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. Depression

    This man should be Deported .We need to start sending public messages to illegal immgrants in this country so that they will chose not to come here in the first place , or understand that their situation here is hopless and leave of their own accord .

    June 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      How about we just deport all of the t-ards that think others don't belong here? There is NOTHING about being born here that makes a person "better"....let's have citizenship be based on merit...oh, yeah...cause that would eliminate most of the american population...

      June 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fry

      Not sure if trolling...

      June 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      "There is NOTHING about being born here that makes a person "better".

      Your're right. It just makes you an American Citizen. Which means you have the legal right to be here.

      June 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      You need to be deported because your ancestors came to North America illegally, slaughtering millions of native americans and stealing their land.

      How about we just shut our faces about "illegal immigration", m'kay?

      June 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • hawk

      Tape up that bleeding heart. The key word is "illegal". Not better or worse, just legal or illegal. By the way, do you think everybody in the world should be allowed to enter the US if they want to? Do you draw the line anywhere or should we eventually have all the world living in the USA and the rest of the world vacant?

      June 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • t

      rob. your missing the point. I am first generation born here in this country, i love immigrants. they add flavor to the pot. its the illegal part we have a problem with.

      June 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • C'mon Rob

      On a human value level, of course there is no difference between a person born outside this country and within this country.

      But the truth? When your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. who came over here legally... gone through the process... paid taxes.... participated in the society... and helped build this country into what it is... their work creates your birthright.

      The United States isn't a limitless pot of money. We can't handle hordes of new people who don't pay income taxes, don't pay for their healthcare, and are a drain on our government system. We can't protect them from being exploited by giant corporations when we don't know where they are or what is happening. We can't protect them from unscrupulous landlords because they don't know the laws, don't know English, and we have no idea where they are living.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank Gioco

      Depression please keep depressed. You can make the argument that this man should be deported but it does not send a public message at all because some immigrants are not the decision makers in their family, this man was 12 years old when he came to this country so I assume he was brought here by somebody else no? so what about people that they are already here and were brought at 2 or 3 months old and they have absolutely no ties to where they came from and are now 50, 60, 70 years old?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosa Parks

      Don't be depressed! Georgia is hiring day laborers for its crops. You will have fun there making $7.25/hour under 100 degrees....

      June 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Rob, there is something that makes those who were born here more deserving of being here: The law.

      If enough people want to change the law then they can change the law, because it's a democracy, and that's what democracy is supposed to be about, but until the law is changed, I deserve to be here and those who are here illegally do NOT deserve to be here.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • AWMessenger

      This illegal immigrant has proven to himself and to the world that he can be successful anywhere, including the country of his origin. If he would like to follow the rules, fill out paperwork, start the green card process, that would probably be the right thing to do. I usually try to follow the rules. It doesn't seem to be that difficult for me.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poppy

      It's hard for me to imagine that the U.S. would be better off without this talented young man. Yes, he's broken the law, but we have American congressmen who break the law and are rewarded by being allowed to remain in office and American citizens who have crashed White House parties and then are rewarded with a reality show. I'd much rather have Mr. Vargas as my neighbor.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • tati

      Rob, did you think long about your comment? Almost can see the steam coming out of your ears. It is not about being born here (I was not), it is about using legal ways of coming here. Also, what is important for a lot of people – not mooching of the social services. Go to a welfare office in L.A. and see for yourself who is there with their anchor babies.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      Tati, you're a welfare recipient. That's how you know who is in the welfare office.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • queenbee

      With most legal immigration lines having a waiting period of around 20 years–for every illegal who is smart, hard working, diligent, and pays taxes there is a LEGAL immigrant who is smart, hard working, diligent and HONEST who has to wait longer. Sometimes they die, never having set foot here–never having gotten the chance to prove how smart, honest and hard working they are. Never having held the long lost child or reunite with the dad or mom or sister.

      They LOSE because everyone now disregards the law and thinks the ones who lie, cheat and steal to be here are somehow noble–It is like thinking if a person jumps in front of you to get on a plane or in a hospital, they deserve treatment more than you.

      All of you who champion illegals should remember that their insistence in cutting that line, means those who wait patiently and legally for their chance do not get in–they wait even longer until the quotas for what ever they do or where ever they come from go down again.

      People are not interchangeable and laws are not arbitrary or convenient. There are reasons why illegal immigration is evil and wrong–the most personal for me is that I had a relative who died before she could live here. She made it to Canada just before her death–having waited over 13 years in THAT LINE and the cause for such a long wait was pretty simple–too many from her country had come in before her and too many of a certain minority group were here illegally–those things pushed her number back. DON"T YOU GUYS realize this is not about sharing>

      WHO is the uber smart child who is waiting to get in, but cannot due to the illegals already here? WHO could have won a pulitzer or known their family had they been allowed in? Oh yeah–that does not matter as long as the selfish and the self serving get here first–let them be championed–they may not respect our laws but hey–one of "them " is just as good as another right?

      One is not just as good as the other. For my money–the LEGAL immigrant who respects our rules even to their own detriment is worth at least a thousand of the line jumpers, the cutters, the liars, the fraudulent, the baby droppers, the fake marrying, the forever vacationers. A. Samad–RIP

      June 22, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Millie Bea

    He should be deported. Done.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • todd

      Deport he is illegal. oes everyone notice how proud and in your fae he is about this? They all disgust me.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • alicia

      To the comment that being born here doesn't make you better....being illegal doesn't make you better or above the law either.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • sheppard

      todd – your illiterate post disgusts me......

      June 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank Gioco

      Todd said: "They all disgust me", Todd please turn to your guns and religion, you just showed you are nothing but a racist.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. H8w8ting

    Good for him!!! Now he can repay all of the social services, education and healthcare costs he received illegally. Then he can stand in line and become a legal citizen.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff

    Then please go home and apply to come back if you wish. You are not the only person who would like to move to this country and you don't deserve to be here any more than any of those other people who are attempting to come here legally. Everyone deserves a fair chance and those who ignore our laws should be sent packing.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • JoseGo Home

      Very rational point

      June 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dave

    Uses a fake SSN to go to the White House...Nope, nothing wrong here....lets make him a congressman or something.
    Let the hero worshipping begin!

    June 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      The sheer fact he got into the dinner with a fake SS# should make the secret service stop and think. Plus now he has made a shadow file under someone elses SS# and possibly will mess up their retirement, etc.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cl78

    A gay illeagal liberal immigrant? This poor guy doesn't have a prayer.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I'm sorry, where does it say he is gay??????

      June 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Second to last paragraph.
      "And since he is a gay male, he also doesn't have the option of marrying an American citizen."

      June 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JudgeCrater

    Actually, he is allowed to marry an American citizen. Perhaps not allowed to marry another man, but there is no law in this country requiring a man to marry someone he loves.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Not TRue. Actually the marriage cannot be of purpose to obtain citizenship. Seeing his current situation, any marriage will be heavily scrutinized by INS

      June 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • naturalized immigrant

      Actually CIS takes marriages used to qualify for a green card very seriously. They investigate the marriage to see if it is legitimate or only based on the desire to get legal status. If they think it is only for status they will deny the application. Now that he has come out as gay he has no chance of qualifying for that benefit, even if he were to try to get married.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JoseGo Home

    I hope Jose enjoys his trip HOME and settles in quickly.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Patriot to the Flag

    Deport Him ASAP!

    June 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. DonnieJ

    Wow – he's gay and an illegal alien. If he were middle class republicans would have three reasons to hate him.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Colin

    This is exactly the type of high achieving immigrant the US should be bending over backwards to attract. We need to have better avenues for legal migration so that creative people will come create in the US legally. Deporting someone for an act that happened when they are 12 is IDIOTIC. A 12 year old doesn't choose to migrate. A 12 year old isn't culpable.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      but if we allow high achievers in, then all of the stupid bigots will have a harder time competing....you know that is the only reason they have....they just don't want to suck it up and do better themselves so they advocate getting rid of everyone they can....

      June 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • rahul

      its funny to hear conservatives who take a hardline on children being brought here illegally - 10 years ago during the elian gonzales event these same conservatives were criticizing the democrats who sent him back home to cuba ...

      June 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • KLM

      Great point, you are correct at 12 he did not commit a crime, but how about 18, 19, 20 etc. What about the false SSN to gain access to the white house. I hear a lot of people complain about how hard immigration laws are here. Maybe you should look at those of other countries. There are a lot of people that would love to immigrate here and thousands that apply to do so legally every year. If we were to let every single person that wants to in the economy would crumble, there are not enough jobs, and or services to sustain the influx. Remember we are not talking a single working age immigrant, most are families with 1to 2 full time workers and the remainder dependents, so the burden placed on services is tripled while the money entering those systems is not. Face it every country has immigration laws, most a lot more stringent than Americas, and every country looks at protecting the economy and quality of life from an internal perspective.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earnest Lee Saddened

      By his own admission, he was breaking laws. Don't make a claim the guy was walking blind as he lied to the SECRET SERVICE, college and employers. You want to give the world a free pass, offer americans in trade, or just be bleeding hearts for your personal crusades, PAY FOR THEM!!!!! Do more than just speechify. People may have had to put up with government intrusion because of his using their Social Security numbers. Too bad it didn't happen to you so you could feel it personally.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tarkin

      Your right, he was 12. Let him stay and put his parents in debtors prison until they pay back all the illegally gained benefits their sone received. They can remain there until he either returns to his own country of origin, applies for and and is accepted for legal immigration, or the debts are paid back. It's not his fault, his parents should pay.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • oriental man

      Great thoughts Colin. Inspite of his parents' status he was able to achieve what he wanted to achieve, not engaging in violent crimes and other evil deeds. It's never too late for the US to seaparte the chaff from the grain. He deserves to be here.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |

      he is not a high-achieving illegal.... all his accomplishments are from American resources. All of them. and all of them stolen. Have you noticed that our education system is tanking? Do you think maybe it being flooded with these illegal kids sucking up resources has something to do with that? do the math einstein.

      June 22, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CorpGreedSux

    Deport this fool

    June 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Roy

    This individual should be deported and every employer who employed him knowing his resl status should reveive a very hefty fine.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      Agree with you 100% on this one. the employers who knew he was here illegally should go to jail, period.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. L M Brown

    I think he's shown that he's worthy of citizenship status. He works hard, has a talent that he shares with others and a willingness to correct his wrong. Let him stay. Even the Native Americans immigrated here, after all.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      "even" the native americans? if anything, maybe the native americans should be debating about deporting the white people that took their land...

      June 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • ROG

      I'm sorry L M Brown, they were here first before anyone else.

      June 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      I can excuse his being here illegally. Presuming someone else brought him here when he was 12, he was not responsible for how he got here. What is inexcusable is his admitted fraudulent use of multiple social security numbers. He lied to the Secret Service to breach the White House. Pulitzer Prize or not, that behavior is not acceptable. Regardless of your stance on illegal immigration,that behavior alone should send him packing, either back to the Phillappines or to jail.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mustang

      He's referring to the Bering land bridge.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Rob: You make an excellent point for why illegal aliens should be deported immediately. A combination of bleeding hearts and economic opportunists allowed the illegal European immigrants to stick around until the immigrants took over the country and butchered the natives. It would be pretty stupid to turn around and let that happen again, wouldn't it?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      It wasn't bleeding hearts that allowed the Europeans to stay. They came here and immediately began committing genocide. The current illegal immigrants are coming because of US foreign policy in Latin America that is pushing them off of their own land, specifically NAFTA, CAFTA and The War on Drugs. They aren't bad people. They are coming here to work and survive. They have survived 500 years of European invasion.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |

      I cannot forgive that he took something from another kid; one of our own. To get his education, he took time, money and resources from an American student. Maybe there was a kid in one of his schools that would have had a brighter future if his own education had not been diluted with the strain of so many illegal kids.

      June 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Umbra

    What to be proud of? I bet a lot of illegal immigrants are nice and talented people... So are citizens and so are legal immigrants. Let's just follow the law, people.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:54 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