Pulitzer Prize winner: I'm an illegal immigrant
Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas came to the United States from the Philippines when he was 12.
June 22nd, 2011
01:29 PM ET

Pulitzer Prize winner: I'm an illegal immigrant

[Update 9:45 p.m. ET] - Turns out the New York Times only got the story after Jose Antonio Vargas' former employer, the Washington Post, turned it down. The Times, already set to go to print, "tore up the book" to get the story in, a Times blog post reports.

Jose Antonio Vargas has written many pieces that have put him in the spotlight - including  ones on the Virginia Tech shooting that made him a Pulitzer Prize winner. But perhaps his biggest piece yet may be the one that could put him in the most precarious position - his New York Times Magazine piece in which he explains and documents his life as an illegal immigrant.

"I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore," he writes in the personal essay. "So I’ve decided to come forward, own up to what I’ve done, and tell my story to the best of my recollection. I’ve reached out to former bosses­ and employers and apologized for misleading them — a mix of humiliation and liberation coming with each disclosure."

He acknowledges what happens now is up in the air - he could end up being deported.

"I don’t know what the consequences will be of telling my story," he writes.

The article has sparked a discussion online about the decision for someone to come forward so publicly and say they were an illegal immigrant.

"We were delighted to run the piece, which we believe is an extremely provocative and well-written piece of journalism," a spokeswoman for the New York Times told CNN.

Vargas is telling his story as he ramps up an effort with the advocacy group he founded called Define American, which says "It's time to have a real conversation about immigration in our country."

And perhaps there is no way more real to begin that conversation than with Vargas detailing his own story and struggles along the way.

Vargas, who came from the Philippines when he was 12-years-old, has spent most of his life flying under the radar: Using false documents and Social Security numbers to try to make it by. He even once gave the Secret Service an illegally obtained Social Security number so he could attend a White House dinner.

Though he may be a Pulitzer Prize winner, his tale is similar to that of illegal immigrants of every stature in this country, one of living in fear of being found out at any time.

In the piece, he said the fear was constant. Vargas attempted to move forward in his professional career, working hard in several major newspapers around the country including The Washington Post, where he won his Pulitzer. He tells of the difficulties in trying to succeed at what he does so well, while trying to make sure that only key people knew about his status.

"I was trying to stand out in a highly competitive newsroom, yet I was terrified that if I stood out too much, I’d invite unwanted scrutiny," he writes.

Things became more difficult for Vargas when the e-Verify program became part of the vernacular in the legislature. The program, set up by the Department of Homeland Security, works with employers to check if prospective employers are legally eligible to work.

It wasn't until Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, which could have helped him and others who went to college or served in the military become citizens. And since he is a gay male, he also doesn't have the option of marrying an American citizen.

Finally he was tired, he said, of walking around with the question that had been posed to him after he won his Pulitzer: "What will happen if people find out?"

soundoff (1,573 Responses)
  1. Jeepgirl77

    @Duane W Actually, the Native Americans had inherent sovereignty whether it was recognized at that time or not. That's why today, you see tribes with their own soverign government and the ability to create laws within their jurisdiction as well as enforce laws, etc.

    @aguest9 Please get *your* history correct. There is, and still are, such things as Native Americans. There is, however, no such thing as the Easter Bunny.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mom of 3

    I'm a former immigration attorney and these type of stories are the saddest. Kids who were brought here by their parents who are suffering the consequences of being "illegal" when it was not their decision. You end up with someone who grew up in the U.S., considers their home to be the U.S., but yet they do not have any kind of legal status. The DREAM act at least allows these children a way out (serving in the military or earning a college degree as a way to earn citizenship), but the GOP will not support it. I feel for this gentleman and hope he has a good outcome. He is very brave.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • An American Citizen

      Well said!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • juljo

      AGREED!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Depression

      and what about your own children ? do you care if THEY have a future ? Why should we allow illegal immgrants to get citzenship if they go to college when our own people going to college can't even find jobs after they graduate ? that will REALLY help things , adding more college graduates to the compeition pool ... and as far as the military goes , we need those jobs for AMERICANS not as a free pass for illegal immgrants ...

      June 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

      The GOP won't support it unless it benefits the mass fruit and veggie growers who hire these people, especially the Mexican and Central Americans. Hypocrisy in its worst form. We need immigration reform but it must start with an effective amnesty-type set-up for those already here and it must have enough teeth for future offenders. They have them in other countries, perhaps we should lower ourselves to accepting the idea that other countries come up with good ideas, too, and not discard them, out-of-hand, simply because we didn't think of and implement them/it first?!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lawbreaker

      He should be deported, not celebrated. Talent or not, over the years he took jobs from actual American citizens.
      Being an American used to count for something, but certain parties seem to not think as much.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • John T

      yes, he suddenly became 'brave' when his ability to use ID Theft was severely crippled.

      hope he's stripped of every dime he's made here and it all applied to his due taxes. Unless this 'brave' fella has those records, since he's all honest and has integrity. Surely he was paying his taxes. right? he just forgot to mention that in the article.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I'm fine with the DREAM act's military portion, but I don't believe earning a college degree after YEARS of cheating the system should earn them any rights to be called a citizen. Have them put their lives on the line for a few years and I'll gladly call them a fellow citizen.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrBo

      What I find most appalling is how non-citizens serve in the military without being a guarantee to citizenship. With all the romanticized talk about how our troops are sacrificing themselves for us, etc, the same people who praise the troops would not hesitate to shun a non-citizen because he's apparently not "one of us."

      Similarly, here we have an obviously fruitful member of our country, and he will probably be deported. And the sad part is that we have citizens who don't even bring 10% of what Mr. Vargas bring to the table, but they are considered "good ol Americans"

      June 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil Malham

      I don't care how well you can write a story or what ever it that you do.......the bottom line is that you a illegal. You do not deserve social secuity, medicare, free medical etc. We have people that were born in this country that are doing without because they can't afford any of the above, and the States are running out of money and services because they have given all that they had to people that do not deserve it. How dare you come to this country illegally and expect or demand " your rights "............You haven't any.....go home and try your whinning with you own governmental agencies.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • David Rook

      The problem is when does the sympathy end. I live in California, were we have given into sympathy, and it is costing our citizens a lot. I do feel for some of the illegal immigrants, but at the same time I have to weigh what is right, and what becomes a wrong. I see so much sympathy towards illegals from the general public, that I could actually see some of our own students being passed over at colleges, so illegals could get into college just so they can stay in the country. After what took place after voting in prop 187 here, the Dream Act. would become the nightmare act for so many of our own citizens. Do you want to sacrafice your own citizens, just so somebody can stay here? I am proud the Republicans stop this so called Dream Act. and I am not even Republican...

      June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Molly Brown

      Mom of 3 – you obviously don't live in California to see the negative effects of illegal immigration on college bound students. It takes a nearly perfect 4.0 grade point average for a Caucasian to gain acceptance into Stanford, Berkeley and other UC quality school unless you are a minority or poor illegal immigrant. Try using the public parks on weekends. Overcrowded and full of people who ignore rules and regulations. Trash everywhere, smoking barbecue grills inside pickup trucks and car trunks. Crowded freeways that cause smog and greenhouse effects. I served over 30 years in the U.S. military. I DO NOT want illegals with questionable ethics and criminal pasts to get access to classified data. Dream Act steals the dreams of U.S. citizens and hands them over to illegal anchor babies. By 2012, over 7 billion people will inhabit the earth. Over 75% of the world's population stems from China, India, Africa, and Latin American countries. The United States cannot solve world poverty and hunger by allowing all of these people to immigrant here. We must begin by taking care of our own people (legal citizens) first and offering citizenship to ones who are educated, skilled, and not a drain to our society. Otherwise, the U.S. will become another third world country in the years ahead.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BuddahMang

    I thought all illegals did was leach off welfare and caused gang problems....I guess all those loads of B.S. Fed to me by FUX news was all lies.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      He did leach.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrBo

      They also set AZ on fire. Don't forget that.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Depression

      i'm guessing he went to college right ? did he get aid ? did he deprive an american minority of a good spot ?

      he's got a nice paying job i bet ..... sure would be nice if an AMERICAN had a nice paying job ...

      June 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • BuddahMang

      LOL Arizona, where if anything goes wrong its an illegals fault. Even when a white boy goes out and shoots up crowds of people....

      June 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kawn

      if he is such a grand person why did he lie to white house security? he should be thrown out of the country for good. I am a legal immigrant and I fiercely resent having to pay thousand upond thousands of dollars to fly here, fill outthe paperwork, study the language, learn the culture, respect the culture and pay my dues but arrogant whoa is me jerks like this have the audacity to complain about being exhausted???? Screw this jerk and send him home where he belongs.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ron

    Strip him of his prize,seize his bank account and property (he probably never paid taxes) and send him packing

    June 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • John T

      exactly.

      how honest is he really? let's see his tax records.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • BuddahMang

      Id rather have him br my fellow American than you, atleast he can man up for his mistakes and he has the type of courage that makes America great, you on the other hand seem like a coward thats mad a man born outside the US with every disadvantage possible made himself into a success while your still a trailer park king.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark K.

      Maybe we should seize YOUR property for being ignorant?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maggie May

      He probably paid more in taxes then you do. Most working illegals are unable to claim the deductions that I do as a citizen.

      I wish people would stop looking at the hype and work on the real issue.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mahi

      You r jerk. At least he has not done anything bad n moreover he is victim. All he wants an American dream to succeed in life. I agree using false identification is wrong but he don't have any choice.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob from Pittsburgh

      Mommy what is an American?

      Son an American is an illegal immigrant with seniority.!!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hawaiikaos

      He was employed, he paid payroll taxes, just under a bogus SS#. Try thinking for once. Logic is a good thing.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LEGAL immigrant

    I'm an immigrant myself, but I came here legally along with my parents. yes I understand illegal immigrants work here and do make contributions, but why is it that the US is the only country that needs to accept all comers and goers. THe US has a very open immigration policy as it is. What is the need to come here illegally? It is not a concept of civil rights, it is a concept of a country protecting its own borders and making its own decisions as to the qualifications to migrate to this country. Mexico itself has a horrible closed immigration policy. It's definitely not fair to the legal immigrants here who went through all the correct visas and processes in order to become an american citizen and gain themselves the opportunity to live in this wonderful country.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • An American Citizen

      You forgot that this nation grew out of a blending of capitalism and immigration both legal and illegal ... a fact that your tiny mind is unable to comprehend .. if you are really an immigrant, learn American history!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Quinton

      are you white?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • ad

      only US accepts illegal immigrants??? are you kidding me?

      lots of nations in this world suffer from illegal immigration.. right from the sub – saharan countries to western europe, india to malaysia/thailand.. dude, get off your high horse.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Depression

      thank you for coming here legally and followiing our laws , we LOVE immgrants such as you !

      June 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Argentina, Belgium, Canada, The Czech Republic, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore, the United Kingdom...

      The United States is far from the only country that "needs to accept all comers and goers." Get over your ethnocentrism, your country is far less altruistic than you're pretending.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • LEGAL immigrant

      I'm not white, but whatever race I am, it should not matter. Also, if you read my post carefully, you will see that I did not say that other countries did not have illegal immigration, but that here in the US seems to have a larger sheer number of illegal immigrants and a larger push to make them legal. And yes I do know my American history, I do know that most caucasian individual here in the US do probably have some ancestors that came here illegally, but again every country has a right to enact immigration laws. We should really stop using America's past, to delineate what is going to happen to America's future. Again no one is arguing against immigration, just against illegal immigration.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • have to comment...

      More than likely you and your family probably fell under the U.S. quotas system. If you were over (too many immigrants from your home country) you would not have had the opportunity to become a citizen. If not, you are really lucky to be here. Don't be too proud, what is given in this country, can easily be taken away. Always remember that. A person as yourself, should be open to granting the opportunity you had to everyone else who desires it, ever hear of "paying it forward".

      June 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • LEGAL immigrant

      actually we did not fall under the quota system. My father came to the USA 20 years ago under the sponsorship of a university to complete his postdoctoral training and over the years we have gone from G1 to H1 to a green card and finally to the coveted US citizenship. paying it forward is great but I'm not going to advocate breaking any laws. I pay it forward all the time to the children that I mentor and to helping out others maneuver their way through the immigration process, but I'm only going to advocate them to do this in a legal manner. There's a reason why almost every country in the world has immigration laws!

      June 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Darrin

    So... you people all realize that we were ALL illegal immigrants and forcefully took this land from its native people. Then... you turn around and say that "Illegal immigrants" all have to leave? Where do you think you came from!?

    June 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dee415

      Well said Darrin!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Q

      The whole "we are all illegal immigrants" thing is boring...just like reparations and apologies for slavery...its time to focus on the present. So the illegal immigrants came here illegally. People say deport them, but unfortunately they are part of the economy, so you deport 12+ million people and the US goes down in a ball of fire. Let them pay fines, back-taxes and whatever else and let them stay. Secure the border. Implement e-verify for the future. Stop focusing on "brown"immigrants. Get rid of country caps. Make it easy for high-skilled workers.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Davis

      When the posters respond with comments about 'America being made up of illegal immigrants who took the land from the Indians and Mexicans', I take time to educate them on the fact that they are only partially correct. At the early development and founding of the United States, there were NO laws regarding immigration, either legal or illegal. After the United States started organizing a governing legal system, laws were established to determine pathways to LEGAL immigration and citizenship.

      Why can't folks understand this? Why must the inept and ignorant respond with the comment 'White settlers stole the land from the Indians' when it has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue that illegal immigration are creating today?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Please show me where the native americans had ANY law whatsoever about who could and couldn't come here.

      Also, I take offense to "we all came here illegally". My family lived in Sweden until the early 1900s and entered very legally.

      There were no laws written by the Native Americans about any form of immigration policy. No law, no law broken.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan

      Oh please. If the best you can come up with is dredging up some ancient wrong done by people that have been dead for centuries to try and justify the wrongs being done today, then just keep quiet. It's a ridiculous, pointless argument with no merit whatsoever. You would have an easier time justifying the 9/11 terrorist actions using your logic than you would illegal immigration. There was no country back then, no immigration laws to break, so the situation is not even remotely similar. Was it morally wrong? Absolutely. Just as it is morally wrong now. But now, it's also illegal.

      As for where I come from, I'm a native American. I was born in America, thus I am native to America, despite wherever my ancestors LEGALLY came from. My great grandfather had to move to Brazil from Holland because the Dutch quota was full. He did it legally, despite the fact that it meant being separated from his wife for two years because she was allowed in and he wasn't.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. have to comment...

    I don't think he should be deprted, but then neither should the many illegals who have contributed to this country in one way or another be deported. It is such a joke to hear that illegals take the jobs of needy Americans of the United States, most of these so-called "needy" are too lazy to do half the work one illegal does in one hour. I don't believe it is breaking the law if one is doing what is best for the greater good of a family, or a community. Those who speak about, sending illegals back should look at themselves first, have they contributed positvely to this country, or for the greater good of others? I'll bet most are sitting back drinking beer, planning how to cheat their neighbor or the government, and being lazy. They tag on to an issue as this just to get attention they don't get at home, to show they are doing something, when in reality they're just running their mouth and displaying their lack of integrity. If they really want to do be effective citizens, then do something positive, don't hurt or display a vital part of our country, just because it makes you feel superior, after all most of you came here because you were being kicked out of your home countries in Europe for being too poor, criminals, or undesirables. Have you not learned anything that this country has offered all immigrants, which is all of us, least the Native Americans? How selfish and undeserving you are all. Go back to your native Europe, let's see if they want you back, go to your pure race in Europe, but not in the USA. We owe are existence to the blood of the Native Americans, whom we stole this land from, all of you have no business or right to exercise prejudices over others. You are proof of the "ugly Americans" many around the world have grown to hate. DO SOMETHING FOR THE GREATER GOOD, NOT FOR YOUR IGNORANT, NO STUPID SELF....GROW UP AND LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF AND OTHERS!!!!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandi

      Well said! Thanks

      June 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Davis

      ...how is it being 'an ugly American' when the facts are that people have come into the United States through ILLEGAL means? People have skirted the process of getting here LEGALLY and you want to give them a free pass to citizenship? Or amnesty?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Wow this is pathetic

    So after all this time running and being exhausted it was never ONCE thought to gain legal citizenship? Plenty of time to do it, sounds like he worked for quite some time illegally. Its not like people work every single hour of every single day, so theres no doubt he had enough time during his course of being an alien to gain legal citizenship.

    He is pathetic and wants to use his "success" to stay here. PATHETIC in every aspect, people who don't see that are just stupid. It doesn't matter what you think you can't deny he had plenty of time and opportunity while running and being so darn exhausted to become legal. If he cared to become a citizen, he would have.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Q

      I bet you have no clue how immigration even works...go educate yourself...

      June 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Davis

      Q – explain to the commentors here just how the citizenship process works. Without citing Wikipedia...

      June 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bella

      I agree. Most of my friends are immigrants from other countries. (Living in SoFLA) Some have even served in the military as residents. It took years and a lot of money to get their Citizenship, but they did. The Gov't has raised the costs and lengthen the process in the past few years. However, Mr. Vargas is in a much better position to have obtained his citizenship. I wonder if there were legal issues as to why he didn't???

      June 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maqicman

      This is one of the many problems with the American electorate. Do you know what it takes to become 'legal'? Can you humor us with how you believe he could have used his time to become 'legal'. Most people just don't understand that first obstacle. They also don't understand that a drivers license, SS Card are not proof of citizenship or legal status. Most of the American public would need a few days to prove that they are here legally.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jimbo

    I think most illegal immigrants in this country need to be sent packing. However, the ones that work hard, learn English, and actually try to integrate themselves into society like this guy, should stay. He broke the law, but whatever, he's actually contributing to society in a positive way. Give him a fine or whatever.

    The rest of them though, the ones that are not trying to become part of the country and are simply here so they can send most of their money off to their relatives back in their home country? Ship them out. They're just a burden on the country since they don't pay taxes, spend the bare minimum amount of money here, and cost us money when they have health problems and can't pay for medical care themselves, meaning the government has to.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Paul

    He should be deported.

    The exception does not carry more weight than the rule.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. juljo

    He was 12 years old when he came to this country. How do you think he got here, By himself?

    He served in the military.

    Is American educated, tax paying and by using a fake social security number he is paying into programs he will have no ability to benefit from.

    Are you afraid he is stealing your job? He's an accomplished writer. I've read your posts – trust me he is not stealing your job.

    Your views are myopic and xenophobic.

    I vote we keep him and get rid of a few of you. This place would sure be nicer.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Davis

      ... he served in the Military.

      Odd – how did his citizenship status not come into question? Or his Social Security status? Or his tax paying status?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tim

    We cannot afford to be selective, the same law applies to everyone. It is time to deport him and send him back to where he came from. He can still write from Philippines, he can just email his work. One less gay in this country is always a good thing.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mat

      One one less redneck, trailer-trash piece of s*it like you would make it even better.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Q

      Fock you

      June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob from Pittsburgh

      Wow…

      You reminded me of mother Teresa…

      June 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ryan

    Can't we give him citizenship and pick some random Mountain Dew-swilling redneck from Mississippi to deport?

    June 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kingofthenet

    Sometimes you have to abandon principles(and Laws) and due what's right for your Country, this man makes America Stronger, he stays.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jim in Georgia

    Right now in the state of Georgia, where the governor signed a very tough law about immigration, the crops are going unpicked in the fields. The farmers are loosing much money and soon the prices in the market will be going up. All this for what? Most illigals just want to work and most do jobs that others won't do. Otherwise the crops would still be picked with a 10% unemployment rate. There isn't an easy answer but I know it isn't "Send them all home".

    June 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Depression

      it's a lie to imply that all they do is pick crops , construction anyone ? fast food ? warehouses ? janitroial work ? they have taken every job they can get their hands on , and look at this guy , he's a white collar illegal immgrant , and don't think this doesn't happen , illegal immgrants don't just do blue collar jobs , they will sneek into ANY profession they can get into and displace americans .

      June 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mat

      Depression – I doubt they "sneak" into jobs. In the case of this guy, he went to school, got a degree and writes for a living. Somehow, I doubt you did any of those three.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
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