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. Jennifer

    Any relation to Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas?

    June 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. XAB

    He should be DEPORTED like all other illegals in the country. I do NOT agree with our imigration laws, but they are the current law of the land.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth

      Then why don't you run for president, I am sure there will plenty of people supporting you

      June 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Andre the Giant

    keep the illegal aliens. deport the rednecks.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth

      lol i agree, this country will be better off

      June 22, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin D.

      So, Andre, you wouldn't be offended if someone said "Deport brown people"? Ahh.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Marcelino

    O.K.
    All of you who think that this is an easy cut and dry case of get the guy out of here! First, He was most likely brought here against his will by his parents when he was just a kid! Two, Unless you're a Native American, you're ancestors came here the same way as his parents brought him here! Three, How dare you take advantage of what you're ancestors did ILLEGALLY, be OK with that but not want anyone else to do the same. THIS COUNTRY WAS BUILT ON IMMIGRATION, Period! Get over your selves!

    June 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mavis

      "How dare you take advantage of what you're ancestors did ILLEGALLY"

      Huh? My parents still live in their home country. I came here legally.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • ficheye

      But not illegal immigration. Get over yourself, learn to look up words in the dictionary. ILLEGAL means it is against the law. Advocates like yourself have this very strange habit of ignoring the word 'illegal' and skipping to 'immigrant'. People breaking the law and acting like they should be forgiven is something that erodes the rule of law in America. We need one set of laws that covers everyone, not favoritism for the illegals. It makes no sense and you know it. You just feel sorry for them. I do too. But it changes nothing, especially the definition of 'illegal'.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      You have said the truth. I don't think anyone asked America's (the continent) inhabitants if it was alright to come and "colonize" and as far as I know everything was done by force and without permission of the original inhabitants. The American continent wasn't "discovered" it was invaded and its inhabitants subjugated.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • JK

      The problem with arguments like yours is this – when 'our ancestors' came here, there was no law telling them they couldn't. Now we have laws that establish the RIGHT way to emigrate to the USA – and illegal immigrants are breaking that law. They cannot claim ignorance, as they sneak in and/or actively hide from the authorities, so they know they are doing something wrong. They are, by all rights and definitions, criminals – giving them blanket immunity and saying 'it's OK, stay here since you've been here a while' teaches them and their families that are laws aren't to be taken seriously.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave D

      Our ancestors though slavery was ok too...should we honor their traditions? Of course not.

      I have sympathy for people looking for a better life in America, but would you agree that we cannot afford to just open the gates and allow any and all to come in? The money available to pay for these immigrants is not infinite. Current infrastructre may not be able to handle such a population explosion. There are health concerns, especially for people coming here from 3rd world countries...carrying disease. These are just a couple of examples, and this is not about race. This is about being able to manage a population. Too much too fast may destroy parts of the system, which is why we have a legal immigration process.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • JK

      * our laws, that was.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • AWMessenger

      This illegal immigrant has proven to himself and to the world that he can be successful anywhere, including the country of his origin. If he would like to follow the rules, fill out paperwork, start the green card process, that would probably be the right thing to do. I usually try to follow the rules. It doesn't seem to be that difficult for me.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • TrueWisconsin

      Hey Mavis...unless one of the Native American tribes granted you an exception in a treaty, they did not come here legally. This country was taken illegally by the first residents. All U.S. citizens are illegal occupants of tribal lands.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bazoing

      The Philippines was also built on immigration even though much of it happened a few centuries before the US. They wonderful people and really need talented guys like this. He would really enjoy it there. I would love to be in his place even if he is deported. However, it makes little difference to the US either way. We cannot dump tens of millions of people. However, we do need to slow the inflow. What reward is there to the people here who hold back on reproduction when that means that the people who do not can merely over run us changing our language, our religion and our culture (including our culture of conservation, fair wages, and population control)?

      June 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mysterybard

      This country was built on LEGAL immigration. That is the distinction.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • guitarninja75

      Interesting you accuse those of breaking laws which didn't exist at the time.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • PROUDWHITEAMERICAN

      DEPORT THE BUM THIS WHOLE THING SMELLS JUST ANOTHER ILLEGAL TRYING TO GET OVER ON THE AMERICAN CITIZENS, LET ONE STAY AND THE 20 MILLION BEHIND HIM WILL DEMAND THE SAME.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jimmy

      Your an idiot. There were no immigration LAWS at that time so NO my ancestors were NOT ILLEGAL immigrants. You libtards are so phucking stupid

      June 22, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • JK

      @TrueWI – I won't say that the treatment of the Native Americans was fair. But your argument no longer holds water since the signing of numerous treaties, and the fact that the government of the USA is the one that is recognized internationally. MOST countries have been populated by non-native people due to wars, invasions, etc – but the CURRENT authority of the land is the one that makes the rules you must follow.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      While he was brought here illegally by his parents he has made absolutely no effort to become legal as an adult. Instead, he's spent all his time subverting the laws of this country. He figures he's safe now that he has a Pulitzer Prize, so he can be given a pass to the front of the line. You know what this country does welcome immigrants. Those who choose to come here legally as my own mother did. The rest of you cheating, lying, stealing sobs get to the back of the line and wait your turn.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dg

    To law lovers and law breakers:

    In human being hands the law is not always the right thing and the right thing is not always law.

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

      Love it. I'll have to borrow that one! Thanks!!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • SweeTeaNoVa

      That is good, hope you don't mind if I steal it.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mysterybard

      That does not mean one should flout those laws.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lisa

    I guess it's all ok since he's won a Pulitzer. He's special, so an exception should be made for him above all those trying to come here legally. Let's just forget all the laws he's broken since becoming an adult here in the United States, including tricking the Secret Service to get into the White House, and let him stay. I mean give him a break becuase he's gay and he can't possibly bring himself to fake marry a woman to get citizenship. Besides, he's tired of hiding his fabulousity in an effort to stay under the radar.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mavis

      "He's special, so an exception should be made"

      That's what an L1 visa is for. He can get one – after living out of the country for 10 years.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bill Chip

    "It's time to have a real conversation about immigration in our country." Baloney. Political correctness wars against any "real conversation" about immigration. I'm sure he's a nice, talented guy, but newspapers in the US are laying off hundreds of reporters. Is he doing a job that "Americans won't do." Nevertheless, if the price of getting the government to enforce the immigration laws is to give an amnesty to all Pulitzer prize winners, I'm on board. What the heck–I'll support amnesty for Nobel prize winners too.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ldean50

    Most other countries will accept immigrants only if you can prove that you can afford to live there w/out assistance – buy a residence, pay for your own medical . . . a couple of hundred thousand. You can live temporarily to work, but you have to have a permit and it is usually good for only a year, or the time it takes to train a citizen to do your job. I'd love to leave the U.S., but can't afford it. Anybody can come to America illegally because anybody can afford it . . . it costs zip.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ron brooks

    He has all the qualities of a politician especially a corrupt Philippine official. He should falsify a us birth certificate and run for office!

    June 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jennifer

    Does anyone know where I can find out what brand and shade of lipstick he is wearing? It's sort of a berry color, I think.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Barflies

    Illegals believe that being American is to come here and become successful. They do not understand what it is that America was about character, integrity, honesty, decency and being a good Christian. They were also embracing qualities to do with fairness and respect during the civil rights movement. It use to be "complimentary" to America to know that foreigners wanted to come here. Now it is an "insult" because their intentions is not to be like Americans, but to get over on Americans as much as possible, even if they have to break the law, marry one and become successful (the Arnold Swartzaneggers) to do so. They are still foreign in every sense of the word, because they will never be able to grasp our history to its fullest. Nor will they ever be able to relate to our many ancestors who gave their lives for this country and its liberties and freedoms for its people. Americans, not everybody. America is people, we are not just a footstool or a doormat to wipe your feet off on simply because you want a Pulitzer Prize under your illegal belt.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • TrueWisconsin

      America was founded by functional atheists. Christianity is a myth. So is the belief that the founding fathers were christian.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • nurseclm

      You are cracking me up, this country had slavery. Is that what you mean about being honest, hardworking, and being a Christian?

      June 22, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Converted

      LOL... yeah like all of our fine politicians. These people are not our problem (as in not being a problem)... we have much bigger problems than hard working illegals.... wow and all that from a white guy :)

      June 22, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kathy

      Sounds like you have never met a "foreigner" with any integrity or character. I could introduce you to hundreds – both legal and illegal.

      Living in such a closed-minded corner of the world must get lonely.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TrueWisconsin

    Illegals stealing jobs again. If he hadn't sneaked into the country, that Pulitzer could've gone to a real American who is out of work and doesn't have any prestigious journalism awards for his family. When will this country learn that we need to spend whatever it takes, billions or trillions, to keep these awful, low-life leeches and common criminals out of our country, ruining our way of life, and driving up our taxes!

    June 22, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mysterybard

      A criminal is a criminal. Whether he won a Pulitzer prize, rescued three children from a burning building, or started a non-profit organization to house the homeless he still broke Federal law. We live and die by the rule of law in this country. It is what keep us from descending into anarchy.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. B Alan

    Could one of you self-appointed immigration experts explain exactly how he should have lived his life from age 12? When should he have come out of the shadows? To whom? Did he not work hard and try to succeed in life? Are you saying if you HAD to break some rules to further your career, you wouldn't? Yes, the enforcement of our immigration laws is a joke, but it sure as heck shouldn't be left up to a 12 year old to report himself.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Steve

    since he served I'm ok with him being fast tracked to citizenship but he must pay a large fine for tax evasion unless he can prove he paid income tax every year since he was 18. and maybe 30 days in jail for the using fake number to get into white house.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      actually he may have gone to college and not served in the military. I misread that part. if he served he can stay if not he should be fined and deported. my parents waited to come here legally and earned their citizenship.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jennifer

    Deport him and let him apply to come back in legally, same as everyone. Being a good author doesn't mean you get to break the law.

    Even if his parents brought him here, he's still illegal, and so are his parents if they're here. They all need to be deported immediately.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
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