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. CK1721

    I applaud him for wanting to be American. We need more people that are driven and want to succeed. That said- If he wants to be American, he needs to do it through the legal process like everyone else. His employers should be investigated for illegal hiring processes as well.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. PD

    He's a criminal. Deport him. His story and whatever awards he received are totally immaterial to the issue at hand. If there is any integrity behind the Pulitzer, they will yank his prize for flagrantly violating the law.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. kelly

    Show him the door!!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. pattypan

    How dare he say "OUR country". It is not his and it should be. Good Bye Jose;take your Pulitzer and go back to YOUR COUNTRY.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • FedUP

      I am fed UP with illegals coming and saying we owe them anything. Go home and do it the right way, but don't brag about it. As for the media, they support this illegal behavior-what does that say about 'truth' in journalism? It doesn't exist.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • tensor

      Guess the Pulitzer committee needs to do better vetting of candidates, as well as a whole lot of employers in his past. This guy merely stands as a shining example of how badly broken the United States immigration enforcement has been since the 1980s. Most of us already knew this.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth

      why the racism, and the hatred?
      chill man

      June 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      A child who is brought to this country by his parents illegally should not be treated as a common criminal and sent to the birthplace of his parents without consideration. The U.S. was once a shining beacon for good, hard working people looking for a better place or protection from political persecution. Now we have become sick with our own hatred and rage, as testified by so many comments on this thread. We are a country that cares more about strip malls, cars, super stores and iphones than about humanity and reason. I don't know what it will take to inject sanity into our political culture and public opinion, which is so soaked in FEAR, HATRED and AGGRESSION. When will we have a reasonable political discourse in this country? When will we stop scapegoating and denying the humanity of groups of people? I am praying for something to change because the way we talk in this country, you'd think we are a bunch of barbarians and not the greatest, most accomplished nation in the world. As the child of Poles who emigrated here during WWII, fleeing the Nazis, who killed so many of my family members, I expect more of my fellow Americans, and of myself as a citizen.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill L

      How is this your country anymore than it is his country? Are you Native American? Every soul inhabiting this great country is illegal considering we stole it from the natural land dwellers. The fact that you type on a computer, have an internet connection and a roof over your head insinuates that you must have at least a decent amount of money (more than 75% of the world). Consider this, at one point your ancestors fled to America in search of better liberties and rights. This gave ground to their family of future generations... i.e. you. This is all immigrants are doing – coming here with the same intentions all of our families did at one point

      June 22, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ed Acosta

    You suppose he filed and paid federal income taxes?

    June 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Doctor Evil

      Ha!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • anotherdude

      You bet he paid. Most illegals use fake SSNs, meaning they contribute social security and taxes without getting anything back. So they are paying their dues, and actually helping fund social security.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. A.D.

    Lol you people are sick.

    This country is going to deserve the coming crises.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. juniorwx

    That's OK, when China takes over we're all gonna get our a** thrown out. Whether Rep or Dem it's the same BS, just a different shovel.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. suzy diamond

    Well, if he is then deport him. What don't people get about "ILLEGAL?" It doesn't matter if he's a Pulitzer Prize winner. Matter a fact it makes it worse because WHY doesn't he apply for citizenship? Why doesn't he TAKE the HIGH ROAD like others that had to go through the LEGAL process?

    June 22, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. JR

    Hey Gells, Can you explain how giving false information and lying all these years is honorable?

    I am sick of hearing this garbage, illegal means it is not legal. I wonder if I would be acting honorable If I robbed a store and killed some people, so I can feed my kids?? The end do not justiy the means.

    Please note: I am not comparing the crime of being an illegal immigrant to robbery and murder. However they are robbing us of our resources that are for our "legal" citizens. My point is you can not justify doing something that is illegal.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jeff

    He needs to be deported. His parents need to be deported. All illegals need to be deported. The law is the law.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jeff

    He should get out, and wait in line like like every other person who immigrates legally.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. mark

    (bad guy from the terminator voice) ........get out. ..........on the first boat to the Philippines and drop him off on the beach.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Melissa

    Then get out. You are here illegally, get the hell out. Simple as that. It is NOT your country. Your country is wherever you came from. Get out.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Rony

    Reading all these comments I realize that this country is simply sick and unhuman. No wonder so many innocent people die cause of your stupidity and ignorance. You truly deserve the worst. Your mentality is dead, your sanity has vanished. You will be punished by no one but yourself. This country is doomed. Your money will run out and you will fall. And no one will give you a hand.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Citizen J

      Right Rony! All of us legal citizens OWE IT to illegals to pay their way. Why should they have to pitch in to enjoy the priviledges of being a citizen of the USA? Every one who works for a living, pays taxes, and is living here as a legal citizen should just bend over and grab their ankles.

      Get real.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. gw

    It's time to stop the illegal immigrant bashing and figure out a fair and just way to make them legal. The old McCain and George Bush actually had some great ideas for this, until McCain got onto the xenophobic band wagon. Over one-fifth (20%) of all Korean immigrants are illegal and yet we're not rounding them up. And, by all accounts. less than 11 million American are illegal immigrants in a population of over 300 million. They pay taxes, they are often abused by employers, and most are more law-abiding and hard-working than the average American. They share our values which is why they're here and most are Christian family people. Why wouldn't we want them to become citizens???

    June 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Melissa

      A simple fair and legal way to make them all legal? They do it the same way as the rest of us. Pay the fees, take the time, do the interviews, and everything else. Its not that hard to understand.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
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