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. Adolf

    well, get the h e l l out of my country you third world garbage....

    June 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. D. Crockett

    Deport every single one of them right now. There is a civil war coming unless they go.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ben

    I have a real problem with people who don't contribute to our society but reap the benefits of it. If you hop a fence at 65, having never worked here, walk into a hospital and demand treatment... That's a problem.

    That said... Jose is clearly not one of these people. He's spent his entire adult life working here, obviously contributing to companies like The Washington Post, etc. And they've all been taking taxes out of his pay checks...and he's not getting any of that back.

    If your parents brought you here when you were 12 and you work your whole adult life here (and win Pulitzer prizes), then I say... Welcome. It's great to have you. Thank you for being a great American Jose.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jerry

    Jose Antonio Vargas I support you and I am in favor of immigration reform This country was build by immigrants like you.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Proud American

      Not quite, but your English is getting better.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • si

      This great country was founded by breaking the law because the law was unjust.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomAmerican

      Catering to illegals and giving them any kind of befits or reprieves is unjust to the American citizen that is paying for all that.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Deport him now.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      DEPORT ASAP.... everyone should obey the laws of this country EVERYONE. The country was not built by liars, cheats and thieves.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • raymond

      i agree with you what about the ones who decided to come here legaly and wait for their turn if they are here legally than you know as well as I do that when there when there is no legitamite work to do than they engage in illegal activities they need to obey and follow the laws in the country besides i agrree with some states that they are starting to give the cops broad immigration powers to make arrest this is good in a way that way you can siff out the terrorist

      June 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Pat

    The big dirty secret is that while murder, assault, and robbery are crimes everywhere and always have been, other so-called crimes that violate BS laws are not crimes everywhere because they are not immoral acts. There's nothing immoral about not wearing a seatbelt, nothing immoral about running a lemonade stand without a permit, and nothing immoral about crossing an imaginary line in the sand we call the border and living a peaceful life earning an honest living, like this guy and 99% of immigrants are doing.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomAmerican

      I'll remember that when I walk down the street and decide cross over your "imaginary line in the sand" (your property) to break into your house to rob you blind. Yes, it is the exactly the same thing.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • si

      This kid is working so TomAmerica can collect food stamps.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      No, it's not the same thing. My home was purchased in a peaceful, voluntary transaction. Originally, someone developed the land, mixed their labor with it, and it became theres. The monstrosity that is the US government (and all governments) did not peacefully and productively develop the land. They either stole it at gunpoint or simply claimed it was theirs and kept their hold on it at the point of the gun. Governments' ownership of any land is illegitimate. Even if you were the government, and you are not, Government lland is simply occupied land protected by military force. It is not private property.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grizzly

      Pat, 99% of immagrants, really? Where did you get your statistics from? Although i don't agree with your percentage, I will say your head is in the right direction. After all most immagrants are really striving to make a diffrence in this country and are hard working members of society seeking acceptance and wanting to provide better lives for their families. Good point though.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomAmerican

      Si, I have been on unemployment because I couldn't find a job even with a degree. I wonder how many times I could have had a job back then if it didn't go to an illegal. It only takes one illegal to keep a professionally qualified American from working.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Straw

      Gee, Tom, I have to give you credit. I thought you'd blame an illegal immigrant for the crime. Way to be a statnd-up American. God Bless You.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Straw

      So Tom, what you're saying is that you have a college degree that qualified you for the same jobs that uneducated, illeagal immigrants got instead? Man. I'd ask for my money back.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomAmerican

      Pat, your "home" was once the property of a Native American tribe. Just because the American government stole it from the Native Americans, does that mean it is right for it to eventually filter down to you?

      The fact is throughout history that land is conquered and the original inhabitants are driven off. If you feel that it it was wrong for our government to conquer that land, please find the descendants of the original inhabitants and give it back. That would be the honest thing to do.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Straw


      June 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomAmerican

      Jack, this article proves that not all illegals are only capable of manual labor. I'm sure that there are many highly intelligent, educated, and trained immigrants that are equally as illegal as the ones picking fruit. It only takes one to keep an American from working.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      Really? He is earning an honest living huh? Maybe you missed the part where you used a false Social Security number, and misled every single employer he ever worked for, including the U.S. Secret Service. That is real honest!

      June 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      There were fewer than 100,000 Native Americans in today's entire US territory. They weren't living anywhere. John Locke's principle of private property, which is the moral basis for all private property, is that if you peacefully mix your labor with the land and develop it, it becomes yours. Not just drawing a line on a map, not developing the land but saying its yours anway, and saying you're going to kill anyone who enters it. That's not legitimate property. The Canadians co-existed with North American Indians under the Lockean homestead private property principle with little conflict or bloodshed. The US policy was to aggress against peaceful Indians and remove them so the government could take the land.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomAmerican

      Pat, it still doesn't change the fact that if you own land in the United States, it was once owned by Native Americans who were pushed off of it. Just like they removed the previous Native Americans that were there, who removed the previous..... Well, you get the idea. If you are so against what the United States has done, then don't own property. Yes, it is a dark chapter in our history and I wish it could have worked out differently, but it is not in our power to change what happened years before we were born.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      He was a journalist, and doing honest reporting. Or an immigrant doing honest construction, or honest farm labor. They are peacefully performing labor in a voluntary contract with another party and receiving compensation. They are producing goods or providing services that others desire. Violating petty government dictates doesn't make one's work dishonest. In the 10,000 years of recorded human history and beyond, what they do was considered honest labor. A bunch of idiots like you in 2011 Amerika saying it isn't doesn't mean anything.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomAmerican

      Pat, I wish I could live in your world, but I live in one where billions are lost every year in education alone to people who think that their needs outweigh mine and invade my country and steal money meant for American citizens.

      In a time when there are fewer government programs, overcrowded schools, schools dropping programs for lack of funds, millions of houses in foreclosure, millions hungry, etc, do you really think that we should be concentrating on those problems or giving even more money to people that shouldn't be here?

      June 22, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Granger

    San Fransisco is a "sanctuary" city so I say let's pass laws allowing for these illegals to go there and they can deal with all the ramifications of having illegals – drunk driving, inability to speak english, cyphering all their resources without taxes and we'll see how long that'll last.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • ever been to SF?

      seriously, have you ever been? they dont seem to have a problem... drive down 19th ave and tell me how many different languages you see on the side of buildings.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rocketmandb

      Arizona is a sanctuary for anti-immigration "Americans" who don't understand that there are no non-immigrants in the US. EVERYONE immigrated to North America (including Native Americans). Let's send all the anti-immigration folks there so they can make a wall, arm it with rifle-wielding militias and keep everyone out so they can have one people, one religion, one uniform, one thought. Oh wait a minute, that's already happening in Iran and the far reaches of Afghanistan with the Taliban. We can just send them there instead.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Are you kidding me? Drunk driving? Anybody I ever know that got picked up for that was a proud citizen by birth. Way to stereotype

      June 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lydia

      Why would you think that all immigrants drink and are criminals is beyond me. Here is a perfect example of an illegal immigrant who has worked hard all his life and yet he is a criminal because our legislators don't know how to handle the millions who want to work here and obtain a better living to provide for their family and loved ones.

      While he paid into social security and paid his federal and state income tax, he did not receive any direct benefit and won't receive any social security because he is an illegal immigrant.

      I find that most immigrants are harding working employees than those who have been lucky to have been in the U.S.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • WoW

      Seriously you have just described a section of every major city and town in the United States – and I'm not talking about the illegal immigrants here, I am talking about poor, uneducated, illiterate, non taxing paying, welfare receiving, drunken and drugged out AMERICANS. You know what they say, people who live in glass houses blah blah blah....and p.s. every single person on this comment board has immigrant roots (i.e. people who left their countries for a better life) – it would serve us well to remember that when we are being immigrant-phoebic. Just think where we all would be if someone had said HARK WHO GOES THERE....OH AN IMMIGRANT, FORGET THAT BACK ON THE BOAT FOR YOU.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Proud American

    Didn't he win a "token" Pulitzer Prize?

    You know, since the truth is that he was picked because of who he is and the political bent of the Pulitzer committee.

    But few will believe the truth. I do believe that I'm living in the end times.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Straw

      Please, by all means, then step to the front of the line. I just want to see the look on your face when you start heading down rather than up.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Aacon

    Some posters hate so much I`m ashamed they even say their from America.The guy was just a kid when he came here for crying out loud and he is stepping up to the plate about all this showing he is a man now.He is more productive than some of you will ever be.Jose look into the EB-1 Extraordinary Ability category for citizenship.Wish you well and prayers for you.

    Aacon S.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Martin

    Most of this comments are ridicioulous, but i understand and comprehend why people think like this. I was brought by my parents to the states when i was 5 years old. What can i say, please don't take me? 80% of the individuals that have made a remark, most likely are high school graduates working in their high school job and will retire in it. Honor student, Ap classes, with an average gpa of 3.8. Yes, and illegal inmigrant. Graduated in Spain, with a Major in International Law and a current translator in the United Nations in NY. Do i hate, or disaggree with your comments no, do i feel i'm superior in any way, no. Human behavior, conduct, and actions are based on education...

    June 22, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JMH

    Illegal immigration solutions:
    A. Seal the boarders, start a moratorium on all immigration, make every American carry a "passport" type ID card. Randomly check everyone all the time, especially when crossing state lines. Systematically deport every illegal immigrant one by one. In the process removing many freedoms we all take for granted.
    B. Seal the boarders, start a moratorium on all immigration, create a pathway to citizenship, accept the financial consequences of cheap labor loss.
    Any other ideas?

    June 22, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nik

      Here's an idea: Learn English first. It's "borders", not "boarders". And you criticize immigrants for not speaking the language.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • JMH

      Not bad English, I meant seal the Boarders Books stores....sorry.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nik

      I'm speechless.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nina

      I don't know how "sealing the boarders" would apply to this man's specific situation given that he most likely (legally in itself) flew in a plane FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA, he did not come from Canada or Mexico!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jon-nyc

    Even if he had an illegal ss number it is likely he paid is fica/ss on it for all of these years. At this point it is just paperwork to match a name to a new number. His penalty should be loss of ss completely and a welcome to america as you start back at zero now.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TomAmerican

    This is exactly the kind of behavior that we are encouraging by not enforcing our laws and giving benefits of any kind to illegals. Yes, this man is accomplished. But, he never should have been here in the first place. His whole life is built upon a lie. A lie that is haunting him every day.

    As long as we don't enforce our borders and give benefits to illegals, this kind of thing will continue at an exponential rate. It is sad that people in other countries do not have a future, but it is not up to the United States to take on the world's poor. Anyone following our news will see that we are broke ourselves. We need to fix our country and our internal problems before we can even think about trying to help out other countries. If we don't, the United States will fail and will send the world into chaos.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mariepearle

    He should not have admitted that. Now they will go after him.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dave

    its quite simple deport him and have him arrested so america doesnt flip the bill

    June 22, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jack Straw

    Ummm, am I the first one to point out that the most disturbing part of this story is that the Secret Service failed?

    June 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • sunnyboy2

      the first but I hope not the last.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
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