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. An American Citizen

    The same folks who want to deport these people don't want any more government spending....we can't deport without spending, and can't close the border without spending....hmmmm.

    Amnesty isn't popular, but it would get them paying taxes....and that would bring in revenue.....but hey, why bother with logic?

    June 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not even close

      Get them paying taxes? You're kidding right? They'll continue to claim 14 deductions, not file, and send the money out of country the same as before. Or do you seriously think they'll suddenly become law abiding people? Get real.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. on the fence

    Hard to put blame on a 12 year old who was dragged into the country by his parents. Despite what bigots here think, the vast majority of self made millionaires in North America are IMMIGRANTS. This just shows that there is a huge difference between how driven "home grown Americans" versus naturalized immigrants.

    In any case, there are immigration laws are meant to prevent foreign criminals from entering and weed out those with the potential to be a burden on American tax payers. If these people have been contributing to society with no criminal record for 10+ years they should be treated differently from someone who just crossed the border.

    It is hypocritical for Americans to push "human rights" on other countries when this huge blackhole exists in America itself.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • tlym49

      Sorry, I may be a classless American but I'll never forget hearing how long my grandmother and grandfather had to wait to enter this country LEGALLY and how they sailed across the Atlantic in awful conditions. I'm sorry Mr. Vargas was only 12 when His family brought him here illegally, but what is right is right. He and his family should be sent back and made to apply for entry again LEGALLY. He will, of course, have no problem with that ater winning the Pulitzer.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Little German shepperd

    For all of you who are not illegal immigrants. Read more about it because only when you have a complete understanding of what really means to be an illegal alien in this country (and how you survive), then you'll have a change of heart and of opinion.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • ScottM

      Everybody has some hard-luck story to their life. Just because certain people are leaving a bad country and trying to provide for their family and afraid of being deported, that doesn't make them special cases. How about reforming their own country - revolution is how America got to be where it is today, after all. Anyway, I'm not saying that our immigration laws are perfect. Certainly there is room for reform. But bleeding-heart liberals will never change my mind with sob stories, just like Republicans won't win any votes by building pointless fences. We need a real discussion, not name-calling or Chicken Soup tales.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. the 2chefs

    Funny how these stories all lead back to comments about illegals stealing jobs. Ok for you lack couch potatoes who claim illegals are taking your jobs then lets seriously look at it. So catch them, strip them of anything they've achieved and send them back. I promise you lazy cows will then find someone else to blame that you don't have a job while you're sitting there cryng about how little your welfare check is. fo doing nothing. Now lets say all the illegals are back in their birth countries. Now exactly where do you think the jobs will go? Silly fools, they are already going to their countries, sent by ourbig American companies-jobs sent over sees and to Mexico and elsewhere. Why? because the workers work hard, long days for lower wages. What do you ean you need healthcare, welfare, days off, vacation pay, sick leave, maternity leave and my child is at home sick days off? I other countries it doesn't work that way nor does it here anymore. That's why the jobs you cry about wanting either go to someone whose just damn happy to work and provide without welfare or they've already been sent oversees.
    God Bless all the illegals who have made the sacrifices to get here, find employment and work your butts off, especially since our own Americans born here can't seem to walk to the local McDonalds and apply and accept a job.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Annas still dead

      Next time do us all a favour, and just BLOW IT OUT YOUR SHORTS!

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

      God bless the citizens of the worlds nations who work hard and sacrifice to make THEIR OWN country better by following the laws, & changing the laws of THEIR country. We welcome them to get on the list to visit, and even become citizens, LEGALLY. Why is it soooo many well meaning people can't get over the fact that we have to have laws, especially regarding how many people come here from other countries? We have managed immigrants and their assimilation for hundreds of years, to our nations great benefit, with problems to be sure, but over all, to our great benefit. When others succeed, we all succeed. No argument there / logical. Calling us "hypocritical" re: human rights is certainly stretching / hyperbole, to make your weak point- people want to come here because we provide the basis for all human rights. Freedom. Which is far from free. We all have to give up little freedoms to have the big one; we have to work hard, save, take chances, follow all the laws. Sacrifices to be sure. Immigrants must be held to the same standard. Not so confused now hopefully:)

      June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Don

    iIgnorant american born citizens will have a narrow view about immigration. I think sending these kids to their ancestral land during high school will educate them. Listen, we are all immigrants here!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • stevador39

      American citizens are taxpayers. Illegals are thieves and criminals. Are you able to understand.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • the 2chefs

      sending our American born children to these countries when their teens will be the better. They should appreciate what they have and why they should be happy to find a job and work up the ladder. They should be glad they know where their next meal comes from and mostly they should be glad their families don't have to leave them to find food in another country.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. boston

    You are here illegally, do the right thing and leave, then if you want to live in the USA, apply for proper visa.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. stevador39

    All illegal aliens are criminals. The U.S. government is attacking the right of American citizens to earn a living wage. The charities who support illegals make money off of them and these religions and charities pay no taxes.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • the 2chefs

      no charitable organization or religious group pays taxes. Now when you need their charity do you feel that you're more deserving because you have not needed to cross a dessert, river or entire ocean to find food for your family? I wish anyone who has made such a harsh and life threatening journey to feed thier families and provide better for themselves so they can contribute back to our country would come upon my door so I may wash their feet and rid them of thier pain.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • ShimmyShane

      To the 2Chiefs – Go home.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. deport him

    Have a nice time back home, good riddance- criminal.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ShimmyShane

    I dont get it – What is it about "Illegal" that no one gets? Go to Korea, Middle East etc and see what they would do to you if you are not supposed to be there. Even our politicians dont get it.
    Its simple – if you are Illegal then you dont belong here – GET OUT!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • the 2chefs

      I could not have said it any better myself!

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

    I am bewildered by the lack of understanding, callousness, and dehumanizing positions people take on these forums. The DREAM ACT (a bi-partisan effort) would have helped this man, and many other worthy people.

    Oh wait, he's gay. Nevermind...

    June 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. minnie

    I was brought to the US at age of five, I had no say in that decision. Eventually got my green card and paid my way thru college, have worked since I was fifteen years of age and have not had to rely on any government assistance.
    I have US born friends that complain about illegals while they themselves are on welfare. When I tell them about job openings they say that they will not work for the wages offered. I always tell them that the minimumm wage is more than what they get on welfare but they would rather not work. So who takes those jobs?? Illegals!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Phil

    So the prize winner is a federal law breaker.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. hodel

    To all the people who keep saying, "We are all immigrants" in the USA; "All of us illegally came here and took the land from the Native Americans"... Using your logic, then we all need to go back into Africa. Every person from every country that is not part of Africa. As a species, we all decended from that continent, so that is where we all need to go. We are all illegals in every country in Asia, Europe, Australia, N. and S. America.

    That argument is stupid and you need to come up with something better. No one was illegal to this country until it became a country and had laws dealing with immigration. Only after that point do we get illegal alins.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mighty

    I really don't understand people who say Legal or illegal immigrants steal Job. They are plenty of opportunities in America , how come migrants are getting jobs and Citizens can't . They are jobs but guys are not trying out and don't want to move from there place. Move to places where jobs are available till economy gets good and then move back. Americans can't do low level jobs but where as immigrants take what ever it comes to them. They are lot of Hitech Jobs in IT and Technology sector but no one to take .

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