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. Larry

    My only concern is that as an illegal immigrant he deprived Americans of jobs he stole with false credentials.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. gagaga

    I can see many underachievers are responding, they are so jealous... how come they who have all the God given tools in their life – a citizenship of this great country- were not able to do anything with their life, just sit on the couch eat hamburgers and potatoe chips, drink beer and watch football. And here comes a man who doesn't even have a citizenship, and is able to achieve something in his life. Educated, smart, Pullitzer prize- wonderful addition to this country! What an outrage!!! People like that make you feel bad about yourselves, don't they? Don't you question, if a person without papers can achieve recognition, what is wrong with me? ??? Well, if you haven't asked yourself this question, go ahead, ask now? It's never too late ....LOL

    June 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cpg35222

    That's nice. Now leave.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • vargas

      You leave, you seem like you don't deserve being here

      June 22, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ducimitiere

    Alright here is my story. No Pulitzer, obviously: applied for an US job while overseas, got the job and H1B visa. Worked hard, never felt disrespected (on the contrary, ppl were always nice to me). More years on, visa renewed, more years... work, family...applied for Greencard. After an eternity finally got it. Five year later, a small test and... finally American.

    I am so thankful to this country and its people. Of course to the company who sponsored me as well. Was it easy? no.

    Now I look at all those guys coming under the radar... come on people, that is simply not right.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • gagaga

      Most likely you are Indian, isn't that right? The problem here is that people from certain countries can obtain a visa and citizenship easier than others. You received H1B visa because you are most likely an engineer or an It isn't that correct and already have previous education in your own country. That's completely different than being a 12 year old boy with poor parents most likely.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Frank

    And it really speaks to the state of society that he can say this out loud and not be deported.
    What will happen if people find out? You just told everyone. You clearly aren't actually afraid of anything happening.

    @New England Liberal, for most conservatives it's about the law. Go to most anti-illegal immigration blogs or places that follow it (places like Pajamas Media, Hot Air, etc), and you will see, that the main argument of the lot of non-Paleoconservatives, is THE RULE OF LAW!
    Your constructed strawman of a conservative mostly exists in your own brain. Some cons are like that. Most aren't. Pay attention to what the cons themselves say, rather than what your lying liberal friends and bloggers say they say.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      Frank, Did you not get that being a Pulitzer price winner afforded him to tell everyone about his immigration status?

      June 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. elenore

    This writer is a thief,He stole an education and an opportunity from someone else,in fact many others.The other people who were also in line for those same education grants,spot in a College,internships,and jobs.You don't deserve to be here.If the writer of this article had an integrity he would have left and returned and applied.Now that he has enough stolen opportunities and wealth and contacts,he decided to do right thing.Yea right.I dislike liars and cheats.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anne

      He did not steal the opportunity of somebody else, if he was chosen for a job it was because he is smart and had qualifications for the position, he won a Pullitzer, something that most of people can not be able to do.
      He came here being a little kid, he didn't chose to come illegaly, the Dream Act would help people like him, why not?

      June 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • no you are wrong

      Anne,

      You are absolutely right!!

      June 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Ann – There are a lot of smart legal residents that deserves jobs and opportunities. There are a lot of smart people around the world. Being smart doesn't grant you legal residency and work authorization in our country. Maybe you should give up your place in this country and hand it over to a smarter an more deserving foreign national. And btw, he did break laws in the job applications and the use of social security numbers.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      All I will tell you ias as a perosn who did everything legally (and hence suffered to not be able to use the eductaion I obtained as a forieign student on F-1 visa), I regreted to not have done sone theiving when I went to the interview for my residency., Talk about an organization (immigration) that abuses their power to th elimt even when there is an airitght case. And you are a moron to call him a thief. he was a child when he was brough to this country.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Elenore & everyone who said he stole this ,that Stop already, He did not steal your son's or daughter's education, how? He didn't have to, He didn't get a hand-out like most illegals did. He paid his dues, taxes. His SS# is valid. Read the article before you condemn him. You people are ignorant.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. jim

    Why is he not in jail? Why is he still trespassing and able to get away with it?

    June 22, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ladyxx

      Call ICE and officially turn him in. Would be interesting to see if our wonderful sanctuary government will do anything.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anakaranina

      Are you a Native American? Did you know that most illegals pay taxes and social security, but can not file incometax returns, so if they are due a refund the gov. keeps it?

      June 22, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      It just shows how you people accept every word the media says at face value. he is no would alreday has his residency if the Dream Act was passed. There are many steps in becoimg a US resident and these steps are not the same fro every immigrant.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. backstroke

    Shame. This man has contributed more to American society than 95% of the people screaming "Illegal Immigrant"
    I'm a white man, full blooded "American" if there is such a thing and to hear my country-folk place themselves higher than another is appalling. Of course, visit any other country. We Americans are known for that.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • elenore

      So being white and male your opinion is obvious superior to everyone elses.Your so Right a White Man has decided Illegals should stay.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • bigray

      This goes to the heart of the ILLEGAL immigration debate ... parade out a successful, contributing illegal immigrant and it garners sympathy, for every one like this there are 20 that just suck the marrow of free services. So we make an exception for this guy ... great, but who gets to decide who is worthy? Its a very slippery slope to just arbitrarily decide who gets a free pass to break the law and who doesn't. IN the end its either illegal to be here, or it is not ... check in at the front desk and if you are a law abiding person, you will gain entry. It may take awhile, but you can do it – millions have, just like my father, grandfather, grandmother and one of my closest friends and his wife.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • no you are wrong

      not really...

      June 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. elenore

    In fact if the writer actually had an integrity,he would be writing this from a plane on his way to where ever he's from,with an apology and a check for stolen public services from American citizens.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Proud Hispanic, American citizen, daughter of immigrants.

      Well sweetie, let's go back in time and tell your family to go back to their country of origin as well. 🙂 A quick lesson of history will inform you that the same exact scenario happened with the Irish and the Italians, and many other foreigners. Read "A View From The Bridge" by Arthur Miller to learn a thing or two. When someone says illegal immigrant, they immediately picture a Hispanic person. Well, I have news for you: your family is no different. Unless you are native american, you have no right to pick and choose who belongs here. You are showing the same ignorance that has been regurgitated time after time. It's racism. You're the type of person that makes me ashamed of being an American. Do you not realize that most of these people are more hardworking than anyone you know? Have you ever talked to one in person? You wouldn't be able to live through a day in their shoes. So get a life and stop spreading lies and hate. It truly is an insult to the United States of America that I know, where 'culture' and 'diversity' are hailed. I'm an American citizen and my parents were born in Chile. I will never stop fighting for my people's rights! Nunca voy a parar. (That's 'I will never stop' for all you lazy folk.) Have a nice ignorant life. 🙂

      June 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • dfergenson

      Does this mean that we have to pay his medicare and social security contributions back, as well as destroy all of the copies of all of the insightful journal articles that he has written?

      June 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ducimitiere

      Pulitzer guy accepted. But wait, there is more ! If you just ignore the law you get gazzillions illegals free!
      That is right, get a Pulitzer and gazzillions immigrants free!

      But wait... there is more! you don't need to call you representative to change the laws... just ignore them!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      The writer obviously has more brain that most of you will ever coem to have for he is writing now because he is safe from being deported.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      TElenore--there you go again, complain, complain, where he came from happens to be where more educated people came from, Philippines. That's why we have someone like Jose Vargas. He's not taking anything from you. He can't help it if he's intelligent & not you because if you are smart you would not be complaining, don't you want people who has the brain, hardworking to live in this country, check out the other illegals who came from other countries. You'd be surprised iwhen you find out which other countries are the real thieves, cheats yes they cheat, they collect SS & they have never worked here in their lives, & I'm not talking about Mexico either.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. BU

    PLEASE DEPORT HIM! EQUAL TREATMENT UNDER THE ****LAW****. BE A CITIZEN, OR GO HOME!!!!!

    June 22, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • no you are wrong

      Make him a citizen then, why can't you help him be one? Aren't you a Christian, or are you an Atheist hater, who has no God in his faith and hates everyone?

      June 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      Bu, You only show your ignorance not understanding that immigration laws has provisions for those extraordinary aability ot become a resident. He is in his way to that faster then ever.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tubby the Tuba Texas

    Guess the government needs to set up a payment plan for John to start paying back what he has stolen from America. What I don't get is that they can become a citizen of the US if they wish to become American citizens. Why do they wait so long to get their citizenship? Many hispanics are American and became that way properly and are wonderful hard working tax payers...it simply isn't fair to all the people who legally became citizens of the US to allow all of these foreigners to live off the fat of the land. I know, not much fat anymore. School are going broke because the federal governmnet coerces states to educate these foreigners for free. Classes are being crowded and teachers being fired because we are all out of money. All this free education, health care, and family assistance is costing us our American dreams.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • bigray

      Amen ... come to this country, one and all .... just check in at the front desk first!

      June 22, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jesus christ

    What happened to all my sons and daughters? Why are you fighting over a poor brother of yours? Isn't he your brother? You should love every human being and wish him what you would wish upon yourself.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • bigray

      We do wish on him what we do on ourselves .... we wish we could all obey the laws of the land to better live in harmony and not chaos ... without rules, there is no order, without order there is anarchy ... that what you wish Lord?

      June 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • jesus christ

      Bigray, my son , you seem like you have a lot of anger build up , go pray for few hours, the wisdom will come to you one day...

      June 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rob

    Hmm. Most criminals live in a fear of being 'found out'. Hearing that people are living in fear of the consequences of their actions does not make me more sympathetic. And hearing that criminals are also whole people with other attributes makes little difference either. Most criminals in prison have good qualities and attributes. That doesn't make them innocent.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      But when the criminals were with guns (the white settlers who came and stole the land form the natiuves of America), they're not criminals, rihgt?

      June 22, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ducimitiere

    @gagaga nopes, I am from South America. And you are right, I am not poor. This doesn't validate the argument that US of A should suddenly practice Socialism by open its borders.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • gaggaa

      Ok sorry for mistaking you for a different national, yes, america shouldn't open borders to everyone, but should let the people legalize themselves who are already here and came here as children. I don't think you can fully understand their position because when you came here you were in completely, more fortunate situation than some of the other people who do not have resources , education or money as you did, therefore, you should not judge. Because the reality is that if you are poor in your native country and want to move to USA , chances are very slim...

      June 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. alli

    The fact is he broke the law. Replace "entered the country illegally" with "stole a car" or "set fire to a home" and he would be in jail. Our country has the right to make its laws and enforce them. Simple as that.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
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