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. swampman61

    Time for him to go home he can write from there....

    June 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • leslyn

      Hey Swampman–how did your family get here?

      June 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. James

    The law is the law. No exceptions because you're nice or talented. He was 12 when he came here, so exclude his minor years when considering any charges against him for his fraudulent acts. But any crimes committed as an adult should be considered.

    Personally, I say legalize all illegals that are already here while creating better laws to prevent new ones from sneaking in. Those already here should pay all back taxes and pay for any benefits they received illegally as adults, such as education, and all crimes they committed should be added to their record, but without penalty. Those crimes should only be considered if they are convicted of future crimes, and any future crimes beyond a misdemeanor should lead to revocation of citizenship. There's no way we're ever going to be able to get rid of all those already in the country, so we just need to face that fact and adapt going forward.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lydia

      Thank you. One of the saner responses and pragmatic.

      Yes, have the U.S. come up with ways to integrate them either as guest workers or permanent. The U.S. can have it both ways. Cheap labor and charge them for the privilege to stay here.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RB

    Ship him OUT!!!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Diver

    Deport him and let him do it legally this time.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rob

    The only reason citizenship is based on birth instead of merit is because so many of you would fail to qualify...

    June 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duane W

      That was the dumbest comment ever. Of course citizenship is based on birth as it is for 100% of the entire world and their population. So we should be different in that aspect why?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • CheckAgain

      @Duane W, judging by your response, Rob was referring to you - you would fail to qualify. His comment was an insult (words that make you feel bad).

      June 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • bababa

      hahaha Duane W ! OH Duane W!

      June 22, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sheri Howard

    Most of us are here illegally unless you are of Native American decent at least most illegals aren't slaughtering us for our land now

    June 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duane W

      Oh please get off that soapbox. The Indians did live here but this land was never declared a sovereign nation. I am not saying it was right the way the Indians were treated but to say we are all illegals almost 200+ years later is a mute argument. When this land became the United States of America it was those laws that went into effect. Such is the way of the world

      June 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • AGuest9

      Please get your history correct. There is no such person as a "native American". The peoples who consider themselves (incorrectly) are descendents of peoples known as "the Ancient Ones" by the Woodland Indians, the ones who were mound builders and crossed the Bering land-bridge 10,000 years ago. There were Asians.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skidder

      So, by that logic, we can do what the American Indians did and shoot the illegals? That's a weak argument by any standard. Pretty much every country was invaded at one time or another throughout history. Where do you draw the line and say "From this point on, if you go to another country uninvited, you're an illegal."?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • AGuest9

      Correction: "They were Asians."

      June 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alyssa

      AGuest, they were Asians, but before that they, and all the rest of us, were Africans. She we all be deported to Africa?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ct

    Well, lets go get him. Send him south then let him get in line with all the other humans doing it the legal way. No cutting!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • JimS.

      "Send him South"? You mean South to the Philippines?

      Sounds like somebody needs remedial geography lessons. Either that, or actually read the article before mouthing off.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jessica

    @2bits you're incredibly ignorant. Really? 2 adults and 8 children. Where do you get your facts from? Your rear end? Go back to your troll cave

    June 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. stillin

    This is the sad truth to what it's like here for many people who came here and made good lives. Up here, on the border of Canada and N.Y. the ignorance is molecular on this issue. Farmers USE and I do mean USE Mexican workers to do all the CRAPWORK that NO north country person will do. Yet, day after day I have to argue the "they're taking our jobs!!!" cry. It's utterly ridiculous. Some people contribute and live worthy lives and some are born here and some have escaped to here. It is time to sort out a way to WELCOME and KEEP anybody who is helping, period.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. john

    deport him, or put him in jail and bill him

    June 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alyssa

      Bill him for what? The taxes he HAS been paying his whole life? If anything we'd owe him a refund since he's paying into social program like Social Security and Medicare that he's not entiltled to collect from.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • bababa

      Yeahm what exactly would you bill him for ? For your unachieved dreams? LOL

      June 22, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. LiveStrong

    Mayb he should be apologizing to the person whose Social Security number he illegially used. That person is going to go through hell trying to get benefits when it is time to retire. Maybe it shouldn't be about him.... maybe about all the people he duped, lied to and cheated. I don't feel a bit sorry for him. As said before, arrest, prosicute and then deport. Quickly...

    June 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      If you followed the article back to its source at the NYT, you'd have read that he has a unique SSN that belongs to him but is strictly contingent upon INS paperwork. He didn't steal anyone's number; his is just a bit dodgy.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. socalgal

    If only he had put as much effort into becoming a legal immigrant as he did into covering up his antics...bye, don't let the door hit you on your way out!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. cindy

    Out you go! No exceptions for lawbreakers.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. AGuest9

    Well, my great-grandparents were LEGAL immigrants, and I'm very proud to be their descendent! They didn't ask for special treatment, free social services that they never paid into, and forms and signs in their own languages. My great-grandfathers proudly flew Old Glory (just as I do to carry on their memories).

    June 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mrmailman

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjUEBDOOSDM&w=640&h=390]

    June 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
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