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. R.GUT

    Funny how all the Haters here are most likely conservative Republicans. why do you guys HATE so much? God Fearin' Christians yet you are the first to sling negativity into every issue. Interesting.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JohnQ

    Illegals male our country better. Especially indian engineers who come over and teach the American versions how to do math. The cost to the government in relation to taxes is about $10 billion a year. The American people allow the government to flush $3 trillion down the drain on unnecessary wars because they are too concerned with dealing with social issues i.e gay marriage or illegals.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Greg

    Well since he admits to being illigal the only right thing to to is kick him out of the country.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JohnQ

    The path to citizenship is the least important issue. We should heavily fine any company who fails to conduct appropriate background checks on employees. Mexicans don't come here for the scenery.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • janet

      Really? I am Mexican, and I am here legally, and went to college and graduated top of my class, I have major student loans and never broke the law and most of all I am an attorney. So, did you took a survey and asked every single Mexican.why they are here.?..same reason your ancestors came to this country...opportunity...besides, not all Hispanics are Mexicans, as so many ignorant Americans think...hell some of you think you need a passport to go to Hawaii...

      June 22, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Darg

    He has balls!.. He did not use a fake SSN if you read the whole story. None of the people making those absurd comments knows the feeling of being on that situation. U.S. will not be what it is without the help of illegal immigrants. Yes all gang members send them back!.. But this guy is more american than anybody here. His accomplishments are bigger that 99% of americans. Non-productive U.S. born americans should be sent to the country where their great-great grandparents came from.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • lucy

      Agree!!! LOL Go back to your grandparents country if you do not make 50 K a year!

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

      You're right, it wasn't fake, it was just illegal, probably stolen. Last I checked, illegal is still generally a crime.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hoog

      More American, how so? Opinion isn't fact. If we're going by fact, then no, he's not American at all, as he's not a citizen.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      I totally agree! J

      June 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      DARG, At least you understand, you're so right about those clueless.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. Defcom

    THEY TOOK OUR JOBS!!!!!

    MY SON COULD HAVE WON THE PULTIZER PRIZE BUT INSTEAD THIS ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT WON IT! I paid for his education! he needs to leave ASAP! he gets free hospital visits and he needs to go back to mexico

    June 22, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • bababa

      What an idiotic comment!

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

      He didn't come from Mexico, he's not Mexican, why would he go there?

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

      @Defcom he's not from mexico, you idiot!
      before you go all crazy about jose vargas stealing jobs, education, other oppurtunities from you, you might wanna take some time reading how Americans stole Filipino liberty and coveted Filipino women from history books.

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

      I love how some assume those who are illeagal must have darker skin and are somehow "stealing" from real Americans. This country was founded, built, and survives in the global economy because of immigrants. Isn't time we make our country stonger by creating a real road to citizenship, instead of making it so hard to participate? Had my Italian great-grandparents listened to the anti-immigration rhetoric of their time, our local symphony would not have had a wonderful conductor. It is time that we acknowledge the gifts EVERYONE can bring to America, not just those born here.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      I don't think that you son is that smart...

      June 22, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      btw, he is not from Mexico...read the frincken article!

      June 22, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • maria

      nice one @nepet!!!! who says he stole education from your son?? oh i bet your son does not even know his geography!!!! won a pulitzer? oh cut it.. you can't even spell properly. how much more winning a pulitzer.. wake up!!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zex

      Pretty sure this is sarcastic and a throw to South Park.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • americanshadow

      he is from the Philippines u idiot that's why u American borne citizens are bunch of losers

      June 22, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Oh my Good God, He's not from Mexico, just because he has a spanish surname, don't you know how to read? He's from the Philippines, where they have 98% literacy, he's worked, paid his taxes so he doesn't get free anything he paid his dues. What have you done for this country, or for yourself?

      June 26, 2011 at 4:24 am | Report abuse |
  7. Nick

    Where in this story does it say LIBERAL or CONSERVATIVE? I am soooo sick of every issue becoming a thumb war between the right and the left. If I think he should stay I am a bleeding heart liberal, if I think he should be deported I am a conservative. I get the reasoning... but what does that matter? The point is, lets talk about this issue... not others, ok i don't care, talk about others... it's fine. But I think life is too short to point fingers and say "you are horrible, you think this way." – When we could just debate the merits of each argument (i think this idealism just made me too liberal, sorry) He should be deported, probably. If I confess to a crime, i have to take the punishment. I can't imagine he is expecting he will be patted on the back for this and given a tickertape parade. I think he is trying to be a martyr for the cause of the many illegals (horrible word) in this country with no voice. We (people) have all done things in our lives where we think, "hey this isn't right, but it's not entirely wrong either- plus there is no way around this" So yeah I get him, but unfortunately for him, his confession kinda leaves no other option but deportation (or worse, though personally i am against any big monetary or judicial punishment). My 2 cents...

    June 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • tonyl

      he was only 12 years old when he entered the US. How can a 12 year old be responsible at that age? How can you justify deporting him after he has spent most his life here?

      June 22, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. George

    Jose can you see ... the men of the I.C.E. I think the song's kinda catchy.

    June 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Filipino

    I think he should be deported, or voluntarily leave the US, pay the fines if there are, and then work his immigration papers from the Philippines. He should qualify for EB1 (an immigration category for people of extraordinary skills (world-famous authors, scientists, professors, etc.) and should not have a problem obtaining this.

    Those people saying he stole opportunities from the average legal American folks, well ,this kind of opportunity/ talent is not achievable by mediocre and self-assured Americans. I feel so sorry for you actually (you fall in the category of losers!!). Immigrants have to come over here to contribute their skills and talents to American society.

    Here's a data from HUD: Average middle class family Income p/a by ethnicity (more of less)
    Asians: 80K
    Whites: 60K
    Latinos/ Blacks: 40K
    This simply means that Asians have the highest job skills!

    As a matter of fact, I believe that Americans on welfare (those voluntarily not working) should be shipped back to their countries of origin, no matter how many generations their forefathers have been here in the US and replace them with people like this Filipino Pulitzer winning guy!

    I'm so tired working my butt and then paying taxes just to be allotted to welfare!

    As a Filipino, I feel great pride in what he's achieved! Kudos to you Kabayan!

    June 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • bababa

      I like what you said here, except, he shouldn't be deported because if he is, he mostl likely will not be allowed to enter the US after living here illegaly for 18 years ( since he was 12) , even if he is talented .

      June 22, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Filipino, you're so right on, All those clueless people has no clue. The don't even know what they're talking about. They keep saying for him to go back to mexico he's this, he's that, blah blah blah, He's not on welfare, he's not geting freebees. They're just jealous. How stupid can these people be. If they only know the truth.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. Border Agent

    Send his A$$ back to his orginal country. I don't care how smart you are or how much money you made in america. You snuck into our country and lied to everyone. Get the heck out of my country. The people who say keep him here are idiots. Go wait in line to get your citizenship like everyone else is doing. What a freaking idot this dude is for adminitting this. Send him back to his country and perhaps he will get blown up. lol

    June 22, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not Surprised

      If your moniker is true Border Agent, you have the perfect job. Congrats. Not many people find their perfect occupation. Funnel your hate and help your organization grow. You'll help get us to a true police state in no time. The ironic part is you probably consider yourself a conservative, but really your a tool of big government, who easily manipulates your fears.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      he was 12 when he was brought to this country! He did not want to come, his parents brought him here!

      June 22, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Border Agent, c'mon, you sound like a child. Is it really your country? Your grandparents were probably illegals too, Cuz, you sound like you're one.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
  11. Pat

    If you are an illegal alien, Get The Phuk Out!
    It's not personal, it's what is best for the country.
    We will never get the laws fixed as long as you cover for our mistakes.

    June 22, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mjollnir

    His next story might be about his own deportation.

    June 22, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. twgloege

    There are many reasons why people break the law but the fact of the matter is they broke the law. Are we a nation of laws or not??

    June 22, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      aaaa...you might be surprised, but every day our laws are broken by politicians and regular people, and no one gives a shi....t!

      June 22, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Hey

    Why has Salma Hayek hasn't been deported, she admitted she was here illegaly? How was she able to fix her papers after ?

    June 22, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Vortex

    Lied about citizenship...hmm...time to start fact checking his news stories.

    June 22, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hey stupid

      OH please

      June 22, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
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