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. Peter

    This world, this earth is GOD'S little acre, I'm sure the LORD will not ask us for ID or legal status when we arrive at the pearly gates.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Chris Honry

    I would reward him with deportation for his honesty.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Texan

    Illegal is illegal. He needs to be deported. I can't get away with the same action in other countries so why should we let illegals get away with it here?

    June 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. az

    Lying to a federal agent (CIA to get into white house) is a serious crime. He should have chosen not to go rather than provide false information. Many in US are sitting in jail often framed by others. Here is a person openly admitting to committing crime. Better off starving and poor in Philippines than being locked up in jail in US.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texan

      I agree. He's proven that he's willing to commit a crime to get what he wants. Deport him now!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • J from Houston

      Easy for you to say. You cannot give an opinion of which you have no idea about. Just thank God every day you were born or are legal in the US.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve in Manila

      I guess you've never been to the Philippines. Jail in the US is a far better life than starving and poor in the Philippines. That's why so many people will lie and cheat to live and work in the US.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rex Lutherin

    How about this... Deport him, Yes. Then, let him apply for landed immigrant status, just like everyone else. If he has to wait years due a backlog of applications, so be it. Fair is fair.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mara

      Once he's deported, his admitted crimes will bar him from ever returning. You cannot commit felonies in the US and then expect to be welcomed back once we get rid of you.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. tess

    This is just one more reason why we should demand this government to work on a real solution for immigration. There is no option, immigrants are here, and they'll do whatever they need to feed and support their lives and families. I'm glad that they are so many replies to this topic, and this conversation should keep going to your senators, representatives, neighbors. This is a country that has offered opportunities to immigrants since its creation. Let’s be constructive and think on a real solution to the problem. Please provide smart solutions, don't be just sarcastic or funny.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • DeportNOW

      We HAVE a solution. Deport those that are here illegally. Enforce the use of E-Verify for employers.
      Just enforce the laws that are already on the books!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mara

      actually there IS a 'real solution'. ENFORCE THE LAW!!!! This country accepts more legal immigrants from all walks of life, from all nations, from all ethnicities, than any other country on earth. That we don't take anyone and everyone that wants to come doesn't negate the fact that we *do* have a very, very liberal immigration policy. The problem is those who believe that because they *want* to come here, they have some kind of *right* to do so. There are literally hundreds of millions of people who WANT to be here. Are you suggesting that if they all can sneak across the border, we should simply allow them to over-run us?!

      We have a system that has worked for millions and millions of people. The 'real solution' you're looking for lies in punishing those who violate that system and rewarding those who don't.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mazeman

    Congratulations .. I hope you use your talents to improve YOUR country when you return.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Texan

    He committed a crime by giving the secret service an illegally obtained social security number. That in itself is cause for deportation.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin

    Every illegal has a sob story. The world is full of misery and we don't need anymore in the U.S.A. than we have. Is it a coincidence that our standard of living has declined as the illegal population has increased? No legalization , no amnesty
    just go back and come here legally. If I break the law I am punished this is how law abiding societies survive. Go home and make your country a better place to live. Too many americans out of work. The best fix for unemployment is deporting illegals.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • sammy sozo

      The guy's a writer and a great one at that. He hasn't displaced anyone out of a job. Each case is different. He's also paid his share of taxes through the years. Does that count for anything? The issue is not as black and white as the Nazis on here would prefer to beleive.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • DeportNOW

      Sammy Soso – Oh, so now American citizens trying to protect their country from this illegal immigrant invasion (of which YOU might be a part of) you call Nazis. And this guy who has committed multiple crimes is your hero. Boy, you are screwed up!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • minoa

      Can't believe people defending him with, "he didn't take anybody else's job." He did take jobs from Americans. He won a Pulitzer, a prize that somebody else would have won. You don't think that would have made a life-changing difference in some law-abiding American's life?! ALL of the writing gigs he has landed would have been given to other writers. Deport him. He is welcome to come back by using the legal immigration procedures.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. noemi

    We as americans are wetbacks by proxy.were did your ansisters come from did they have a passport when they came across the ocean? No they didn't they came here killed innocent people so they could have the land.that wasn't good enough they tried to elimanate a race (native americans).you lillie whites aren't any better then the nazis that tried to kill the jews.but because u call your selves white u think that makes u better.your turn how does it fell to be a minority white? I am an american proud and tired of all the bigots,ilegals paying for the gov.people that don't ern there wages,wefare moms who are taking from me and my kids because they don't work.I lost my son 10 yrs ago and some mex got a hold of his ssi#. They sent a letter to him saying he owed back taxes.my son never worked he was still in high school when he died.I say make him pay what he ows our country and send him back until he gets legal or a visa.sounds like he has enough money for both.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • billhensen

      Nice try, illegal, obviously not an american. go home and come back legally if you can

      June 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. FoolKiller

    He put a LOT of effort into breaking the law. It's a shame he's the kind of person that never gave a thought to putting that much effort into becoming a US citizen LEGALLY.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brenda

    As I get older, I grow tired of the pettiness and intentional pain people inflict upon one another, whether it is from social, economic or political action or commentary. Before I die, I would like to see the boundaries gone, the illusion of borders removed from our intellectual and physical framework. As I was growing up, I always believed that the world I left behind would be a better place, but each day I am reminded by stories such as Mr. Vargas’ that the possibility of there being a brighter future and more humane world after I am gone may be a delusion of my own making. For those of you who are determined to put everything into us and them categories, into the deserving and not deserving box, to those of you entrenched in the “our” and “your” country, religion, belief or orientation mentality – I want you know that I welcome Mr. Vargas to "our country", I thank him for his contributions to the world at large and for his bravery for the risks he is now taking. I want to apologize to you Mr. Vargas, as a “US Citizen” and as a person in general, for the pain and suffering you experienced as a child while growing up and for the disrespect shown to yourself and so many others because of our narrow concepts of who belongs here and who does not. I do hope that someday we will become a people who no longer treat children or anyone as less than deserving of respect and compassion, and that we abandon the concepts of “aliens” and “others.”

    June 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • LanaS

      But I think you are missing the point of he broke the law. Point blank. Citizen or not, if you lie to federal agents, steal social security numbers, that is ILLEGAL!!!! Why should he get a pass?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • sammy sozo

      Bravo! Keep the faith. There are those of us who are tolerant and can analyze each situation for what it's worth. I say we offshore – better yet jail – all the bank CEOs that robbed Americans TWICE. No one complains about them and their corruption yet they nearly destroyed the country. Why people are so up tight about immigrants is beyond belief. Lots of idiotic simple minded Americans out there I guess.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Well thats honorable of you if you are about to die. I myself have a good amount of time left in this country and while you sit on your *** and enjoy social security and medicare, I'll won't be cashing a single one of those checks because this overpopulated country won't have enough money when my time comes. F off.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. fridayet

    If we are going to open the gates here, then they need to be opened in all countries. If not, then door = closed.....

    June 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. gotthumbs

    So He's a smart, intelligent man. Start filling out the paperwork or fly out on the next plane to your home country. I hope he doesn't get a note that allows him to cut in line of all those who have applied and lived a truthful life in the US. Don't care if he got the award or not.....does not excuse this actions. Now he needs to really show how ethical he is.

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

    Hitler was an evil man, yes he was, but that's just an oppinion. to others he was a godlike figure. he wasn't racist, or prejudice. He was a man with a dream of what a perfect country/world should be & he did something about it to make that dream come true @ what ever cost. Our government will never take matters into their own hands.

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