Juan was born the third son of ten children on March 7, 1961, in National City, California.
Tomas and Celina Vargas, Juan's parents, moved to the United States from Mexico in the late 1940s as part of the Bracero Program and raised their children on a chicken ranch.
Taught the value of hard work by his parents, Juan attained impressive academic credentials. Juan attended the University of San Diego on scholarship, graduated Magna Cum Laude and received a B.A. in Political Science in 1983. In 1987, Juan earned a Master of Humanities from Fordham University in New York City and in 1991 earned a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School, where he was classmates with President Barack Obama.
As a young adult, Juan entered the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order, where he worked with disadvantaged communities, including orphaned children and internally displaced people in the jungles of El Salvador. For years, his work with the Jesuits focused on the health and welfare of children and issues of social justice.
Juan left the Jesuits in order to pursue family life. Two years later, he married Adrienne D'Ascoli and they returned to San Diego where Juan worked as an associate attorney with the law firm of Luce, Forward, Hamilton and Scripps. Although he enjoyed the practice of law, Juan decided to contribute to his community in southern San Diego as a public official.
Juan was elected to the San Diego City Council on February 16, 1993. On the Council, he assumed a leadership role in planning, funding, and advocating for public safety, municipal infrastructure and schools. During his eight-year tenure on the San Diego City Council Juan helped establish community-based policing, which has become a national model, fought tobacco advertising directed at children, and helped create the City of San Diego' s 6-to-6 after-school program. He also sponsored a graffiti and home rehabilitation program, known as Operation Restore, which employed homeless individuals in an effort to improve and revitalize blighted homes and neighborhoods in San Diego's urban core.
When President Bill Clinton ordered an invasion of Kosovo in 1999 to end a terrifying regime of “ethnic cleansing,” Juan and Adrienne answered the President’s call to duty and took in a refugee Kosovar family into their home for nearly two years. The family is now thriving and independent, residing in the city of El Cajon.
In 2000, Juan was elected by a huge margin to the State Assembly. As the State Representative to the 79th California State Assembly District, Juan represented the southern portion of San Diego, the western portion of Chula Vista, and the cities of Coronado, Imperial Beach, and National City. In his first year as a State Legislator, Juan was appointed Assistant Majority Leader. He expanded his work on children's issues beginning with his authorship of AB 188 - legislation that bans smoking in children's playgrounds and tot lot areas. He also introduced legislation aimed at protecting young children from the harmful effects of graphic sex and violence in arcade video games and co-authored legislation to expand before and after-school programs throughout the State of California. Juan also authored legislation to mandate life sentences for people who commit violent sex crimes against children, which served as a model for Chelsea’s Law.
Following the end of his term in the State Assembly in 2006, Juan went on to serve as Vice President of External Affairs for Safeco Insurance and Vice President of Corporate Legal for Liberty Mutual Group. Both are home, auto, and small business insurance companies and, under these roles, he helped bring jobs to Southern California communities.
In 2010, Juan answered the call to return to public service and was elected to the California State Senate. He currently represents the 40th California State Senate District, which includes the southern portion of San Diego County, portions of Riverside County, all of Imperial County and California’s entire US/Mexico border.
As a State Senator, Juan continues to work tirelessly to ensure public safety and protect services to the poor and elderly. He is Chairman of the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and serves on the following committees: Education; Business, Professions and Economic Development; Public Employment and Retirement; Agriculture; the Joint Committee on Rules; and the Select Committee on Recovery, Reform and Re-Alignment.
Juan and his wife, Adrienne, an executive at the San Diego Foundation, have two daughters, Rosa (15) and Helena (7).