligation to provide due process for the children and families fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries,” said Vargas. “We must come together and treat them with dignity, compassion, respect and love.”
Vargas co-sponsored the DREAM Act of 2017, legislation aiming to legalize and eventually naturalize a large number of so-called “Dreamers” — i.e., illegal-alien teens and young adults who first came to the United States as minors. He also has been a strong backer of former President Barack Obama‘s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action of 2012, which conferred temporary protection from deportation upon at least 800,000 Dreamers.
Vargas was angered when House Republicans in 2015 challenged yet another Obama executive action — Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) — which offered similar protections to several million additional illegals. Citing the need to uphold “human dignity,” the congressman released a statement defending the DAPA program on grounds that it “offered relief to immigrants who currently live in the shadows, in constant fear of being separated from their families.”
When Donald Trump, whose 2016 presidential campaign had emphasized the need to uphold existing immigration laws, was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, Vargas was one of several dozen Democrats who boycotted the event. “I studied to be a priest for a long time and we all make mistakes, the congressman explained. “But the things that he [Trump] has said, the mocking of disabled people in particular, the things he’s said about Mexicans, it would be very hard for me to be in a place like that celebrating.”
As Trump began his tenure in the Oval Office, Vargas vowed to stand up to the president’s “anti-immigrant rhetoric,” his “demonization of immigrants,” and “any efforts of mass deportations.” When Trump issued a pair of executive orders in January 2017 — one calling for the construction of a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, and another seeking to deny federal funds to sanctuary cities — Vargas said that such “shameful” and “divisive” measures would not only “betray our nation’s values,” but also would “not bring us any closer to achieving comprehensive immigration reform and … [would] not make America safer.”
In July 2017, Vargas lamented that as a result of President Trump’s anti-DACA stance, “unfortunately some of these Dreamers are becoming nightmares for themselves.” Two months later, he stated that “Congress needs to pass the DREAM Act now,” in order to “help secure the future of these hardworking, young Dreamers who call America home and contribute so much to our country.”
In October 2017, Vargas joined 120 fellow members of Congress in signing a letter expressing their “deep disappointment” over President Trump’s announcement that he planned to admit no more than 45,000 foreign refugees to the U.S. in 2018. The signatories asserted that this number was “woefully insufficient when compared to the millions of people who have been forced to flee their home countries,” and that 110,000 would have been a more appropriate figure. “As a nation of immigrants,” added Vargas and his allies, “our country has a long history of welcoming newcomers of all different backgrounds. Any efforts to require refugees [to] meet an assimilation standard misunderstands the purpose of our resettlement program which is to assist the most vulnerable.”
In January 2018, Vargas decided to boycott President Trump’s first “State Of The Union” address. “I will not be attending the State Of The Union,” said the congressman. “I don’t want to pretend in any way that I support this president. I don’t want to be two-faced…. I’d be happy to go again, but I’m not going to do that until he starts acting presidential, respecting women, respecting people of color and immigrants.”
On January 25, 2021, Rep. Joaquin Castro introduced legislation that would bar staffers at all federal agencies “from using the derogatory term ‘alien’ to refer to an individual who is not a citizen or national of the United States.” The bill was co-sponsored by Vargas and 10 additional members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — Raul Grijalva, Nanette Diaz Barragan, Darren Soto, Sylvia Garcia, Jesus Garcia, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Pete Aguilar, Lori Trahan, Veronica Escobar, and Ruben Gallego.
For an overview of Vargas’s voting record on a variety of key issues, click here.
Further Reading: Biographical information at Vargas.house.gov and Smartvoter.org; “Vargas Passes Immigration Reform Fast to Rep. Joe Garcia” (12-5-2013); “Vargas: “I Didn’t Realize the Partisan Divide Would Be So Deep” (NBCLatino.com, 7-29-2013); “CHC on Unaccompanied Minors Situation” (7-11-2014); “Rep. Vargas Statement on [DAPA]” (5-9-2015); “Vargas to Boycott Trump’s Inauguration…” (San Diego Union Tribune, 1-17-2017); “Vargas Statement on President Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Executive Orders” (1-25-2017); “Vargas To Boycott State Of The Union” (KPBS.org, 1-29-2018).