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. We111nformed

    America is everybody country. It does not belong to one people, one race, one religion and one culture. Never has and never will.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • ROG

      but its laws must be followed. I think we can all agree on that.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ned

    Deport his sorry ass.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Akamai

      @ned– I don't know. He sounds like he might be a better human being than you.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Erik

    I was born here in the USA and ready for someone to send me outta here!!!!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      This case or any one case is not representative of all cases. He is probably a fine citizen but a Pulitzer prize only means you wrote something criotical of the US.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RainyAlaska

    He is a criminal and a liar. His parents are also criminals for putting a 12 year old in that situation. If you want to come to this country then do it the correct way. We can't continue to look the other way or reward criminals. This guy's entire professional career has been a lie. Why would we want liars and cheats in this country? We have enough here legally already! I don't feel sorry for this idiot at all. He could have corrected this a long time ago but he didn't. He just took advantage of everything this country had to offer while now he must pay the price.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      You're kidding right? We reward criminals every day in this country. Look at Congress and past presidents. Look at Florida currently, their governor stole billions of dollars from medicare and was rewarded by keeping the money and then being allowed to use the money and buy his position as governor. Don't kid yourself that every American is some pure, law abiding person. Almost every one of us breaks some laws somewhere along the line.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      "Criminal" is a little harsh dont you think? He was 12 and basically "forced" to come here with his parents. While technically criminal may be correct, you are really using it as a loaded word to try to incite people to take your view point. He is obviously a contributor to our society and country and while I'm no politician and can't speak for the law – my humanity would say that someone like this guy should be able to stay.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Theres a Right Way

    Hey, maybe if you spent a little time over the years actually trying to become a legal immigrant instead of lying about it things may have turned out diferent. It's not impossible, it's actually pretty easy.

    How about this – you meet the same requirements I would face to immigrate to the Philippines, and then we see who really has a harder time imiigrating to a new country.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      You and others like you act like you personally built this country with your bare hands and like contributors such as this guy are stealing something off your plate. I doubt you could have written Pulitzer Prize worthy anything or have done anything to help this country anywhere near this guy's level of contributions.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • @D

      Yes, he is stealing. When he doesn't pay taxes, then he's taking from my child's education. He's taking off my plate when my taxes are raised to pay when he isn't. As one of those who pays over 30% in taxes and of the 50% of Americans who pay taxes, then yes.... I am contributing and builidng America as losers like him are stealing. Do you really think he's filing taxes, or just banking the cash? He's using his stolen social security number to file taxes? Give me a break. Get over yourself. Odds are you aren't contributing or footing the bill in the absence of his contributions. Let me guess. You're the morality police that decides who laws should apply to? I don't tihnk I'm going to abide by your laws and rules. Now what?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      Let's get something straight about taxes. I'm not a tax attorney or lawyer or whatever but I know if he has a regular job he most likely pays some taxes in the form of taxes being taken out of his check. Also, filing taxes and paying taxes are two different things. Maybe he doesnt file taxes, maybe he does. But i'd think if he owned anything worth being taxed then he would somehow either be in jail already for not paying those taxes or that he owns nothing worth being taxed. I don't think he is evading paying taxes. If i'm wrong then I accept that but i'd like to see that proof of him actually evading paying taxes.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Akamai

      D– can ya read?? The guy has been paying taxes– just to someone else's social security number. (Yet he'll never collect a penny of those taxes back, will he?) It would be just about impossible to be an employee of a major newspaper & not have taxes withheld from your paycheck.

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

      @Akamai – That's what I was saying. It is the guy that responded to my comments that you are contradicting.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Akamai

      @D– sorry, I realized that it was the other poster just after I hit send.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. paul johnson

    While we can all agreed Vargas is an exceptional individual he doesn't represent every illegal in the country, so do you make a exception in his case and deport the less talented. The real issue is America is a country ruled by laws, if you disregard the law you undermine the the whole premise and become Mexico, China , Sudan or a thousand other places where law is whatever the top guy says it is.Another part of the argument is illegal immigrants are a hidden tax on poor and working class people, they use the services, medical, educational, social, forcing citizens to complete for space in schools, hospitals, and rentals. They drive up the cost of apartments and lower wages,while at the same time sending most of their earning out of the country instead of circulating in those communities. Of course they want a better life for themselves and family, but what about working class people who also want a better life for their kids? Why should American lower and middle class people carry the weight, fight the wars, and sacrifice their own interests and play the sacrificial lamb for the rest of humanity?

    June 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      These comments make me sick. It's like those of you crying are acting like you personally built this entire country with YOUR "tax dollars" and like contributors such as this guy are stealing stuff that leaves you homeless or without a job. I doubt any of you, actually I KNOW none of you, have produced ANYTHING of value for this country anywhere near Pulitzer worthy anything. While I DO think the law should be obeyed, I also value humanity more than the law. Laws change all of the time. Humanity should trump the law IMHO. If I had to do something illegal to save someone's life i'd do so in a heartbeat (not talking about physically harming another individual or anything like that). Humanity, empathy, etc should be valued more than the law or the law should reflect more empathy than it does.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • @D

      I guess everyone should decide what laws should apply and how? It's not your place to decide how my money should be spend and where I contribute to charity. Are you trying to advocate communism, or beat the Bible? Don't forget the Bible has 10 laws/commandments of its own, but I guess we don't really need to live by them when it doesn't suit our needs?
      The fact remains, laws are necessary and if you want to see what your approach breeds, then look at African and the issues there where laws mean nothing and people all do what they feel is appropriate. Give it a rest.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      There you go with loaded words again. I'm not advocating Russian style bread line communism – NO. I'm advocating being humane and having a heart people. I do not think that it's fair for illegal immigrants to come over here and steal jobs that Americans WANT and have earned and then go out and commit crimes while gang banging – NO. And I don't know how I would, as a lawmaker, do what I propose while preventing what we are all against. BUT, I DO feel something needs to change. This guy is obviously not the type of guy we are seeking to get rid of – he is just as much a contributor or probably moreso than you and I. My humaneness says this guy should stay but I admit I have no idea how to craft a law that would allow that. BUT that's what we supposedly pay smart people to do, be creative and come up with laws that actually reflect our values and I think that anyone who is not a citizen should be allowed to become one if they are the kind of people like this guy seemingly is. Russian style communism – NO; Humaneness and the desire for inclusion rather than exclusion and territorialness – YES.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. noteabags

    I thought all illegal immigrants were on welfare. Better ship him out before he sets another fire.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Anonymous

    The thing that amazes me when people are so quick to say that he should be deported, well I'm sorry, but where do you think your roots stem from? This entire country was developed off of the backs of others. No one is a "true" citizen of the United States–not a one. We all have ancestors who came off of a boat from some other country in the hopes of developing a better life for our future. The ignorance that still emanates in today's society is just pathetic.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Yes, all of our ancestors are immigrants. However, most of our ancestors immigrated to this country under the laws in place at that time. Next time think before you speak, because your argument is stupid.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chunkee

      Maybe you should go look up the legal definition of "citizen." If you feel so strongly that this is a law all can disregard, what laws do you feel are worthy of enforcement? We have laws for a reason.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hmm

      Show me the laws saying we were forbidden entry into the US and declaring it a sovereign nation. No law preventing it, hence it wasn't illegal.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Akamai

      If we all went back 5-6-7 generations (depending on how old you are and how fast your particular family bred), we would probably just about all come from "illegal immigrants". I know my great great grandparents just got on a boat from Ireland & came over– no "papers" no nothing except the clothes on their backs & enough money in their pockts to get them thru the first few days here. They got off the boat– hit the streets of New York– and started working as manual laborers ubtil they saved up enough to move farther west & buy a piece of land (nobody asked if they were U.S. citizens either) and started farming. By the grace of being born here, our succeeding generations were magically "citizens". Ironically, my supposedly "illegal" g-g-grandparents were probably way better "Americans" than many of my current day "legal citizen" cousins.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Burbank

    Deport him. One of his employers can rehire him on an H1 the way they are supposed to. If he has needed skills that can't be filled by Citizens or Green Card holders there shoudln't be any problem. If not, he is a talented person and perhaps his own country needs him a lot more than we do.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • E

      This is his country.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BuddahMang

    Id rather have him br my fellow American than most of you bigots, atleast he can man up for his mistakes and he has the type of courage that makes America great, you on the other hand seem like a bunch of cowards that are mad a man born outside the US with every disadvantage possible made himself into a success while your still a trailer park king.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ReasonableVoice

      He has spoken up – to which I give him credit. However, he has yet to man-up. Those credentials are earned after he faces any penalties associated with his illegal conduct.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      WOW...well put. I think you couldnt have said it better.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. angeleyes

    Yassir Arafat was a Pulizer Prize winner! I work in the health care field. I see illigal imma. every day. Free health care. Free school lunches,food stamps. Pop out their anchor babies by the dozens. Rangeling the system like crazy. The state funds are bleeding like crazy. Don't even think about gangs or crime. Refusing to get driver's licence or car insurance. I am getting tired of the bleeding heart liberals who want to give them a free ride. Mine isn't free. I have to obey the law. Enough said

    June 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ITSec

      Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize – not the Pulitzer! Your inaccuracy in this rant is obvious, both on this matter and the rest.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RayJacksonMS

    He should have gotten on a plane and gone home a long time ago. The fact he's still here tells you he doesn't feel guilty about committing crimes. He only wants to use his celebrity go get citizenship for himself and others. Throw them all out. There are millions of people from his country that would gladly come here legally and not steal from Americans. Let one of them in instead.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mrmailman



    June 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michael

    Fine, let him stay. *After* he opens his books and pays his taxes – and does the proper *whatever* to gain legal citizenship.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Knows the Subject

    There are a lot of people commenting who obviously have NO IDEA how our immigration laws work. I have worked in the area of immigration law and it is not a matter of just deciding to fill out some paperwork and "get in line." If you marry an American citizen, obtaining citizenship is relatively easy. If you arrive on a student visa and find an employer that will sponsor you for a job that meets specific requirements (including that a qualified American citizen could not be found to do the job), you could obtain citizenship, although it is much more complicated. If you have a relative here who could sponsor you, you will have to wait anywhere between 10 and 20 years, but you could eventually obtain citizenship. If you do not meet any of those catagories you are pretty much out of luck. There are a few visa categories that allow for temporary employment, etc., but these are rarely used because they do not work for most people. If you are a hard-working immigrant who performs low-skill labor and you do not have a U.S. citizen relative, these is no way for you ever to be legal under our current system. Many people seem to be ignorant of the fact that the vast majority of illegal immigrants would love to have a legal status and would happily comply with the necessary paperwork, but there is absolutely no option for them to do so. To all those speaking so rudely of "illegals," entering the U.S. illegally is the same class of misdemeanor as a speeding ticket, so if you have ever had a speeding ticket you are as much of a "criminal" as they are.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • What's your point?

      So we should condone speeding and accept illegals with open arms? There's a reason why we restrict the number of immigrants. You also left off the part about "lotteries" where we allow a percentage of people in legally each year. I know one from Germany who was legally admitted. All this garbage about illegals contributing to our economy. Using illegally obtained social security numbers to obtain employment. Then comes claiming 14 deductions so no taxes are withheld. Then there's the not filing. On top of which they send money out of country to support their families there. Throw in claiming chest pains to get ER treatment and when they've wasted time and money there for no reason, they ask for drugs for the sniffles the actually had. So you're saying this is all "misdemeanor" type crime? Get real. It's easy to omit all the other stuff from the equation when pounding the pulpit. Do we want to go down the path of other costs to society and tax payers for education, and all that? Didn't think so. You don't really know the subject all that well.

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