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. the 2chefs

    ShimmyShane-I'm home. Maybe we're neighbors. Don't worry if you need help I won't judge you. I won't ask questions. I will cook you a hot meal, provide you a warm shower and hope you will one day pay it forward. But you are bigger then this aren't you. You have or will need help. It won't really matter if the person helping you is legal or not. As long as they help you right?

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

    deport the criminal

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

      TIDHO, your ignorance is showing.
      Being in this country without proper residency papers is not a criminal act.
      It is an administrative infraction, as specified by the Congress that now wants to go criminal on 20 million people.
      Too bad the American Indians and the Aztecs and Mayas and Incas did not have border patrols or Tidho's ancestors would have been sent back to Bulgaria or wherever THOSE PEOPLE came from.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • mr sluggo

      ditto. kick him out. a prize for writing? who cares.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • idb

      Tidho, you are completely right.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gaucho420

    Xenophobia...you're ugly head comes up everytime there's an economic crisis. I see you've made friends with a lot of people. Hopefully, you will leave soon when the economy gets better, because you truly make Americans look damn ugly.

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

      Since when is 'Illegal' a race?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Shut off the computer and go get a life

    Blogs have got to be the most ignorant inventions. Everyone sits at a computer spitting out their opinions – like it really makes a difference or anyone really cares what you think.

    Everybody has balls when they sit in their houses and put things out on the computer – but you get them face to face and they don’t have any balls to say what they think.

    A bunch of losers!

    Go get a life!

    June 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • idb

      So, what made you react then?

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


      June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. HDav2

    He is here ILLEGALLY by his own admission. Deport him, period.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      I'll second that!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      They haven't even deported that disgusting piece of trash Nicky Diaz yet... they don't care

      June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • marianne

      I agree, he is here illegally, which makes him a criminal. Deport him and all other illegals. And I agree with tati too...we are paying tons of extra $$ to educate and provide health care to illegals in Texas too. I'm tired of it. If the liberals who don't agree with this want to pick up the tab, I invite you to move allthe illegals to your state.

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

      Not to mention admitting using stolen social security numbers, and lying to the secret service to gain access to the white house......

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

    You stupid americans...

    June 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Daisy

    Let's be fair. This guy is not guilty of anything. His parents are. Those are the one who needs to be punished and deported if they are living in the USA ilegal.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • pj

      Yeah, point taken, at age 12 he wasn't guilty of anything, but what about since?

      "He even once gave the Secret Service an illegally obtained Social Security number so he could attend a White House dinner."

      I suspect that covers several levels of illegality . . .

      I feel bad for the guy, obviously he's a high-functioning and productive member of society.

      I think what we need is "selective amnesty." As illegals are caught, their cases should be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis: working, law-abiding member of society? OK, here's your green card, keep up the good work. Unemployed parasite or just plain criminal? You're on the next plane out.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Suzanne

    Its insulting to all the people who bothered to fill out the paperwork and come here legally if there is any amnesty for illegal immigrants. This man should go to jail to the fullest extent of the law for using an illegal social security number. Did his parents pay the taxes that paid for his middle school and high school education?
    I'm an otherwise law abiding citizen who votes, has a bachelor's degree and gladly does jury duty so if I get a speeding ticket, why do I have to pay it? I know I'm breaking the law but otherwise I'm a good citizen so by the logic that he is a productive member of society and should not be deported, then I should not have to pay my tickets. If you are here illegally and especially if you have made no effort to become a citizen once you turn 18 and are eligible, then you definately should be deported. No sympathy for him. He also needs to go to jail for illegally using social security numbers. I would as a legal citizen born here in the States. We need to enforce the laws we have and not feel sorry for people like this.

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

    Dude, this guy could've applied for H1-B status. Working for all those big corporations would've gotten you sponsored as LEGAL employee. Why he hasn't done it? BECAUSE HE IS A LIAR and he needs to come forward. Yea yeah, you are good with writing, but why don't you do it the legal way. Don't play dumb, I don't know what the process is. Here let me give you a head start in being LEGAL. http://www.uscis.gov and also http://www.travel.state.gov -> click on VISA, then click on VISA thought work sponsorship.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael

    I'm not going to cast the first stone.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe, Louisville, KY

      if you won't I will – get back to your home country you liar!

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

    For all of you haters from other countries...you would all be pretty angry too if a millions of Mexicans were crossing your borders illegally

    June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shut off the computer and go get a life

      I'm more angry that corporate America keeps sending out jobs to other countries. Not sure about you – but I’ve never lost a job to an illegal Mexican immigrant.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • jd


      June 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • mr sluggo

      Gee, i wonder why they don't immigrate to those other third world countries?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bill Young

    Regardless of your personal feelings on this young man's struggle, I find it sincerely discomforting at the amount of overt racism on this board, from both sides. I quote on blaming Blacks, one blaming Mexicans, and one blaming inbred rednecks. This is the problem, not this young journalist. Put your outdated and old-fashioned beliefs aside, they are ridiculous in this day and age, you should feel ashamed of yourselves.

    Children, play nice.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe, Louisville, KY

      This is not abour racism, it is about our fury at yet another 'poor' illegal immigrant who just can't be bothered to do it the legal way.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank Gioco

      Here we go, racists set ready....go!!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill Young

      Well, it is about racism, when the people I'm quoting are blaming other races, and using racial slurs. Read the post carefull before responding.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jeff G

    So, what? Sure some illegal immigrants succeed but you don't set policy based on the fringe results.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joe, Louisville, KY

    send him back and he can apply legally like anyone else. I despuise illegal immigrants and their pathetic excuses about why they couldn't be bothered to try and be honest from the outset.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
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