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. ian

    Cool story bro, now get out.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. B Done

    My white trash low eared 3rd grade level college kid can beat up your proud honor roll illegal pulitzer prize kid!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason

      What's an "honor roll?" Does it taste good with butter?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gabby

    Call me unpatriotic or whatever but aside from the ridiculous legalities of him being a contributing illegal immigrant, I think it's worse to let natural born citizens milk the SH!T out of govt funding and not do a dam thing in return for this country. I have PLENTY of relatives who sit around all day with no job yet this idiotic govt of ours is sending them money just for living in this God forsaken country. I'd rather see them, blood relatives, be deported to our ancestors native homeland than ANY type of contributing immigrant. The illegals are 'taking' Americans jobs because Americans are lazy and don't want to do the dirty work. What's unpatriotic is completely forgetting that our country was founded on immigration both legally and illegally. There needs to be a reform NOW before all the racists in our country start rioting at the borders and taking things out of control.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Bill in VA

    I honestly don't understand all the fuss over illegal immigration. It is illegal. Period! Why should we change the rules after the fact? If you want to be in the greatest country on earth do it by the rules. Seems simple enough. Both my grandparents on both sides of my family were immigrants. They came to this country legally.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason

      Because a lot of smart, talented people like Vargas come to our country illegally. And frankly I think our country is better off with more smart talented people. Did you miss the part he came here when he was 12?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh Carter

      Because we are the land of opportunity. It costs more money to wage this battle and more lives our lost. Our country whether you like it or not was started by immigrants and do you think our ancestors where legal immigrants when they came to this country. By the way the last I looked the US was number 27 in innovation and not very forward thinking. Closed minds. I'm an American yet very embarrassed how comparably stupid we are to so many other nations. Mind you I love it here, but we need to stop being so absurd.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jdalco

    Thank you for admiting it. Now report to INS so we can deport you and be done with it. We need to learn from his book how he got away with it so we can catch more of these folks and deport them. Or even better, make it impossible for them to live here so they will leave on their own.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Renee

    HE IS A CRIMINAL AND SHOULD BE SENT BACK TO WHERE HE CAME FROM!! He used illegal means to enter a white house dinner. We slammed the Salahi's for doing that and they aren't illegal. She should be punished to the fullest extent of the law and deported immediately. What a loser. No mercy. Illegal is illegal is illegal is illegal. No way around it.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Josh Carter

      You know it is this type of backwards thinking that makes me think a lot of americans have been inbreeding. None of our Ancestors were legal citizens and he's actually done a favor for us all. It's bad enough how fat and lazy our society has become and stupid on top of it all. It's a huge expense to fight this war on illegal immigration and so many people are dying because of it. In terms of innovation remember we are only at number 27.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DeportNOW

    This illegal alien is sticking the fact that he is here illegally in our FACES, and saying:

    "Sure I am here illegally....Oh, and I've broken the law several times. What are you going to do about it??? Nothing?? I thought so"

    June 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. mikey

    now get the hell out!!!!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. zipity

    The problem with waving a magic wand, and granting citizenship to all the illegals currently in the country..... is that you are only going to encourage a SECOND much larger wave of illegals, who know that all they have to do is hang on until we cave and wave the magic wand AGAIN, and make them all legal. You know, some of the most vociferous anti-ILLEGAL immigrant people in this country are the people who came here and went through the process to become a LEGAL resident. Put that in you pipe and smoke it....

    June 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • AngelicaS

      We already did it before- it's called the 1986 Amnesty, and it only ensured that exponentially more illegal foreign nationals would violate the law and come to the U.S. with the expectation that future anmesty would be granted for their lawbreaking. The 1986 Amnesty is proof that amnesty only serves to incentivize further lawbreaking en masse. We cannot permit this, as there is precedent that amnesty will guarantee even more illegal immigration lawbreaking in the future and in perpetuity until such time as our ELECTED OFFICIALS DO THEIR JOB AND ENFORCE AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWS!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kevin E

    All the bigots who responded make me sad for this nation. I say we keep Vargas and the other smarty pants while throwing out all the idiot "Americans".

    June 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bobbie

      YOU would be one of those 'idiot americans'. Bye-bye!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • AngelicaS

      Enforcement of the law is not bigoted. Your argument that the lawbreakers are above the rule of law and should receive special treatment could fairly be characterized as bigoted though.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sue

    Bye.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. KW

    Once you decide to break a LAW you have to agree with consequences. Ask any European countries... There is nothing wrong with the law in US as previously stated. You don't pay taxes (with false SSN it is not really you) but using taxpayers money is OK? What are you expecting to get : a reward for that??? Also, people like him only making harder for people that immigrate to US legally. I know because I am legal green card holder.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JG

      Oh he pays at least social security taxes (deducted and forwarded to the government by his employer), they just go to the big pot since we have no individual retirement accounts. He just has no way to claim his share without a valid SSN. Funny thing is that this means more money to share by those with valid SSNs, but nobody mentions that since it happens to go against their opinions

      June 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mrmailman

    no wonder he didnt appear to be mexican

    June 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. richp

    Send him home, Illegal is illegal.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. mm

    DEPORT him!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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