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. JD

    I have no problem with people coming here legally and contributing to society. In comparison to many other countries, the US has a VERY open immigration policy. Provided that you are employed and are paying taxes and obiding by our laws, it is not difficult to become an American citizen. My guess is that the reason this man, who was clearly employed and therefore could have had a proper visa and eventually become a citizen, remained an illegal alien is that he didn't want to expose his family who is still here illegally and doesn't fulfill the requirements to become citizens. I pay a lot of money in taxes. I have no patience for people that don't contribute. The reason illegal aliens get such a bad rap is that in remaining illegal, it basically implies that they're not maintaining proper employment or abiding by our laws. If they were doing those things, they could easily become citizens. The difficulties that children of illegal aliens face are terrible – it's not their fault that their parents are criminals (yes, that's what it's called when you repeatedly break the law), and something should be done about it, but again, it's not really that hard for them to become legal once they are adults. Especially compared to the immigration laws of other countries.

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

    I think we should all be deported to Africa, the only true source of our species. Though my Irish complexion may not fare well in the African sun. I guess melanoma is my penance for my illegal entry into the US.

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

      Why? Were your Irish ancestors stowaways? If not, they were probably LEGALLY entering the country.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Most of us are descendants from legal immigrants. Why should we be deported?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Pleo

    @Little German Sheperd,

    No. I won't have a change of opinion. Kick his sorry ass out of here and back to where he came from. End of story.

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

    @ "There's a Right Way" – no it's actually quite difficult to immigrate here legally. After years of working closely with people who try and come here the right way – I've seen them have to wait years, even decades to even get paperwork processed.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • LouDobbs2012

      We already let in way too many legally. We don’t need to speed up the process, we need to SLOW it down.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • HDav2

      So because it's "difficult" to do legally we should let him break the law? Getting a job in this economy can be difficult so I think I'm going to resort to robbing banks. But hey, it's ok because it's difficult to make money any other way...

      June 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      It's supposed to be difficult. Legal immigration is a privilege designed to maintain manageable numbers with successful assimilation into our society.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • drc

      The 'right' way is meant to be difficult, it is in EVERY country. Try immigrating to most any other country and they don't roll out the welcome matt. In addtion, following a country's immigration laws also assures the immigrant has passed health checks, rudimentary English Communication and is not some sort of criminal from another country. It also allows us to accept people based on them actually being able to contribue to society and not be a DRAIN like most illegals who work for cash and don't pay their fair share of taxes and game the system.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. @Julius

    Seriously? No, a 12 year old should not be punished, but the adult man should.
    He made the choice to keep up the charade.
    "Anyone who disagrees with me should have their kids deported"
    Seriously? What are YOU, 12 yourself?
    And where would my kids be deported TO, being that they are American citizens?

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

      here is the thing they even though they may be citizens their parents are not so they should go back with them. when they become legal age to make a decision they then have the right to come back if they want. and if the parent decides to leave them here without their parents then they are just bad parents....all or nothing.

      your right its not the kids fault. but thats the situation and they have to pay for what their parents should not have done.

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

    "Could" get him deported????

    June 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JoeT

    We should just revert to the same stand on illegal immigration that we had when the nation was founded. To wit, if you're standing on American soil, you're a legal immgrant.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. A

    Oh look... Another illegal immigration sob story.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RagingSemi

    1. Everyone here is from somewhere else, unless youre whats left of the natives that were wiped out.
    2. Are you going to do the back breaking, low paying job that keeps things cheap and moving along that you say an illegal stole? Theres still plenty of those out there waiting while you sit and complain about unemployment and illegals. Ill list a few always open jobs so you patriotic America lovers can do your part: Farm hand, janitor, construction labor, meat packing, food processing, maid. Oh, those skill free jobs dont pay what you think youre worth. Im sorry. Please stay on welfare then while you shout GO USA! and whine.
    3. To reference number 2, illegals are the backbone of your country. But its not like you cant pitch in, its just too hard, isnt it?
    4. Im not going to read or respond to any posts left about this by anyone. Im right. Your lazy armchair patriot b.s. is actually whats wrong with this country, not people that move here illegally.

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

      Good post............

      June 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      That's BS. I worked my way through college doing construction, loading trucks, unloading trucks, stocking shelves, doing boring clerical jobs, and plenty of other work that "American's won't do!" Now, 20-25 years later, I work in more advanced positions. However, the knowledge of what goes on in low level jobs is always valuable. We need to get Americans off of social service programs and out of street corner criminal activity and into the jobs currently done by illegals. It makes no sense to pay Americans to be on welfare or to be in prison AND pay illegals to do the jobs that our poor people should be doing. Plus, if illegals weren't readily available, employers would have to provide better pay and better benefits to American workers.

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

      All i have to say is I agree with RagingSemi 100%, they spoke exactly what I stand for.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      not true...wrong is wrong! does not matter! there is a process to come here just like any other country. if you stay too long in any country they will kick you out. there is a time limit. btw to people who think that our ancestors came here illegally you are wrong they came during a time that anyone was allowed in. now we are an established country that only has room for x amount in any one given time.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pleo

    I don't care how long they have to wait. If they are here illegally, they should be kicked out and bared from ever returning. Legally or not. We should inject radio tags into them before we ship them out so that we can track if they try to re-enter.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |

    He broke the law so something should be done. Using social security numbers that are not his, is breaking the law and also he lived in the US and did not pay any taxes either, is this okay? There should be some consequences

    June 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      If he was working for an employer, he was paying taxes as they take it out of his paycheck. Even if it's not in his own name.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • KGinPA

      So what make you think he didn't pay taxes???? The truth of the matter is that nearly all illeagal immigrants have taxes taken out of thier compensation at rates that exceed most citizens. The difference is that most illeagal immigrants can't or won't file an income tax return and get their refund.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      He was gainfully employed. He did use social security numbers (maybe not his own) and taxes would have been automatically withheld from his paycheck. Not sure if you've had a job before... but it's kinda hard to get around.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. lokz

    This is America not any other country and to follow the rest of the world in immigration policy is a step back for her. How can American citizens look to other countries and say look at them we should follow their lead. we need immigration reform that works for america and no one else. illegal or legal immigration is just a matter of words on papers and can be fixed if we stand together to find a solution. this guy is a great asset to the u.s. and should be kept here.

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

    There is no such nas a proud mexican...toss his ass back over the border..he is a criminal as are 20 million other wet or dry backs

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

    Illegal is illegal he should go out on the next flight, there is no reason he couldn't have done the very same thing in his own home country. He has performed many criminal acts and that cannot be condoned, do the honorable thing and leave on your own. It's the right thing to do.

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

    There is no such as a proud mexican...toss his ass back over the border..he is a criminal as are 20 million other wet or dry backs

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