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. Nora

    Let's keep him and trade five Welfare abusing, lazy, freeloading Americans, with no appreciation what this country truly offers for him! I have some candidates right in my neighborhood!

    June 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Actually a great comment!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich Goldberg

      "It's time to have a real conversation about immigration in our country."

      It not our country sir it's mine. And whatever pain follows blame the adults that brought you not us.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      Thank you Nora, for showing me that I'm not the only sane one left in America. I agree with you 100%

      June 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • BRETT

      Get this! I know of some people that drive nice cars, both of them work, make pretty good money, they only have 2 kids, live in a nice house, and have food stamps. On the other hand I know of a single mother of two that drives a beat up car, doesn't make that much money, lives in a alright house and can't get food stamps. She gets turned down. What does that tell you! If I had money I would move to Canada. I love this country, but damn. All the crap that is happening over here is just unbelievable.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • the 2chefs

      Love this!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BunnyFooFoo

    Every time someone says "It's time to have a REAL conversation about..." you can be sure he's just going to repeat the same same conversation that has been going on incessantly for years.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. rahul

    its too bad – this illegal immigrant was more intelligent, more successful, and reached out to more people than any of his critics on this message board. Most people are too mired in their own mediocrity to appreciate the accomplishments of others.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cheeku

      Bingo! Exactly my point.

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

      Too bad none of that is relevant to the discussion. INS knows that he's here illegally, and now it is their duty to deport him. Period.

      If he's such an amazing person then I'm sure his native land will be happy to have him.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Luisito

    As an illegal immigrant myself waiting in front of Home Depot for a days work, it is dificult to become a US citizen. INS is run by a private company and to be legal as in my case, unless I am working with a rich and well connected employer in New York City that is willing to pay $25,000 (if they like your services) to a well connected lawyer for a green card in six months. One hundred thousand are coming in this country every year thru immigration lottery from a prefered country and nobody is questioning about it. Immigration SCAM is bigger than Madoff ponzi scheme

    June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • madmanny123

      you are a thief!!! you steal from america

      June 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rex Remes

      Regardless of the point you are trying to make in your post, you are here illegally.

      Your complaints lack all merit since you are violating multiple of our country's laws. Please, just go home.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • R Grimes

      You are a criminal taking work away from our citizens. Id like to have your real name and address so we can forward it to the authorities

      June 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • jeff

      Thank you for doing the work that my fellow Americans are either incapable, too lazy or too proud to do for themselves. Without people like you or economy would grind to a halt.
      It's unfortunate the other posters on this board are ignorant and incapable of formulating a thought other than "go home".

      June 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • tati

      Jeff – you are an idiot.
      Thank you, Luisito, for taking jobs for a fraction of what should be paid for it and therefore making it impossible for Americans to take as they do not live 2-3 families in a one bedroom. I just wish employers of Luisitos were punished severely – they are the real problem.

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

      Jeff, what part of "ILLEGAL" do you not understand? Who cares if he does the work others don't. Morons like you miss the point entirely. HE IS HERE ILLEGALLY! I bet you're one of those bleeding heart liberals that wouldn't care if all the borders were opened and just let anyone in as they please. Would that satisfy you? If so, you're more of an idiot than I thought you were.

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

      You got that wrong – the lottery is not about preferred countries...it's about diversity (hence the name diversity visa lottery). To get more diversity into our immigration population the USA decided to give 55,000 (it's not 100,000 as you mentioned) green cards each year to countries that have a low number of immigrants to the US (People from Great Britain, Canada or Mexico for example can not participate in the lottery)...we gain something...otherwise we would be flooded with people from only a few countries.

      And by the way – to be eligible to participate in that lottery people have to have higher education and must submit proof of $$$ amount so they don't become a case for social security when they come here.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      It's not supposed to be easy for you. You're not supposed to be here in the first place.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luisito

      mad manny123 – I am not a thief, I work hard to earn a living. in fact I am helping people on welfare make money. They buy grocery using their food stamps and sell it to for a big discount.
      Rex Remes – I can't go home anymore unless I will be deported. I paid a lot of money to come here legally but overstay.
      R Grimes – I am not taking jobs away from you. Look at the people waiting in front of Home Depot, there is not so much black or white that is willing to mow the grass or do construction jobs.
      tati – If i'm an idiot I will not be in this country.
      Bruce – Why do you hate illegal so much, maybe you are one of those unemployed or in welfare checks, why don't you go in front Passaic, NJ Home Depot, I might be able teach how to be a hardworking american that your family could be proud of.
      Itcoljpm – Ok 55,000 migrate here every year but most of them are Russian and are they really having a lottery or they were already the chosen one. about the money who knows that is their money deposited in their bank account it might be borrowed from friends and return it later just what I did when I came here. It is just a show money.

      Thank you everybody for commenting my post

      June 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • tati

      Luisito, you are not the one I called idiot. If I were in your shoes (assuming what you are saying is true) I could see lots of Americans doing same as you.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rex Remes

    I don't have pity for law breakers. It's wrong and not fair to those trying to legally immigrate.

    Send him back.

    Send them all back.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    Gonzo. And while we're sending him home, can we give his Pulitzer to the person who actually should have won it? from whom this illegal immigrant stole it from? Send him home, and send him home now.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roger

      I'd much rather kick people like you out. This country is better of with him here and you gone. Go ahead, give up your seat. You don't deserve it anyway

      June 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • rahul

      stole? he won it on merit. he was a better writer than any of the people up for the award.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      Rahul, it doesn't matter if he was a better writer. He was here illegally, a word you obviously do not understand. Of corse looking at YOUR name I'm betting you're here illegally also.

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


      Go back to school.

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


      thank you for re-inforcing the stereotype of bigoted conservatives, and for also verifying that you have half a brain. whatever resentment you have towards this guy, i'm sure it stems from jealousy. Plain fact is he won a Pulitzer on merit and merit alone.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. madmanny123

    he is a thief...deport him!!!!

    June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan

      You're not an American! Get out!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Deport all illegals

    Ship him back to his home country. He's taking an Americans job by being here.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • rahul

      well, seeing as he won the pulitzer prize, i'd say he earned his job, not took. the person who didn't get his job deserved to not get hired, on merit.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      If you are an american and have difficulty competing against someone that isn't even from here, then you are pathetic and don't deserve whatever it is you are trying to attain by deporting the person ahead of you.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      If you are here illegally you are pathetic and dont' deserve to get ANY awards no matter how good you are.

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

      I am against illegal immigration. I am against lying. I see both sides of the arguments. Sorry I do not have an answer, this is why this is such a tricky situation. But Bruce what is so pathetic about trying to get a better life for your family, regardless of any law. If all jobs in the US were suddenly liquidated and Mexico or Canada or whatever had a ridiculous economic boom, would you not do anything to get to a place you could make ANY sort of income (no matter how meager) to help feed your family? Or is this an unreasonabe assumption of mine....that you are so pathetic that you would do everything in your power to support your family?

      June 22, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. made in the USA

    I guess all you ignorants above great great grandparents where born in the U.S.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • swampman61

      Yes I do

      June 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • cargo80

      What if it had been YOUR social security number he stole to get things? Maybe you should check......

      June 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      No, my grandparents were not born here. But they came her LEGALLY! There's a big difference, pal!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • LanaS

      Actually yes, my 4 times great grandmother was born here, but my ancestors were taken involuntarily from our native country. So we don't have a country to go back to.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Roger

    Americans are predictably hateful people. You people are so miserable with your lifes, failed economy and lack of opportunities that you crap on anything you can. None of you deserve the passports in your pocket.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earnest Lee Saddened

      I await your facts to prove your accusations. Grow up Roger, if you think thousands of people are going to argue your points, you must be about 12 years old.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • sweet_genius!

      If we are so hateful, why are people breaking our laws just to be here?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • BRETT

      Roger you are such a retard!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      LOL, Roger you are a complete and utter moron. So reading an "American" blogis ok? How's the McDonalds in your country doing thses days that I'm sure you go to? How about the clothes you buy. I'm sure if you have a pair of jeans most of them came from here. LOL What a hypocrite.

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

      bruce -
      check the tags on your clothes - chances are they were all manufactured in asia.

      tldr - you're an idiot.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Eric

    he probably had more help with his education than natural born u.s citizens

    June 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      yeah, american parents are renowned for not taking a role in their children's education....

      June 22, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Earnest Lee Saddened

    I hope this guy is a liar, or some seriously incompetent people need some attention. >>> He even once gave the Secret Service an illegally obtained Social Security number so he could attend a White House dinner <<< Does anyone think this is a safety issue at all?
    I hope this also stops the illegal backers that claim nobody can use SS#s too.
    As far as the deportation, this is the Hail Mary play likely to get some politician to annoint the guy with an INSTANT LOTTERY ticket with the winning CITIZENSHIP number. America should be proud of being used by SOME criminals.
    Time to send the man home with the education and movie rights. America has been taken for enough. No ILLEGAL should be grandfathered in for any reason. Every day illegals are here is another day breaking American laws.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roger

      I take him over you any day of the week. .

      June 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earnest Lee Saddened

      Assume either of us would collapse in your arms Roger. It will give you a dream at least. Please don't confront me again.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JohninNM

    Arrest and deport.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Nar

    here is the deal, this guy should not be deported for one good reason, he has been contributing to the public better than many american citizens. One thing for sure i know, is the US embassies abroad are allowing nut jobs and fanatics to immigrate to the US just because they have some money in their banks accounts... forget education. before you deport this guy, how about you deport every fanatic muslim you have here and every drug dealer and criminal!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Buccakenji

    "He even once gave the Secret Service an illegally obtained Social Security number so he could attend a White House dinner". Nice to know our Secret Service has a handle on security.

    That makes him a criminal on several fronts. His accomplishments don't diminish his status. Throw his a$$ in jail and then back to the Philippines NO REWARDS FOR CRIMINALS. NO AMNESTY.

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