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. Hasher Iva

    Sorry Mr, Vargas, it's time to leave. I suspect Mr. Vargas is a far less drain on resources than indigent illegal immigrants. I also suspect Mr. Vargas has put more back into the system than he's taken out. That said, fill out the paperwork and come back as a legal immigrant. I'm all for folks who want to improve their lives and be productive members of society.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fundies

    Pulitzer Prizes are gay.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. vinny b

    I believe CNN is on the illegal immigrants side. They always have such great articles about how they struggle and how bad we treat them. They give Ruben Navarrette, Jr. his own column so he can bash everyone that doesn't believe we should give out handouts to every person who comes here illegally. Its a crime! And now CNN is leading us to believe that just because they broke the law they can still be contribute to our life. And kodos for winning a Pulitzer but you knowing broke the law by keeping up the lie that you came here legally! You could have done something about it as an adult. But no you jsut kept playing the system. I think this should be used as a story to see why people get so upset. Your parents lied to get you here as a child but as an adult you should have done the right thing!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Gone with the Wind

    This illegal person is just the typical mindset of every illegal. They deem themselves powerful and much much smarter than the average American because they are able to manipulate their way around our system to use it against us. They are not thankful to be amongst us the Americans..they are here to get as much out of us as they can while the getting is good. There is no love for the dumb American. They know that we are so busy trying to NOT appear to be a discrimatory nation that we truly look like fools to an average Jose' in the 3rd world countries. They come here with one purpose. They will even date Americans, not for love, but for "secrets" that they may need for their endeavors. Even marry them for power, fame and fortune, like the Arnold Swatzaneggers of the world. What gets me is that America is so "vain" and pretentious that they truly think that everyone comes here because they like us, when it is simply just to keep the enemy close.....so close, that they are BLINDED! America is not only blind, it is also becoming stupid and dumb....and oh so perverted!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan Dine

      Real americans? up until the 1900's all you had to do was live here for three years then go to the courthouse a declare your intent to become a citizen. Immigration is the backbone of this country's heritage. long before ellis island stated screening people. We were a melting pot of different cultures from all over the world. People come to america under the same pretense. to not be discriminated against and to be allowed to work and make money. Most immigrants have ten times the work ethic of a normal lazy teenager.. I know because I was a normal lazy teenager. immigrants come ready to work, do nails cut grass whatever they can to make money. Might as well have it going on legally so they can pay their fair share in taxes and help shoulder the burden of the economy!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • phatfly

      Well, I would probably sympathize with you if it was for all the nitwits I deal with everyday here in this country that aren't here illegally. Maybe we should send all the educated and intellectual illegal immigrants packing, but then maybe we should actually start rating everyones contribution to the greater good and then decide who stays or goes. If we do that, I say we do it to our citizens too. Maybe your value to this country isn't as great as you think. Sure you pay taxes, but how much? Maybe it's not enough to grant your security of being here? Maybe your children should have to prove they are worthy of being here too and being born here isn't enough? Where is it going to end? Right now everyone is blaming illegals for this and that. What happens when they are gone and your problems are still here? Then you are going to turn on your neighbor and it won't matter that they are the same color as you, or the same religion. You won't stop attacking people until your perfect ideal world is accomplished and you know what? I don't want to live in your perfect ideology. What's good for you is NOT good for me. I have so much to say, but it all boils down to this statement: "Stop spitting out ignorance as if it's reality!" It's one f'n planet and learn to share. You remember sharing? It's what they taught you in preschool. Did you go to preschool?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ed Sr

    Send his intellectual can packing....award and all............we do NOT need illegal immigrants no matter what they win!..............get out of town VARGAS and keep going....................

    June 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Ugly American

      June 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • on the fence

      Its funny cause I bet my left nut that if the tables were turned and the bigots here were to apply for immigration status to the US that a vast majority of them will fail because of education, intellect or merit. LOL!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dallas_takes_no_prisoners

    Mary, You got nuttin between your ears? We have to have a passport to go to Messico? If you feel so sorry for them, why dont you take a truckload of them and go with them to Messico? Your probably illegal so easy for you to say. Obey the law and git!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kabe

    Smart move. He's just stoking newspaper ratings in the hopes for another Pulitzer. We all know this guy will not be deported. I can bet my house on it that he's already armed himself with an army of immigration lawyers who have advised him that the chances of his deportation are between nil and zero. But, shrewd move to spike ratings and readership. When is the book coming out?

    June 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. DeportNOW

    The Natives on this continent, meaning the so called "Indians", had nothing to do with the founding of the United States of America. The country was founded by Europeans.
    The Natives of the North American continent should be, for discussion purposes, referred to as Native North Americans, since this refers to the fact that they occupied the continent.
    But they have nothing to do with the founding of the United States of America, so calling them Americans is a misnomer.
    OK. Have we got it straight???

    June 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael

    This shows how messed up our country is. Not only are fake social security numbers so easy to get, they even fool the Secret Service.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mr. Pulitzer

    My prize not gay. You gay.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. axel

    I would cut a break to those who came here as kids or young adults (younger than 18), assuming they can provide hard proof. But secure the border first, grant otherwise non-criminal illegals a work visa and require them to leave the US in 20 years or when they loose their job. For those who came here illegally, road to citizenship must be closed. As far as taxes are concerned most of illegals will not pay much of income tax because they do not make a lot of money. As far as "dream" act is concerned, I understand granting citizenship to those who served full term in the military, but going to college is not a sacrifice. In some states their education is also paid by the state.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. on the fence

    For most of the bigots who are commenting here (which are probably making close to minimum wage or living of welfare). Although Mr. Vargas may have been using false IDs or Social Security number, he did pay for his own education, paid taxes most likely alot more than you couch potatoes ever did in your lifetime and most likely never used social assitance for fear of getting caught.

    If anything you are a much bigger burden than Mr. Vargas, its too bad we can't ship you to Afghanistan to make yourselves useful to the country. Despite how highly you think of yourselves, there is no way in hell Mr. Vargas took a job from you bigots because by being a recipient of the Pulitzer award, he distinguished himself as one of the best while you remain as bottom dwellers.

    Finally compare to the rest of the world America is declining so I think he'll do well in other countries like Canada or even Europe.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • axel

      Yes, if this continues, Vargas may be better off if he moves to China, Brazil or Argentina.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • on the fence

      Canada might be better for him as they allow gay marriage and more inclined to accept immigrants with merit (Pulitzer prize recepient). Canadian $ is higher than the US now (up to 30% pay hike for him as Canadian salaries are higher than the US) and is leading the world in economic recovery.

      That's why I don't understand why these bigots here are so full of themselves. I'm fairly sure Vargas weighed is options before coming out. He might even get a book or movie deal out of this.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DeportNOW

    What this illegal alien is actually saying is:
    "I committed crimes and I'm here illegally....what are YOU going to do about it??? Nothing?? I thought so."

    June 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Deport him now

    There shouldn't even be a discussion on what happens to him now. He broke federal law by coming into the country illegally, not to mention his actions afterwards using fake Social Security numbers. I am all for immigration and think that it is part of what makes our country great, but if you break the law by coming here illegally then you should be rounded up and deported as soon as possible. If I can wait for 2 years for the paperwork to go through in order to legally have my wife join me here in the United States then everyone else can to. I have no pity for law breakers.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. vFunct

    We need to deport regular citizens that do nothing in society.

    There is nothing special about regular citizens over illegals. Regular citizens do not deserve anything more than anyone else.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
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