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. Jason

    A gay illegal immigrant! Oh no America's worst enemy... Oh wait. He doesn't seem that bad.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarrlette

      Ignorant white obese American men with a belly that stretches over their feet and a bush beer in their hand contributing nothing to society -Oh now America's worst enemy.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JG

    He is American by choice, not by accident of birth - he earned his citizenship by working his a** off and got the prize to prove it. Those who don't want the best and brightest to come to our country, become American and make our future even better and instead want to live with a guaranteed standard of living without putting a significant effort (not even voting, for crying out loud) are condemning the future generations to a life of subservience to those foreigners they now despise. Our heroes are athletes not scientist, we want social security and medicare, not schools, we want to live for today, screw the future and our children. I say let the brightest of foreigner immigrate and ask them "please save us from ourselves"

    June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. skarrlette

    HAHAH I love it -You know what is so funny it doesn't even make me mad I could care less if he gets to stay here or has to go this issue is so over.

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

    He should go to jail for lying and then deport his sorry a$$! You don't get to stay because you managed to game the system all these years.

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

      Exactly. He's not only rubbing it in the faces of Americans but this crap just encourages more foreigners to immigrate illegally. He can take his Pulitzer back to the Philippines and stay there. If deporting is off the table, then definitely jail time. No doubt he falsified his taxes as well. Coming forward does not mean one should get mercy.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • 5th Gen Californian

      He came to the US when he was 12. What was he supposed to do?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • MCA


      No doubt he falsified taxes as well? Christ you're dumb, the IRS gives out Individual Tax ID numebrs to illegals, bub.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • There are no gods!

      You are exactly what the government wants you to be, a blind patriot who only understands borders and boundaries. You are a perfect example of the mentality that needs to die off around the globe. Great job!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • juniorwx

      We should do nothing, just keep letting everyone in and pay for everyone, no problem. America is so wealthy. That's the ignorante way of see it.

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

    Stereotypes generally come from exaggerations and bigotry.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sarah

    Seriously people! He broke the law, laws are there for a reason – yes. But his mother put him on a plane as a young child! Do you honestly expect a 12 year old boy to understand that he was breaking the law instead of trusting his mother?

    June 22, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Politico

      He is NOT 12 y.o. now, and he knows better. Throw him out! And thanks for depriving those in need of your financial assistance that us non-illegal people pay.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • BD Saint

      But his mother did, which is why you have to deport him. If you don't then there is no deturent to parents knowingy bringing their children here illegally. I agree it's harsh but if you don't do something, where do you draw the line?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johan S

      Politico, I doubt it's easy for someone to suddenly give up stuff they have at the age of 18 - how will they fit back into their country of birth? Easy for you to judge someone from your moral high road though. I'm sure you'll be willing to self deport yourself if you somehow found out that you were say switched at birth and actually an illegal immigrant's kid.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mm

    For lying and being here illegally...they should revoke the prize and deport him! He received the prize under false pretense.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • One Day

      They should deport you back to Ireland.

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

      Huh? The Pulitzer Prize is awarded for how good an article you wrote is. How do you get a Pulitzer Prize on false pretenses (other than by copying another person's work). Fact is, he produced the work. The Pulitzer Prize is not awarded based on citizenship or whether you had broken some laws. In theory a felon could get a Pulitzer Prize or Nobel prize. It's not awarded based on character, law abidingness, or anything like that.

      It's like saying a song that sounds really nice doesn't actually sound nice because the singer cheated in a swimming race. Does it make sense?

      June 22, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dan

    This is such a polarizing issue. Most positions I see too extreme in their views to have even a remote possibility of being feasible. I understand we Americans want a simple solution but this is a complex problem. That means you can't send them all back nor can you welcome everyone who wants in. I think the real answer lies in a multifaceted plan implemented and enforced by the federal government coordinating with the states.

    Here's my list of things that need to happen to get this problem under control. It's imperative that ALL of it be implemented. No bits and pieces sacrificed for political correctness.

    1) One set of federal laws governing immigration and associated reform. This means no GA or AZ type laws at the state level.
    2) Being an illegal immigrant is illegal. They are subject to the consequences of the law.
    3) Two illegal parents can't produce US Citizens.
    4) Seal the border. Tight as drum.
    5) All employers must use E-verify with significant penalties for non-compliance.
    6) Now what do you do to fill all of the jobs that American's can't or won't fill? We need to implement a guest worker program. Other countries have them and so can we.

    So far we have stopped the inflow of illegals and given employers a source of affordable(yes, it will cost more than now) labor but what do we do about the millions who are already here? You can't physically round them up and deport them and you can't tolerate illegals residing here. You have to give them a path to stay.

    7) Illegals who are already here are given a path to become a permanent resident...not a citizen, they started out as illegal after all. Give them the ability to work legally under the guest worker program. There should be a significant financial cost to becoming a permanent resident. Sorry but you have to pay; kind of like paying a fine. You also need to learn English. I believe that once there is a path to legality these people won't be as afraid to hide in the shadows and will have a quicker and easier time assimilating. They will be less likely to be involved in other crimes and less likely to be victims of crimes themselves.

    8) It's illegal to be illegal and we gave you a path to get legal so you are subject to immigration status checks by federal, state and local law enforcement. If you have a significant criminal record you are deported.

    9) Once a permanent resident you can serve in the US military.

    I'm sure I missed some things. I certainly did not intend to cover all the details.

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

      You already have guest workers under several categories. I came down under NAFTA and had to leave when the economy went to pieces during the dot.com crash and I could not find a new job to renew my work permit. Permanent residency is not attached to any of the work permits. You have to apply for that separately. I would love to see every foreign worker leave the US. There goes the economy.

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

      Your suggestions make sense, and seem to offer something for everyone. It is a shame that those in a position to make changes don't seem inclined to listen to such reasonable ideas.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      Dan – thank you for a rational, well thought out statement. The extremist rants and simplistic criticisms are far too common and far too easy. Engaging others in a discussion that acknowledges the challenges and offers a potential solution is a far more difficult – but so much more worthwhile.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bribarian

    Deport him now please

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

    How does CNN organize these comments? Can't figure out what is going on maybe the person in charge has dyslexia.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • rmsbl4

      Do you know how to read a date time posting?

      June 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rick McDaniel

    Ok, so now he can take his Pulitzer back to the Philippines, and apply for legal entry. Maybe they will give him some extra consideration.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. think

    This man should be thrown in prison abroad so american tax dollars arnt spent on him

    June 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jennifer

    He's parents are liars and he's a liar. The only reason he has confessed is that he "tired." Not because it's right, but because he's tired of the game his parents started and he propagated. No remorse.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Pardon me. He is "exhausted" from his elaborate cover-ups.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. wow

    I am saddened by the ignorance of most americans. People need to get their overweight selves off their couches, travel the world so they have a clue about something other than the political nonsense and reality tv we endure in this country, and have some compassion for those who want a better life for themselves. You cannot vilify children who were brought here by their parents. And it is so ignorant to think they won't do anything it takes to live a life here. We take for granted our life here and I would bet most of these posters today haven't made diddly-squat out of yourselves. And you were born here. Sad.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BD Saint

    When are we going to see an article on how Microsoft and other mult-national corporations game the US system by abusing HB-1 visas to give stateside jobs to foreign workers becuase they can pay them less and run them into the ground?

    June 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
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