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. D. Crockett

    So, if you break the law, but then you're successful and hard-working and gay (make that TWO violins) you should be allowed to get away with it, because, hey, you've admitted it in the media, right?

    ICE to know you, fella.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Simply Stated

    Came here illegally...gets deported. Just like a CNN article last week, an illegal father worries about his fate and that of his daughters. Should have thought about that before you broke the law. I don't feel sorry for anyone who is a criminal feeling the pinch.

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

    Lets not mince words. He is an Illegal alien, not an immigrant.

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

    Perhaps we need to stop focusing on so called "gay rights" that hasnt changed in over 200 years, and start focusing on whats more important,keeping illegal scame artist like him out of the us.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nero

      you are moron. He came here as a child and has built a life here. He is an american, he just wasn't born here.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      Did he thank his parrents who put him in this mess?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • juniorwx

      Throw him and his parents out for being ignorante.

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

    It is not as easy as most people think to get to this country legally, most people would like to go about being in the U.S legally however it is easy said than done, if you do not have a sponsor. In most cases you need an employer or family member to sponsor the immigrant which often times takes years, if you do not have a sponsor and you cannot get a visitors visa you will not be allowed in this country often times only people with a few dollars can afford to visit and others may not be able to get a sponsor. Generally it is the poorer class of people from the so-called 3rd world countries cannot afford to utilize the proper channels to enter this country enter illegally. While we do not want to attract terrorist and other criminals, the U.S. offers so many the opportunity to feed their families. I do not respect the immigrant (legal or illegal) that come here and become public charge and depend on the state or the feds to take care of them and their families, that is a definate NO, NO. Honest days work for an honest days pay.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darrel

      it should never be easy to get into any country legally if your intent is to stay and work. You should bring real value to the country as a worker and be fairly disease free and not a criminal. Immigration is a way to strengthen a country, not to give every tom , dick and Juan a free ride. Blame his parents for coming in illegally and expedidte a working mans "green" card, but don't forgive illegal acts.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • JonPeter

      Being difficult to lehally immigrate into the USA is no justification or excuse to come here illegally. The mentality that someone can ignore immigration laws and cross borders is wrong.

      It sounds like Vargas has an opportunity to achieve career success and money. Instead of using that as an excuse to stay in the USA illegally, he should go home apply his talents and find a way to immigrate LEGALLY. He can then serve as an example of how to do things the rigth way.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nero

      I agree with you darrel. this guy is a pulitzer prize winning reporter. He obviously contributes to our society. He should be able to stay

      June 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      I agree with the first two commenters that legal immigration process shouldn't be easy. But as far as this Vargas goes in particular, I'm not even sure what this whole fuss about. He is at the skills and value level that his employeer shouldn't have any problems filing an application claiming his unique skills. This is in a sharp contrast with majority of illegal immigration. Come to think of it, I even wonder now whether Mr. Vargas' "coming out" is indeed pooring out a personal issue or is it simply another political action.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. d

    most americans should be deported for being stupid

    June 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan No

      Ah, but where would they be deported to?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nero

      deport them to mexico!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. carloooos

    This is EXACTLY the kind of guy America needs. He is smart, vibrant and honest. I will take a hundred hard working illeagl immigrants to all of those born in America homeless ,young and old people on the streets bumming change ,beer, and cigarettes and on welfare.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Here's a clue...even smart, creative, and productive members of society have to follow the law.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nero

      Here's a clue for you Mike. How could a 12 year old kid be at fault? It's his parents fault, not his. he should be able to become a citizen. he's already an american

      June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      His first act on American soil was to break the law. Don't want him, don't need him. I don't care if he's a gay Pulitzer prize winning PANDA, he doesn't deserve to be here ahead of those who have followed the lawful process to come here.

      Illegal immigration doesn't need to be stopped because "Mexicans are lazy." It needs to be stopped because a) We have a right to determine who comes here and b) it's the law. CNN can run a thousand sympathetic stories about illegal immigrants, and at the end of it all they have one important thing in common: they're all here illegally, and they should all be sent packing.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • juniorwx

      Nero, you're too weak. I would never vote for you.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Stuffmatters

    People like him come here and become sucessful to rub it in Americas face to basically say..."see how smart I am". They are not saying, hey let me stay because I am smart, but really saying that they deserve to stay because they are smarter than you the naive, vain American who will befriend anyone and let everyone in to atone for their ugly racially charged history. Instead of America atoning for their sins towards the African Americans it was vented towards, they instead wave a flag for everyone else, thus creating a more massive task of trying to appease foreigners at their first hint of discrimation. Our laws were made to cover Americans, black and white. They were not made for foreigners and especially illegals. The thing that gets me is that these people want to wave their "props" and "prizes" at us even though they were obtained illegally and expect that these toys are what we Americans are all about. America was trying to stand for integrity, honor, honesty and fairness. Character...not characters is what America needs. Illegal aliens that disrespects our laws and even become what they deem as successful are true characters.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. descarado

    Boo hoo. An illegal gay immigrant. How can CNN top this one for it's zombie followers? Maybe...an illegal gay Muslim immigrant???? That's gotta be next in line.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. DB

    Vargas would have been better served if he had gone to a shrink/priest to relieve the anxiety than spilling this in media. Now the US law will take over.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      And since he is also a gay male, there will be enough liberal cause groups who will try to help him and eventually pressure for one or the other sort of exception for him.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. rick james biaaaaatch

    we should either start granting citizenship to illegal immigrants, or build an 80 foot wall to keep them out. believe it or not, they are actually humans, and they are more motivated than most americans. if they want to work here, that's fine, but with granted citizenship we could at least make some money from all of the taxes.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. fastrack

    Why is everyone so excited? This guy doesn't fit the Mexican/Central/South American profile that Nevada and Georgia define as "illegal aliens"; we won't target his 'type' We aren't talking about closing the Canadian borders, are we? We're only really worried about the ones who "look different" - those Mexicans. Grow up, people.

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

      Just because you've constructed a racist narrative in your own imagination doesn't mean that's what's actually going on.

      Illegal immigrants are illegal. There is only one correct response to his revelation: deportation. The same goes for any one who is here illegally. I don't care where they came from, or what they did while they were here. I don't care if they cure cancer. If you want to be an American, then you start by honoring and obeying the laws that determine your right to be here.

      I understand why many people come here illegally, and I don't think it makes some one a bad person because they chose to reach out and try to seize an opportunity, but good or bad, the law is the law and the law is a good one IF it's actually enforced.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      Thank you, Jason.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary Jane

      Have you any idea how many illegal immigrants live in Canada and Sydney, Australia? do you think everyone wants to run to America? check out the statistics for yourself. Many, many Canadians would love to come visit the US but never to live there permanently, if it were so, Canada will be empty by now! check the stats for yourself before you start blubbering

      June 22, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. emperorobama

    Welcome to the club my little illegal alien comrade!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John Smith

    Not only should he be deported, he should be sued for all of the benefits he has received while posing as a citizen. This also should be a wake up call to the Secret Service who didn't catch that his SS was a fake.

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

      All the benefits he received? For free, right? I'm sure he doesn't pay sales taxes when purchasing his every day items. I'm sure he didn't pay rent to some American citizen. I'm sure he didn't pay income taxes at all of those jobs, including at the Washington Post. RIIIIIIGGGGHHHTTT. What I am fairly certain about is that he didn't get an income tax refund with those fake social security numbers, while most of us actually did get our checks back each year. But he just got all of those benefits of living in this country without paying a single penny of our superior (except not) American dollar. Right?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary Jane

      This guy works and if you work, you should know that taxes come out of your paycheck automatically. Why do people think all illegal immigrants don't pay taxes? some people come into US legally, get genuine SSN then along the line they loose their status which makes them illegal. The SSN though is genuine, once you have an SSN you automatically pay taxes. This guy had a fake SSN, taxes were taken out of his paycheck by the company. Not all illegals are parasites.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jason

    Why is there even a question about his future? His future should only be deportation.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
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