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. john

    deport him, but allow him to reapply legally. Should be able to get a company to sponser him.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bob in LA

    Deport him and let him follow the law to get back in. Nothing personal, but If I can get a ticket for crossing the street in the middle of a block, he needs to follow the law as well.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DMS

    Are you all complete MORONS? This guy came here as a CHILD...what is a 12 year old supposed to do? Walk to the nearest embassy and turn himself in? Give me a freaking break– these comments reak of prejudice.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • junior

      Now that he has money, he can pay us back for supporting him.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zabbot

      Perhaps he wasn't responsible for coming here illegally, but as an adult he sure as heck is responsible for being here now illegally.

      And your response reeks every bit as much of prejudice. The only difference is the stench of sanctimonious self-righteousness.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      Children are to be forgiven, of course, but he lied as an adult, stole SS numbers, etc. to get into the White House for crying out loud! The "age of accountability" needs to be recognized. There were lines he crossed to get what he wanted. Shame on him! If he's so talented, I'm sure no matter where he lands he'll be a sucess whether it's the US or elsewhere. He should be punished for the great lengths he went to in order to deceive his employer and the Secret Service among others. Stealing is stealing. Lying is lying...

      June 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Junior, how did we support him? He has a well paying job and pays taxes. It sounds like he probably supports you or someone in your family.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      @DEM, Yes he was a child when he arrived. However, that child become of age in this nation went to college and made a name for himself. He's got brains – start the citizenship study and take the freaken test – don’t hide from it!

      My oldest tutored 3 soldiers in his unit while he was in Iraq that came back and took the test while on a two week leave. Those are real men who wanted to defend the US and better themselves. All 3 of those young men were brought here by a parent. They knew that they wanted to be legal.

      What's stopping this guy?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • gagagaa

      @LISA

      Oh Gosh, I am sorry to say this , but you are such an idiot! What test are you talking about??? Do you think this guy was illegal for 18 years, living in fear of being deported only because he was lazy to take a citizenship test????!!! How ignorant of you????!!! Go read the laws of this country before you speak!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. rep

    Obviously we want to stem the tide of illegal immigration but here's a clear case where some kind of amnesty should be allowed. Give him and other (non-criminals) already here a path to citizenship (including penalty fines or back taxes if necessary) and let him stay. He clearly has a lot to contribute to the country. He clearly has gained a lot from this country as well, so why lose out on a good investment just because of ideology?

    June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • gagagaa

      Amen!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Look at the smirk on his face – he really thinks that he will beat the system and get to stay. If he is not deported then everyone else will have their story about how they should be allowed to stay. He is illegal – he has got to go.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mrmailman

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2px-vmZCmQ&w=640&h=360]

    June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Amercian Pig

    Unless you are a Native American then you all should shut the hell up! Everyone is an immigrant to this country in some form or fashion be it themselves or their ancestors. The fact that the man admitted what he has done and is trying to make it right is worth something and trust me, based on the close-minded stupidity of most of the comments here there is no threat of him stealing your job. No wonder the USA is such a joke. If you were deported based on your intellect then 75% of you idiots would be sitting in the shade drinking your Pabst Blue Ribbon and watch yer Nascar!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Oprah's Mooseknuckle

      Except maybe for the fact that there are proceudres for legal entry into this country. If you grant amnesty to those here illegally, what kind of message does that send to those who entered legally or are waiting to do so? The argument for amnesty flies in the face of lawfulness - why bother having any rules or make any attempt to control the borders. This country was founded by and grew because of immigrants; all of whom came here legally.

      The DREAM act is nonsense. If you are not here legally, you are taking services away from (and/or costing money to) the taxpayers. Either get in line to enter or get out. I'm not saying you can't come here I'm simply sayin gyou need to play by the same rules as everyone else.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • brandon

      I hear ya. I ebt most are Repubs

      June 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      native americans? Ha suprised they havent traded their casino's for beads yet

      June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • howlyn

      Sorry, hateful one, but Native Americans are immigrants too. They emigrated from northeastern Europe and traveled through Alaska during the last Ice Age. They were frequently intolerant of other immigrants including their kinsman, from different tribes, and the European settlers traveling west. The European transplants just did a better job of outcompeting them.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amercian Pig

      I concur that Native Amercians would also be immigrants I should have worded my comment as such. The fact that everyone comes from somewhere regardless of your ethnicity or background is the point I was making. This country was founded on the fact that we accept people from all walks of life, cultures, and beliefs. I do believe in following the proper procedure to become a citizen but based on my own personal discussions with people who have done that the redtape required along with the complete lack of common sense within the procedure itself dictates that most choose not to. It amazes me that anyone would want to come here now anyway as we slowly allow the "goverment" to erode our personal freedoms in the name of security when we all know it's the first steps toward control of the people. The fact that we allow our "goverment" which we all know is nothing more than an extended board of Directors of major corporations to dictate what we do shows that we no longer deserve to be a beacon of freedom for people around the world.

      Democracy is the worst form of goverment, except for all the other ones. Winston Churchill

      June 22, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kingofthenet

    Quick let's deport him, our collective IQ is going up due to people like Jose at an alarming rate.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mrmailman

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eL7KIMwWKic&w=640&h=360]

    June 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mrmailman

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3_l4bnikB4&w=640&h=360]

    June 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. AJ

    My fiance and I went through hell getting him here from England on a K1 Visa and getting his Greencard and we paid a LOT of money to do it, well over 4k dollars between filing and attorney fees. We did things legally. However, I can't imagine being brought here as a child, knowing nothing other than this country and then hitting 18 and not knowing how to survive any other place. Compassion should play a part in this life as well. Fear plays a big part in these situations, as does desperation, and to step forward, Nationally and so vulnerably as he did, takes an amount of courage that most of you so anonymously criticizing will never know or understand. This ENTIRE country is founded on immigration, or has that been so easily forgotten. We are a refuge..."
    Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    That's what I thought we were supposed to be.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • whatsupdoc

      Look, yuo do understand that history was just that, history. There werent many laws, and you didnt have know many things as you do now. So stop trying to just on what happend a long time ago to the present day. You cant compare the two

      June 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      So when do we stop? Do we allow everyone who wishes to come here do so, without completing the process?

      June 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BRETT

    This country of ours is so messed up!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Zabbot

    Oh that's great. Because you won a Pullitzer you deserve special treatment! Bravo!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. brandon

    Not yours either John.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Skidder

    I'm just tired of the whole, "My country sucks. I want to live in yours." approach. Not to mention "invading" then expecting special privilege and accomodations.....wanting to change the country to suit your needs. Ya... I know someone will say "Just like the settlers in America?" The point is, illegal is illegal and before you make statements about American Indians, please show me their laws on the books defining immigration laws and procedures because I'm pretty sure my decendants complied with what was on the books at the time.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BRETT

    Did your family start them wildfires?

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