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. nsu131

    Where are all the Mexicans defending this man? Oh right, they aren't because he is from the Philippines. Mexicans don't care unless it involves them and only them. Have you ever watch the news on Univision? Every fricking topic is about immigration in the U.S....they don't go deep when they discuss world issues. But they will have a 30 minute segment on some poor illegal immigrant who got deported after ICE raided their home, and how they are now forced to separate from their anchor babies......

    June 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • mexican defending him right here

      I agree that something needs to be done about immigration, but time and time again we see and know of people that are being productive members of this great country that was founded by immigrants, being treated like lesser human beings. We need people like him to help America have the reputation it once had – innovative, hardworking, a place where you have a real chance to make a better life – "the American Dream". Your relatives came for the same reason he is here – unless your relatives Pocahantas or something, you have no room to speak. Good people from all countries are being forced to break the law to have the lives we do. This man went to college, is smart, and a gifted writer. Ok, maybe he doesnt file his taxes, but I am sure he gets them taken out his paychecks, do you think he gets a return at the end of the year? Its not like the papers are paying him cash under the table. Breaking the law is wrong, I agree, but something needs to be figured out for the imigrants that are being productive. I know there are a lot that aren't and guess what, I dont want them here either, but if you are hard working and not commiting REAL crimes, then something like the DREAM act should be passed. and last but not least, nsu131 – P H U K U

      June 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bleeding hearts ar killing us

    Sorry- breaking the law is breaking the law whether you are here illegally, robbing a bank or running a stop sign. No one boo-hoo's for the people who are in prison and locked away from their kids so why should this be any different? Vargas has been living here how many years illegally and did nothing to try and remedy it? That is his own fault. Therefore, he should suffer the repercussion of his actions.

    Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa3361


      June 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • ncie;anceioa

      He was 12 when he came over! If your parents announced you were moving at 12 did you opt out or follow them? Once you are here illegally it is not easy or straight forward to get citizenship. He is clearly not a lazy or stupid man so if there was a path to citizenship he would have pursued it. After all, it would have made his life much easier so he had no reason not to try.

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

      Agreed. Deportation is a must.

      They should take back his Pulitzer.

      And boo on the secret service for allowing this schmuck with a fake SS# into the White House for a dinner.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • AngelicaS

      Au Revoir Vargas!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Balls McGhee

      i'd like to see how you would react if your parents said we are moving to America. Yu can honestly say that you would refuse to go with them at age 12? if so, you are a liar. I'm not saying what the family did was right, but let's be a little compassionate here. he was just a kid and didnt know any better. look at what he did with his life, he made something out of it that he can be proud of, illegally or not.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • bsitz

      Deport him? Wow, you guys are heartless. Or perhaps jealous that an illegal immigrant that had to work 10 times as hard to get where he is has more than you ever will?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jebbb

      I prefer to judge people by the content of their character rather than their nation of origin. Too bad we can't trade some of our native fools, criminals and parasites for some foreign-born Pulitzer Prize winners, college honor students, proud veterans, scientists, doctors, and so on. 'Course our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents would have agreed, they didn't travel thousands of miles to get here from countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa just to see this country infested with immigrants. Oh, wait...

      June 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. G2G

    Buh bye!

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

    Next week's article, "I am a deported Pulitzer prize winner" by Jose Antonio Vargas

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

    "Hey guys I'm a criminal feel sorry for me!!"

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


    June 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sundara2010

    People that are here illegally right now should be given the opportunity to come forward and get legal status, including social security numbers. This way, those here complaining how unfair it is, will have a chance to show just how much they love this country and are willing to support it with their tax dollars. After set amount of time, everyone found without legal status should be deported ASAP.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa3361

      You mean, like they did in the 80's? Giving everyone legal status and saying now only come here following the rules in place? Yes, that worked so well back then – let's do it again. I D I O T

      June 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les

      Nope. That is called Amnesty. If you keep giving illegals Amnesty, they will keep coming illegally. They already think they should have more rights than Americans. This guy should be thrown in jail for using someone else's SS number. Wonder if he got credit under their name too? I am tired of people who come here and continue to break one law after another. He should migrate to Mexico. If he's gay he can get married to his gay lover in Mexico City!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      Amnesty has been done before and then even more illegals entered the U.S., encouraged in part by the possibility of future amnesties. We emigrated to the U.S. legally but our eldest son turned 21 before the paperwork was completed, so he had to return to Canada. We sponsored him as an adult child and he faced 7 or more years in the queue. Then he got married and wasn't eligible for that type of sponsorship, as only citizens can sponsor a married adult child. As soon as my husband became a citizen, we sponsored our son and his wife as an adult married child. Wow! We got to start all over in a new 7 or more years queue. Finally our son gave up. The way I see it, is the U.S. has two choices: Open the doors wide and let in anyone who wants in, and get them on the books, or get strict about immigration and follow through on enforcing the law. There is no in-between, although most politicians try to straddle the fence on this one so they don't alienate voters. Frankly, I don't care which route is chosen, but there needs to be one standard for everyone. Until the U.S. make and keeps to a decision on this issue, illegal immigration will continue to be a festering problem with no one satisfied with the status quo.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Shut off the computer and go get a life

    so many american's have such chips on their shoulders. you live in the richest country in the world – and all you do is whine and complain.

    go find God or something. Maybe you'll feel better.

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

      Most of us have already 'found God.' Fat lot of good it does us. No, what needs to happen is for America's bloated, play-money economy to disintegrate (along with the federal government and military). Fun times.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bristoltwit...America's dancing cow

    Here in Arizona there is no snow, so when I want build a snowman I use lard.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. hemant

    just ask the indians if you can stay.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jarda Cervenka

    Such a valuable fellow, amazing Pulitzer prize winner - but he must (!) be deported because of the law. Those places where the law is not enforced go slowly or speedily to hell : Mexico, Greece, African states etc etc. America is great because of their laws and freedoms. Deport the poor fellow very fast, please.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kevin M

    Great... we find one illegal immigrant that despite lying, cheating and breaking the law, earned a major award. Now we can say, "See. Illegal immigrants are great!" Hey CNN, let's see a story on thousands terrible crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Let's see a story on the millions of dollars spent to provide FREE social services that they get without paying taxes. Great! You found a good one. (Emphasis on ONE) now look at all the rest.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Name*Del

    At least the guy became an assimilated American. Which is the problem with most who come to this country illegally.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BOB

    Deport him.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dan

    If there is a law, no matter how stupid we think it might be, and we break it we have to be prepared to accept the consequences if we are caught. And comparing this man to Rosa Parks, or Dr. King or Ghandi is not a just comparison. They broke the law because they believed an injustice was occuring they wanted to call attention to. They still broke the law and they paid fines and spent time in jail and in some cases worse unfortunately. Vargas did not break the law to show ANY injustice, he broke it to further his own life's ambitions which was easier than going through the proper channels to immigrate. I applaud his desire for a better life. As an American I welcome him to my country through the proper and legal process, even if he had sought amnesty. I do not welcome him, in spite of his Pulitzer Prize, to break the laws of this country that I served to protect. If he goes through the legal process, I would still welcome him into the country. But cannot have ALL of the rights of this country and none of the responsibility as most illegal immigrants do. That is not only not legal, it is not fair to those that pay for them.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
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