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. Mrmailman


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

      Those Irish immigrants in your video are being checked into Ellis Island - legally.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mrmailman

      Yeah but where are the illegal irish immigrants in this video? lol of course they are not going through the process because they skipped that part lol

      June 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cathy W

    Oh, for heaven's sakes – for those who are claiming he is without honor because he committed criminal acts – to err is human. To fix your mistakes is honorable. He screwed up, and now he's trying to atone, and he did that knowing full well he might lose his home. That takes guts, and yes, HONOR. I say we need MORE courageous Americans, like him.

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

      I don't get anyone who says this guy is honest, honerable, or has any other positive attributes. Unless he was writing this from outside the US, he is still thumbing his nose at US law. He is basically saying, I know what I'm doing is wrong and against the law, but I'm gonna keep on doing it and I dare anyone to stop me. Yes, very honerable.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dirk

    If all the illegal alien students were as bright as this young man the Dream Act would have passed.As I've heard over and over the Dream Acters are our best and brightest,for once is actually believeable in this young man.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. oreally

    He came to the US when he was 12 years old. How old is he now? I am sure he is ready to accept whatever consequences of past actions would be. If he wants, he can work towards his legalization or decide to go back to his homeland. There is always a choice. HIs choice of revealing his status is somethng I appreciate. In this journey of life, people make bad decisions, what follows is the realization and make amends.

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

      Of course CNN finds a child who came here illegally and became a famous writer. It's a great "man bites dog" version of the problem which of course tries to make the giant problem a question of compassion rather than an issue of where do we draw the line at what we want to pay for. Right now we are paying for the educations, healthcare, welfare and incarceration of 25 million non-Americans. Get your wallets out if that's what you like doing. I'd rather fix our broken country.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bruni

    Tati , if you hate it so much , why don't you move? And we stole this land from native americans , so noone should be complaining.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Who really is Native

      Native? Native? The fact is the "native" people of North America crossed the land bridge between the Russian and North America during the last ice age and killed off the then indigenous people. This was proven years ago in what is now western Canada.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lgough

    i live in San Antonio Texas and I LONG to move back to the States...

    June 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emily

      Legal immigrants arriving at a country with zero national debt, zero Federal taxes, and not enough people. Today we have over 300 million people, half of whom pay no taxes, and half of whom collect money from the government to exist.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. clarke

    Well he won the Pulitizer Prize, what have any of you won. There is no question he broke the law, but he has come forward and boy has he fooled everyone. So much for Home Land security, he even went to the White House, worked hard. He did make a better life for himself, but he broke the law on many different levels and was never caught. I am sure he is only one of thousands doing the same thing. This has been going on for decades. The out come should be interesting.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Raj

    USA economy is not going to improve anytime soon and geopolitically it has suffered a lot. Sadly this great nation is falling slowly. Every great nation or empire has to fall one or the other day as we have seen history. USA may not have such a bad fall like Europe but it is definetely not a hotspot for prospective immigrants anymore. Skilled people from China and India are not that interested in coming to the US for their higher studies or for work. There are plenty of jobs available back in their homeland and a decent pay increasing at average of 10 to 20% every year. Thats defintely a bad sign for America because immigrants (highly skilled) made America great in all areas.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. DEW

    my parents brought me here 10 years ago and im an illegal, the other day i did something that an american would go to jail for, but its not my fault my parents brought me here when i was young.so it should be ok cause they force me to stay here. i want amnesty now cause i told people i was an illegal, is this how it works.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emily

      Legal immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Our country's debt: zero Our national tax rate: zero. Those were the days.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lisa3361

    We've got more people in this country than the country can support. Has anyone seen the unemployment rate? Therefore, those who don't belong here need to go home.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mrmailman


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

      Whenever someone uses Hitler in an argument that doesn't involve the slaughter of over 6 million innocent people it makes me want to vomit, and it reveals the intense stupidity of the person who does it. You are a total moron.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Anon

    Since so many on this board have such strong opinion against immigration I assume they must all be native Americans. No? Then I wonder how many of your ancestors asked permission and filed all the relevant paperwork before stealing this land and killing most of the original inhabitants.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emily

      Or how about those darn Norsemen who invaded Europe? Or even worse, the Moors, who invaded Spain? Or the British, who over took Australia? That's the most inane argument against illegal immigration there is, and yet there is always a doofus who tosses it in the ring.

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

      yes, well done, there has been, and continues to be, immigration in all of those countries and as an argument against immigration it would be pretty poor, not much better as an argument for immigration, given that it's really just a slightly facetious comment. The point is that immigration is central to the national culture, history, and economic viablity of virtually every country. To be against immigration just because "THEY TOOK OUR JOBS" or "THEY SHOULDN'T BE HERE" is genuinely inane. Immigrants (some legal, some not) cook your food in restaurants, staff the hotels you stay in, clean the offices you work in, harvest the food you buy in the grocery store, repair your roads, build your houses... I could go on. Even the ones that didn't come here with official paperwork pay taxes – they pay sales taxes on everything they buy, the pay social security on the fake number they use. They don't get social security though, because they aren't here legally. Sensible immigration reform would benefit everyone in America. Deporting a talented journalist because his parents came here illegally would serve no purpose whatsoever.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SpellBee

    This guy being here illegally for however long is the least of our country's problems.

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