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. s1owens

    Deport him ASAP.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. read this

    Illegal in the US is not a crime. It's a civil offense. Speeding on the highway is the same thing. You get a ticket, pay the ticket, and keep on going. They don't throw you our of your house for that do they... Pay the offense! If your good for this country you stay! If not GO! Mind you, there are plenty of people of this country that should also GO! But that's another story!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • billhensen

      are you clueless, braking immigration laws, having false social secuity numbers are CRIMES, felonies in fact

      June 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • read this

      Hey, people have to survive! Make no mistake about that! And you mean to tell me that your belt is clean as a whistle?? Look around you!! Everyone brakes some law or another and never go to jail for it.(Walk into almost any bank and you'll find someone) And they don't do it to survive. They just want a little more. Like I said, PAY THE OFFENSE!!! Now how much money do you think that will be for the government's budget?? A whole lot more than rich individuals combined would give. Think about it, 5000 per illegal person. And they will pay to stay in the USofA!!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mara

      uh...it's called a CRIMINAL misdemeanor (or a FELONY if you are a multiple offender) and is found under the US Federal CRIMINAL Code for a reason. That the government usually waives the charges in lieu of voluntary deportation in *no way* negates the criminality of the offense.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. brown

    Your still illegal. Get out!

    We have million of people who want to migrate to America legally!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. NewsRaider

    "Talk about immigaration in our country," he says. This is not his country!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan No

      Haha, turns out I was NOT the only one who caught that part. Sure is a nice turn of phrase, but HIS country is in the Phillipines, and NOT the US.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      Lol I know right! He has no affiliation, friends, family, or reason to stay here am I right! How dare anyone else try to talk about how much they love living here! That's for ME to do, because i'm AMERICUN!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raffly

      You are right, US is not his country. also it's natural that he or anybody who were brought here when they were kid, feel that way. He's been violating laws, also he's been giving things to this country.
      But again, you white people also illegal people, this land was native american Indian's land. you, your father, your mother, and all non american indian are illegal.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. deport them all

    deport him, he's a criminal by FEDERAL standards.

    Anyone here illegally is taking resources away from those here legally. Enuff is enuff...there are bleeding heart stories all over the world....

    I'm an American and my son is an American, he should get every opportunity America has before any illegal immigrants gets a french fry!!!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • brown

      Totally agree!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      IIt's spelled "enough", and no one is going to give your son or any illegal person a free french fry. If your son was smarter (sadly he comes from bad genes) he would have all the opportunity he would ever need. Its opportunity, not a free ride.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jarrett

      Maybe your son isn't qualified enough, I doubt with a father like you that he would even get close to a Purlitzer Price, hey the welfare office gives plenty of opportunity

      June 22, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      I love how facts have no place in discussion anymore. It's a proven fact that illegal immigrants pay taxes and take up less resources because they do not get social security or other benefits, and yet people willingly ignore that fact. Illegal immigrants by in large don't do high level education jobs, and generally work for less than minimum wage doing farm labor and meat packing cleaning. When will people stop hiding their racism and scapegoating under the guise of "patriotism" and recognize their fear for what it is? Probably never: it's too easy to blame someone else. Doesn't mean those people shouldn't be ashamed of themselves regardless.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Let me remind you that America is a country of immigrants and illegal, all descendants are from hundreds of countries, no to racism! Dont be an ass o!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      My, my, we are filled with hate. I hope you and your son never need any help: wait, I'll throw you a french fry.

      Now STFU.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raffly

      are you and your son too dumb to compete with illegal immigrant? You dont have any pride when you blame illegal immigrant for your son failure to compete with other people especially illegal/legal immigrant. I am asian, and yes we study very hard, I went to university here in Florida, and I think it was too easy for me to get all A's.
      Wake up people, there are many opportunities in this country, blame yourself for your failure, get up and be strong...no more whinny phinny........

      June 22, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mary

    It's very easy for people born and raised in this country to judge illegal immigrants but you have the luxury of being judgemental BECAUSE you were born here and have not had to face some of the hardships illegal immigrants have dealt with. Everyone knows we need immigration reform but that does not mean we need to treat good people like hardened criminals. We need to secure our border to the south and face the reality that there is a violent war going on that is dangerous to both Mexicans and the citizens of our country. We need to implement a practical program that will allow illegal immigrants who are here working to come out of the wood work and out of the fear and let them pay taxes (some of them already do) and help the rest of us with the burden of the system. Both Mexico and the US should work together to create a system to allow the hardworking immigrants to move between these two countries legally and safely and provide some kind of identification card and background check. Let the ones who are honest and scared and hardworking come into the light so we can identify them and they can start paying taxes. It will take years to reform immigration but there are steps we can take immediately to help sort out this mess. There is no reason we should be spending millions of dollars on our northern border and ignoring the obvious chaos on our southern border. Mexico and the United States are on the same continent and that makes us all Americans.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • zookz

      We have the privilege of not facing the hardships that illegal immigrants face because most of us wouldnt think to enter a country illegally. Roll the dice, pay the price. No one forced illegal immigrants to break US laws, but since they have, they must face the consequences, with no one to blame but themselves.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erin

      Thank you Mary, I feel the same way & you said it beautifully.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cam

      I am a citizen of the U.S. but born in another country and had to get my papers the legal way. It's possible.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • LanaS

      @Mary, please explain the hardships? Free healthcare, welfare, schools for their children, housing, no taxation. There maybe hardships in the country they came from, but there are Americans here that face those same hardships in there communities. We have American children threatened daily because they live in the middle of an area that in full of gangs, guns and violence. What about those American born children that don't have meals to eat and go to bed hungry because Mom got laid off and cannot afford to buy food. What about those parents that are losing their homes, and jobs and become homeless. We face hardships here too, so hardships don't give you a pass. There are probably more people in this country that can relate to the hardships of the illegals. What about the discrimination that American citizens still face? It's not just illegals, trust me, illegal hardships can be matched with any Americans hardships, but we must still abide by the laws of this country.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • margaret laag.

      Sounds like you're in favor of open borders between the U.S. and Mexico? Is the U.S. expected to take care of people from Mexico and other countries coming in through the border? The U.S. is so deep in debt as it is and is contemplating all kinds of cuts. How about security issues? You might want to rethink your proposal! For starters, how about looking at Mexico's own immigrant policies?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jarrett

      Zookz that is because you are a spoiled American that had the luxury of being in our country but America has changed and life is not as good anymore that's why people like you are looking for people to blame for your inadequacies. If you would be starving and had no opportunities for any type of work, you would be crossing illegally like anybody else you are not different, you can just talk a big game because you never experienced it. If you ever sped, NOT used your turn signal when changing a lane, text while driving, cut someone off, etc. then you are a criminal as well but in reality you are a worse than an illegal immigrant because you can actually hurt or kill someone.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      @zookz – you wouldn't think to enter a country illegally because you live in one of the greatest countries on the planet. There is only so much I can type in this space. I was referring to the hardships that brought them to this country to begin with. You might find yourself in a situation one day where you need someone to extend you a little bit of mercy and grace. I would assume it should be obvious I'm not talking about the hard criminal element. You might want to consider what the reality would be like of rounding up families (children, parents, grandparents) like cattle or gang members. There is a practical and reasonable way to approach this without destroying lives.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      @margaret laag – I'm in favor of immigration reform that makes sense and is practical and allows people who are already here and already working to pay into the system. I agree Mexico's immigration policies are horrid.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |

      @Jarrett – Agreed!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. zookz

    Bye bye Jose. You shouldn't have any problem making a living / career for yourself now that you have that Pulitzer. Thank you for taking jobs aways from US citizens and legal immigrants over thge past 20 years. Safe journey home.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sloflo

      You try writing a Pulitzer prize winning article...then comment.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      By the way, "thge" is not a word. Maybe he can help you learn to spell.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • BurnTHalO

      The whole issue of taking jobs away from real Americans just makes me laugh. You think he took a job from a hardworking American? I doubt it. It just goes to the laziness of most people. He got those jobs because he worked hard, got ahead, and became very good at what he does. Meanwhile people sit back on their couch watching TMZ complaining that illegals are taking all their jobs. If an illegal has a job you want, here's a crazy idea, go work twice as hard at your craft so that you can beat them out for it.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MesaMax

    Since you are illegal. Please report to ICE. Go back to the Phillipines and come back LEGALLY. There are plenty of US citizens who can do your job while you are gone. You stole someone else's social security number to obtain benefits fraudulently. You have commited enough crimes to be arrested and put on trial. You can use whatever arguments you want in court to justify your actions.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Youbetcha25

    He writes: "It's time to have a real conversation about immigration in our country."

    Only one problem here, the US isn't your country. Or are you implying you would like to start a discussion about immigration policy in the Philippines?

    June 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan No

      ZACTLY. LOL. The lad is a bit misguided in his essay. Fortunately for him, we don't enforce our federal immigration laws. That's what REALLY made him write this; the warm and fuzzy feeling he gets by knowing he won't be deported unless he shows up at an ICE office and asks if he can go home now – on our dime, of course.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. teresa, sno-Hio

    Wow, he was living the life..... illegal immigrant and gay... I'm not joking about that. He must have reached the point where he realized his entire life was a lie and he was in hiding –even from himself.

    ^5 buddy: there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. I'm guessing you've earned enough American dollars to live
    quite nicely in whatever country you came from.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pat

      whatever country you came from? To lazy to even read the whole article, huh?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dan No

    Wow, that's so corageous and brave of you, Jose. Now please GTFO.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. teresa, sno-Hio

    Also, I think the US govt should pay this guy for his tricks and tips on how to avoid being discovered. He should write his next book about that : ) or perhaps write a service manual for ICE or homeland security.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. larry

    now if the other illegal immigrant (obama) would just come out of the closet we could deport them on the same plane

    June 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan No

      Seriously, give the whole birther thing a rest. Ya lost. suck it up and move on.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • mere

      Really? Get off it already. He produced his legality. He is a citizen. Grow up already, Larry.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • juniorwx

      Deport him now, ask questions later.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. stefan

    He should repay any amount that he recieved for services as an illigal, and then offer him the chance to become a legal citizen. If he takes the steps, then fine.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Sarah

    Wow. Some of these comments are so unfair!

    Vargas did not have much of a choice or understanding when he illegally came to America. By the time he was old enough to understand – the situation had obviously become extremely complex. Whilst the USA might not have been legally his home due to an absence of some paperwork – his 'legal' home was a place he had no memories of or connection to. Legalities and paper work aside – this man, by nuture, was raised an American.

    Just like you, he hated the idea of 'sponging immigrants' so he made sure that his life was dedicated to standing on his own feet and being a contributing member of society. It goes without saying that he probably made a better citizen than some of his american-born peers.

    Vargos was put in an awful situation, caught up in a web of lies that began before he could possibly have any control. I guarantee that many honorable people would do the same. It is sad that people can be so hostile towards this individual that just wants to be a part of our society. He has worked for it. He is proud of it. He feels terrible about the idea of taking advantage of it because he respects it. But you have rejected him. Maybe stop and ask yourself what makes YOU worthy of being an american citizen? Remember that you didn't work for it. You just got lucky.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan No

      Had he gone home to the Phillipines and wrote this while he was in the process of attempting to come back legally, your point of view might have merit. He essentially flaunted the fact that he's been a law breaker all his life. The fact that he published this story here in the USA is simply thumbing his nose at the entire system, daring them to deport him.
      The saddest part being that we probably won't deport.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
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