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. The Police

    "He acknowledges what happens now is up in the air – he could end up being deported."...

    June 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. grandma in VA

    My question is: Why don't these people come clean and become US citizens. My grandparents came to the US, after being oppressed during WW1 and WW2. All of them became naturalized citizens. Yes, they came here legally through Elis Island; but they loved this country and were not here illegally. Sorry, but I do not feel sorry for these people, because they had plenty of time to become US citizens, if they really wanted to.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mar

    no matter how talented,he has committed fraud on multiple occasions. If he were a citizen he would be arrested – Pulitzer or no Pulitzer

    June 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. The Police

    "He acknowledges what happens now is up in the air – he could end up being deported."...

    What do you mean "could"? it should say "will"!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      He should be arrested and deported. There you go. Plain and simple.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Watcher

    Why should anyone follow the law? today we scrap immigrating legally. tomorrow it's speeding and the next what? Murder? Assault? Where does it end once we start ignoring the laws we dislike? Sorry to upset the left agenda (I am liberal but not stupid) but this has to be addressed with some logic. Pay a HUGE fine for starters, A full backround check for illicit activity and finally a through physical checkup and immunizations if necessary-paid for by the law breakers.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Marcelino

    Ohh I see, So because the Native Americans had no written language they HAVE/HAD NO RIGHTS? So it was LEGAL to kill most of them off and take their land!!! I see..

    June 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Drinker

      Such a tired, trite argument.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • ummm

      If the best you can do is cry about something that happened before your grandparents were born, you need to go sit at the kiddie table and let the adults talk. No one is saying that was right, but we are talking about right now.

      If you want to play that game why don't we go all the way back to the beginning of history? Oh that wouldn't make sense? Neither does your approach.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. USA#1

    Alright, so he can take his prize back to the Philippines with him. Buh bye law breaker – home you go!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. harry

    Hollow out a tree and sail his A$$ back home.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Marcelino

    I'm Sure None of you HAVE EVER BROKEN THE LAW!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • inequity

      yes...he should be deported......everybody says we are just against the illegal hispanics.......anybody here illegally should be deported. do it the right way then you won't automatically be a lawbreaker and undesireable........anybody that enters this country has no respect for this country and it's laws. if they break the law to get here there is no reason not to continue to break the law. there is a legal way to immigrate....do it the right way or not at all..........

      June 22, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      I certainly have. And, by the way, I paid that speeding ticket.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • ummm

      I have broken the law, and I paid for it, just like this guy should.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mel B

    For anyone who wants to sympathize, realize this. We paid for his primary education. He's made a living without so much as paying a cent in taxes. How about apologizing to the American People? You defrauded us of our hard earned tax dollars. Are you willing to pay back taxes? I once felt that since we're all immigrants going back generations that we should be welcoming present generations. Then my state, CA, passed a bill that puts illegal High School students (who's education was paid by Tax Payers) through college – on tax payers' dime. I have friends who have to pay their own way and are barely getting by! I can't afford higher education for myself because it costs so much to support myself! I am so outraged and disgusted that my empathy, my compassion, have all but been bled out of me on their situation. My tax payer dollars DO NOT benefit me in such a favorable way as they do illegal immigrants. I am done. When this Government requires illegals to register and start paying taxes, then, and only then, do you have a chance to earn my empathy and compassion back. Until then – go home!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Drinker

      What makes you think he didn't pay taxes? He was using Social Security numbers so most likely was.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike, formerly from Syracuse

    Why is he still here?

    June 22, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    This man is an admitted criminal and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Nobody is above the law!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. USA#1

    Alright, so he can take his prize back to the Philippines with him. Buh bye law breaker – you are no better than any other illegal immigrants who did not win a prize. "I'm an illegal immigrant" Is that the new "I'm gay" You are not above the law.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. programmergirl

    Deport him. I don't care that he won a Pulitzer Prize. He did it while here illegally. In my opinion, it should be taken away from him. I really don't care what happens to him after he leaves this country. I am FAR more concerned about the people whose social security numbers he stole. That is Identify Theft. That's a crime. How have the lives of those he screwed over been affected? Not in a positive way, I'm sure!

    He lied to the Secret Service so he could attend a White House dinner??? Again, a crime. This guy is NOTHING but a criminal. NONE of his accomplishments done while here illegally count for anything. GET OUT!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Man, you are one angry person!! You have no idea what it's like to move to a different country, keep in mind he was 12 years old, and start a new life!! Weren't your relatives immigrants? Think!!!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. R Lawton

    @Mavent He's from the Philippines!

    Question- If a persons parents were here illegally and you were born here are you illegal?
    Question- If your grandparents were illegals and you were born here are you illegal?

    June 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43