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. desertrat

    A nobrainer for no brainers. Yuo are comparing this to the wrong thing. The discussion is about legalizing marijuana – smoking in public – at a time when Gov plans to enforce graffic warnings on cig packages and forces curtailment of smoking in public places? No logic in this. Evenn the asinine medical side of this has no logic. Children under 18 not permitted ... what stops them from breathing second hand smoke? Think big tobacco money isn't looking at diminishing profits in tobacco? The thought of replacing that with marijuana warms the hearts in Winston Salem. What a crock.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DB

    I highly recommend reading the New York Times article before posting a comment.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JR

    China/Europe should take this guy. In fact, all of our hard working illegal laborers/doctors.. whatever. We will keep all our uneducated American citizens. That will show them! We have rules we have to follow here! lol. We Americans can be a bunch of not-so-smart people sometimes.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • ummm

      Speaking of not so smart, your post takes the cake. You are basically saying because he is a successful writer/journalist that we should just forget the fact that he broke a bunch of laws over the course of decades. Professional success does not amount to being above the law.

      You sir are an idiot.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Luke

    Hey. The Phillipines need a good writer!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. BethImmigration ideas

    For all the humanity shown by both parties; I just don't get why we cannot bring in immigrant labor legally from Mexico. It appears the blue party would like for illegal immigration to continue for the sole purpose of votes from the minority community, and the red party would like to appease the employers, who gain by paying lower wages to illegal immigrants and of course no benefits. As an immigrant myself, this issue seems like something both parties don't want to solve. Democrats don't want to build a fence since they would like illegal immigration to continue on an on-going basis; and Republicans don't want this to end since it would help all employers. In the meantime, both parties continue to treat the rest of us -Americans as fools

    June 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ScipioRising

    Get him the hell out of here. He can take his prizes back to his native country and work for its betterment; we have our own legal citizens who can take his place in an instant. Go home and take a couple with you!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jarrett

      If it was the case than they would have out done him already but obviously he is much better than a legal citizen

      June 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sailingwindward

    NO free passes, prosecute him for his crimes, when he's finished with his sentence deport him.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mary Jane

    why do pp talk crap! being illegal does not equal parasite. I know of a legal resident who lost his legal status because he got laid off during the IT bust. He works hard, well brought up kids and never takes a penny in welfare. He became illegal because his sponsor went out of business and he had kids who had spent half of their lives here. The kids did not want to go back and he could not bear to see them suffer, he chose to stay in America illegally. He still works with his genuine SSN, pays taxes just like you and me and he kids are in Ivy league schools. He is hoping that one day there will be immigration reform and people like him will be able to legalize their stay. Grow up guys and do more research!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      If he had a true green card (not an H-1B), he wouldn't have lost it due to losing his job. If he had an H-1B or other employment visa, he would have known going in that there was no guarantee of permanence, and planned accordingly. If he was horrified by the idea of his children having to move, he shouldn't have taken them out of his home country to begin with.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. azbluedog

    Let's see, he broke one law by entering the country illegally. He then broke additional laws using fraudulently acquired identification including other citizens social security numbers for many years. He deliberately created a national security risk by illegally entering the White House. Gosh, no brainer to me, jail him until he is deported. He should be permanently barred reentry because of the illegal entry into the White House.

    Just because he has had a successful career, he should be treated like any other illegal immigrant and deported. He will be just fine writing for the Phillipines newspapers.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mark from Louisiana

    I hope tomorrows story is about him being arrested and deported after he gets out of jail for stealing social security numbers.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Granger

    gee , looks like those wanting this illegal bum shipped out are outnumbering the co-illegals on this board by about 100 to 1 .

    June 22, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JMc

    Stealing SSNs and lying to employers are hardly honorable actions – they are criminal. Criminals need to face the consequences. Employers also need to be held accountable and face consequences.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jennifer

    I have trouble believing that a Pulitzer Prize winner couldn't find legal employment in a Western country if he cared to try. Why should I feel sorry for someone who apparently chose to remain illegally solely for the sake of being illegal?

    June 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. B Alan

    I'm still waiting for someone to say what this guy should have done differently from age 12 on, given that he didn't choose to come here. If you can't get a job without breaking laws, what are you supposed to do? Exactly when should he have come forward? To whom? Holy crap, what a bunch of cold hearted fools.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Left at 18, and applied to enter legally, or just stayed out? I'm sorry his parents put him in that situation, but all that means is that they're horrible excuses for human beings. If our legal system was structured around preventing the children of pathetically selfish and irresponsible parents from suffering, no one could ever be punished for anything as long as they had kids.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    Deport him. He's a criminal.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43