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. svscnn

    Even faked his way past SS into a WH dinner.


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

    I feel for the peolple in his type of situation. I hope he can get special consideration, seems to be the type of person that would contribute to the US. I am against illegal immigration but there are some sane choices that are going to have to be made and the sooner the better. When I say I am against illegal immigration I also would add that I can understand how a hard working person would want to better themselves. Hopefully we can come up with a worker visa program when the economy is in better shape. We do need to take care of Americans first. I cannot work in construction at this time while I know of illegals with construction jobs.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. marta hymovitz

    He needs to go back to his country and enter the USA legally. I am an American Citizen, meat my husband a few years ago, he was illegal in the coutry. I don´t agree with illegal immigration. I was able to find a job in Mexico. We have been here for almost two years. We are trying to enter the country legally, for our sake and for my son´s sake. My point is: things have to be done the right way and laws have to be respected.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mr. Zippy

    All the other countries in the world merely have to defend their borders. Why is it that we have to defend the very act of defending our borders?

    June 22, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • WALLACE 1968

      Right on target. Did you notice how CNN had to add the extra twist that he's "gay." Oh man, let the tears roll now.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JR

    Everyone needs to get off of their high horse. Seriously, you have never lied to your boss/spouse/friend? Seriously, you have never sped down a road when you thought no one was looking? Or jay walked across a street? Wait, weren't YOUR parents/grandparents/great-great... immigrants? Wow, this guy sounds a like all of us.

    You will never fool me and make this about breaking the law because we can easily change the law. All it takes people agreeing that immigration is not breaking the law (same as all of our parents did many many years ago).

    Plain and simple, the country that you knew as a kid is not the country that your kids will know or their kids will know for better or for worse. Once you realize that then maybe we can have an intelligent discussion. This will be a country with many different cultures/colors/religions and there is nothing scary about that. Suck it up

    June 22, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • ldean50

      None of those offenses you mentioned can get me deported. I guess Treason might get a U.S. citizen "deported," so . . . no, I have never committed treason.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • tati

      yes I lied to my employer – told him I was sick when I was not. I, like majority of people, did not lie on my resume/references/immigration status when applying for a job. there is a difference, comparison of illegal immigration to jaywalking is just plain stupid.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      But he did break the law. That is a fact that can't be debated. It is black and white. Do I agree with the law. NO. Do I think it needs to be changed. YES. Do I think the law should allow people already in this country who are contributing to our society to stay. YES. We are, however, a society based on laws and until it is changed people need to be subject to them. Individuals don't have the right to disobey the law and not expect the consequences of such.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin D.

      So would you advocate a completely open amnesty to ALL immigrants who want to come to the US so that literally 100 million people come to the US in the next five years? Why not? Perhaps, because it would overwhelm our infrastructure and government / basic services? Well, we're already there in terms of being overwhelmed so for the same reason that you wouldn't want 100 million over the next 5 years, is the same, reasonable explanation why people oppose amnesty/looking the other way now.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • ReiJ

      I`m 100% agree....

      June 22, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billisinnj

      No..sorry. Does not sound like me at all. I've never committed a crime that warrants an arrest. To compare someone speeding or jaywalking to someone that illegally obtained a social security number and entered this country is ridiculous. There is also a difference between being an immigrant and an illegal alien.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • JR

      ldean50 – My point is let's not deport. Why deport? Because some written rule says we should deport. Let's change it. you agree? Or is the law an excuse for something or reason?

      tati – Maybe you should get fired? What do you think? Should I look up your originating address (email header) and let your boss know? Those are the consequences right? Or is that stupid as well? It's nice to be subjective with the law/written rules.

      David – I guess I'm trying to get to the point of the law. Why do we make it illegal? If we think there are reasons to allow people in more freely why do we only give X number of visas each year? Let's discuss how the law could be adapted to make more sense.

      Kevin D – Cool, let's talk about it. So, would be opposed to educated people coming to the US? How about laborers with skills? Obviously they would all be paying taxes because they wouldn't be afraid to hide. No free ride here. In fact, I've read a number of studies that conclude that more taxes are payed by illegals yet they don't use services because they are afraid. I'm not sure if it's true but it's a study that should be payed for by the government (ind/rep/dem).

      June 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • JR

      So Billisinnj, why not make it easier to immigrate legally? Let's not criminalize it? What is your point? It's a law? We change laws all the time. You suppose this is one that can be changed? If not, why not? Maybe it is a bad law?

      June 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jake

    You guys need to read the article in its entirety before you degrade him and stamp him with your limited perspective.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • tati

      You can't just apply for citizenship, Idean, the possible paths are very limited. That is why they are trying to pass the dream act.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • ldean50

      Anyone can apply . . .not everyone is accepted. What you are talking about is something entirely different – Amnesty.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cameron

    His parents brought him over when he was twelve. He didnt sneak in as an adult. He had to do what he had to do in order to stay America. Yes, he broke the law, but perhaps the problem lies in the law itsself, not with Vargas. We cant kick a person who was brought here by his parents out of the country after decades. I though we were the land of immigrants, not paranoid rednecks.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • ldean50

      He has been here since he was 12 . . . plenty of time to apply for citizenship. I wonder who paid for his college degree?

      June 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin D.

      Ugh, Cameron – such racism. Oh well, people like you prove the struggle to eradicate racism is not over. Thanks!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • AustinIsFull

      Excuse me? Redneck? You generalizing like this is just as bad as us saying that all immigrants are illegeal. Forgive us for not wanting to pay for people who didn't EARN the right to move to our country, like they are supposed to. I can't move to Mexico, buy some coastal land and expect them to pay for my food, housing and medical. *and yes, I know, he wasn't from Mexico* Again...legal immigrants are more than welcome because the followed the rules of OUR country. If you don't like it, then don't come here. Some of us have worked hard all our lives and have paid taxes too long to just let anyone come here and get things for free. How come you don't get that?

      June 22, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. J G

    Boot him.

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


    June 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. KM

    I am tired of illegal aliens, no matter where their home country is.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ldean50

    I'm a "liberal" and most of the liberals I associate with agree with the right on the issue of immigration. You break the law-you get deported. I think the only "liberals" who are lax on immigration are the politicians fishing for votes. I don't see democrat peasants rising up to support amnesty, or any program except stand in line like everybody else.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • AngelicaS

      You are absolutely correct. This progressive Democrat is DEMANDING that our government enforce our immigration laws NOW! We are sick of it!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. marcia

    Great propaganda piece! Pulitzer or no Pulitzerl....he's still illegal!

    June 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WALLACE 1968

    Then he should be deported.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. barbh051

    Just another attempt to force upon us the issue of whether or not we should allow amnesty to all illegals. He's saying, "Look at me! Look what I've become! " There are murderers in prison that cleaned up their lives, but that doesn't mean we should say, "Oh, that's ok. You're an exception to the rule"

    June 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Right on, BarbH!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kathy

    Hurray for you, Jose, for shining a brighter light on our immigration problem and your bravery for coming forward. Our immigration policies MUST change.

    To all of you criticizing him: put yourself in his shoes – he was only 12 years old when he came to the US. He didn't have a choice of whether he came here or not, and now, this is all he's ever known. How would you now return to a foreign country? I think you would be SHOCKED by how many illegals are living the same way – good, upstanding people, providing invaluable services to many of us – who should be allowed to continue to live in the USA – just like most of your ancestores did.

    June 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      It's not all he's ever known Kathy. His home is Phillipines. He was there for 12 years. I can remember where I grew up, and I am 40.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • consciousamerica

      Kathy, I agree with you. The problem with too many Americans is that thinking is beyond their culture. They do not care if a said person is good for America or not, they just want to hurt someone – it makes them feel good. They only use the law as a pretext to get their kicks.

      I do not care if a person came here illegally. If they did not commit a violent crime and worked, paid taxes, let them stay!!! They are good for America!

      June 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • AustinIsFull

      "good, upstanding people, providing invaluable services to many of us"...are still breaking the law....if they were so upstanding, they would have applied for citizenship like the REAL upstanding people who did it the right way.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
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