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. blakrepublic

    He broke the law illegal is illegal and the white house ?This guy is a perfect example why America needs tougher laws,states should have the right to enforce federal law in regards to immigration.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lydia

      He is probably more hard working than many Americans born here. And what's your reference to "white house"? I thought the matter was settled. What part don't you understand?

      The problem is there are no federal laws. No president or congress has been willing to tackle what to do with the 16 million plus immigrants in this country illegally.

      Instead of us closing the door, we should charge them for the privilege of working here. Instead of them paying $5k or more to coyotes, let the U.S. gov't charge them a fee to enter. Come up with a number? All these people want to do is earn an honest wage so they can send money back home. Most don't even want to live here. They would prefer to go home again.

      I don't think you would want to work on a farm in sweltering heat for $12 an hr. Nah, I didn't think so.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. TomAmerican

    I wonder how many times qualified United States citizens didn't get a job because the job went to him? I'm sure this happens 100,000's times a years.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. The Selfish Gene ...Simmons

    He what? "He even once gave the Secret Service an illegally obtained Social Security number so he could attend a White House dinner."

    Can he be held criminally responsible for doing such things? I mean, this really is not a good thing to be doing, fooling Secret Service like that? What is he trying to do? Embarrass the USA?

    He needs to be investigated. Just because you win fancy awards doesn't mean you can't be held responsible for doing criminal things right? Am I wrong in this?

    June 22, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. rudy

    I wonder how many of the pieces he wrote about events were actually lies just like his existence. Let him go home and apply for legal admition to the country. In the meantime if he is that good he can work for his present employer writing some false and imaginary stories as true for our consumption. Morality is matter of convenience for some people.

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

      actually I believe it's clear that this guy exists

      June 22, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • abby

      if only the native Americans had had tougher immigration laws and high fences and lots and lots of security guards....

      June 22, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Like they say aby, to the victor goes the spoils. That is the unfortunate truth.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • yayo

      huh and no one knew he was illegal.. what a great country we live in might as well let any one come and stay here.. Hes probably not the first one to do that

      June 22, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Pat

    The hypocrisy on here turns my stomach. If you're descended from anyone who
    lived here from 1608 until the mid-to-late 20th century, your ancestors either
    did nothing to immigrate but climb off the ship, or at most they signed a book
    at Ellis Island with any name they wanted, got a medical exam on the spot, and
    that was it. No $15,000 in legal fees, no 5-10 year wait. Your ancestors climbed up the
    ladder, now you want to pull it up with you.

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

      Great post.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Why can't people like you understand the Ellis Island heyday were in different times when the influx of mass legal immigration was needed to facilitate the industrial revolution. Now our country is suffering under the weight of illegal immigration its can't afford to pay for. Apples and oranges my friend.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • saveourcountry

      yep, you got it!

      June 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      Excuse me. My grandparents came here legally no matter how you want to put them down. What is it that you liberals do not understan? He admits falsifying application, and using false SSEC Numbers to the point of even submitting a false one to go the White House. He is breaking the law when he does that and that is aFederal Crime. He needs to be arrested and deported. I do not care about his ability or anything else. Breaking the law is breaking the law. What do you not understand

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

      my ancestors didn't apply for welfare, social security, and every other handout that was available to them either. oh wait, there was NO welfare, social security, and free handouts when they immigrated to the united states. yea, they were processed through ellis island, and then they were OWN THEIR OWN. they had to find their own JOB and actually WORK. if they didn't go to work, they didn't get paid. they lived in slums, and tried to make a better living for their family.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      He was 12 when he got into this mess. I wonder how many of you would have come forward at 12. Lets be a little practical here. Why deport a talent? Why not deport criminals? They may be citizens but they are in Jail eating tax dollars. If we can replace on criminal with a hard working illegal immigrant, I could live with that.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Are you serious?

      Really? Seriously? Show me case law that said immigrating to America in the 1700's was illegal and those in that era attempted to deport people. The point is – the laws were not in effect back then. They are now. Congrats that your family immigrated here. I'm glad you consider yourself an anchor baby. By the by, when were Social Security numbers assigned? SSNs were issued by the Social Security Administration in November 1936. He was using a FAKE SSN, making him a criminal. Look up how many newborns have their SSN's stolen by illegal immigrants. I found out mine was being used when I went to get my first job at 16.

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

      My ancestors built that ladder... Thank you.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      Using your logic, Pat, any of us should just be able to show up in whatever country we might choose and demand rights and citizenship....

      I think I'll be a citizen of Italy this year. Ooh...and next year, maybe I'll just show up in Sweden and demand to be a citizen there. Just pick a country off the map. Laws....what laws. Laws don't matter. Just show up and demand the rights and priviliges that the citizen of whatever country you find yourself in enjoys. Pat says its okay!

      June 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • StepheNYC

      Who are you to tell me what my ancestors did you insidious little A hole?

      My ancestors did not have a choice in coming here. Amazing how you liberals have such a eurocentric point of view on immigration when you can;t acknowledge thew fact that millions of natural born American citizens like myself have ancestors who did not immigrate. They were enslaved. If anyone has earned a right to criticize illegal immigrants, it is black men like myself who are descended from human cattle. We fought for our rights, and now I too am a tax paying american citizen who served in Vietnam thank you very much. I have paid my due THANK YOU VERY MUCH. WHy have they not? What makes them think they can just break my laws, the laws I fought for, and then I get to pay the bill? You are going to refer to the 1600's ????/ Are you for real you asinine fool. You should never be allowed near a computer.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • SometimesElla

      @StepheNYC – sounds like the gentleman in question didn't have a choice either. Having been brought here as a child and all. So do you support him or don't you?

      June 23, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. R Barbour

    Regardless of immigration status, why is using a fake or stolen SSN for employment, and giving false information to the Secret Service not a crime? If I were to do the same, I would expect to be caught and punished. I have many friends that immigrated the right way. They filled out the forms, waited, waited, filled out more forms etc and, after all the waiting, they become a citizen. They all, everyone, say it was worth the trouble. Anyone who has a problem with line jumpers at any event (like the airport) should have a problem with illegal immigration. Those here illegally are selfish and think they deserve better than those who want to do right. The amnesty thing was tried in the 80's. It failed to resolve the problem. I say send them all to the back of the line BEHIND everyone else who wants to do it the right way. The US already allows a very large number of legal immigrants. The total is 652,000 new visas / permits per year (not counting unlimited student visas).

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

      Thank you, Thank you! Everyone conveniently ignores the crimes commited by these "illegals" to stay here.

      Furthermore....just being here illegally is still a crime. Why does that not matter, either?

      Why do you have to take your passport with you when you travel to foreign countries? Do they have laws, also?
      I also wonder if these people would have such a tolerant view on these lawbreakers if they were Taliban and not Mexican....but once you set the precedent that its okay, then ANYONE will be allowed to just show up ! Scary, huh?

      June 22, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Yeah, I'm not a big fan of any of our recent presidents, but I'm horrified that someone could use a fake SSN to get into the same room. That needs to be harshly punished.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Chris

    Great! He admitted it... So it should make the deportation proceedings easier - buh bye

    June 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. B Alan

    What, no simple answers to how he should have solved a situation imposed on him at age 12? What should he have done? If you can't get a job without breaking laws, what are you supposed to do? Exactly when should he have come forward? Would any of you? Quite doubtful. By the way, I'm not friendly to "illegal" immigrants. People who come here knowing that it is illegal is one thing. Send them back. Someone brought here as a minor is quite a different story. Are you folks really so heartless or is it just plain ignorance?

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

      At 12? Nothing. At 18, he should have recognized that his short-sighted parents had irresponsibly placed him in an impossible situation, reported it to the proper authorities so that he wouldn't face problems with re-entry in the future, then left the US. He could have applied to any American university the same way thousands of foreign students do each year. If he'd done that, he'd have no trouble being in the US legally now, because he wouldn't have the history of illegality that makes him ineligible for employment visas.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Was an Illegal Alien Once

      Everybody wants to feel sorry for him because he was 12 then, but what about his parents' responsibility? If you want to find the real culprits and what should have been done then, look at the parents!!

      June 22, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MrHelobious

    Legal or illegal, he was a really good journalist.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      So what. He is talented and needs to go home and reapply like anyone else. Do you condone falsifying records and SSEC numbers violting federal law?? If so then you need to rethink what you are thingking.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      If he'd followed the law, reported his parents, and left the country at 18, he'd have no problem finding an American employer who would hire him now, and he'd be eligible for employment visas which his history of illegality now bars him from.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ticked

    Listening to the illegal apologists makes me sick to my stomach. As far as I'm concerned, THEY can be deported TOO!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. SometimesElla

    I didn't realize there were so many glass houses in the United States. I can't imagine where else all you commenters must live. So many perfect people, who've never told a lie and lived wonderful, upstanding lives. I'd think that with so many of you, odds would be good that I would have met at least one such person in my life, but I haven't yet...hm....

    June 22, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • shamma banks

      A lie, and a crime are two different things.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Are you serious?

      I might not be perfect and I might tell little white lies – but then again, I'm not God. This is life not heaven, no one expects anyone to be perfect. But I can tell you two thing: I AM NOT A CRIMINAL and I am a U.S. Citizen that works. The social security number I use is mine. Where's my glass house?

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

    Hmm I have some sympathy for this guy. HE was only 12 when he got in. What would you have done at 12 when you were thrown in this mess? Would you come out right then and there? No I dont think he broke rules. He was thrown in too early and in too deep at such a young age. Coming out of this would not have been easy. Deport his parents but I dont think deporting him is an option. Or you can take an american criminal in Jail and deport him and fill his SSN position with this guy.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Was an Illegal Alien Once

      Waaaaaa!!! Waaaaa!! Waaaaa! Yes let me cry, please let's all feel sorry for him!! What about pusnihsing his parents and having them deported? That's where the blame should be!! Have them pay for all the benefits he received till he was 18. Then have him pay for all he has done up till now!!

      June 22, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kat

    I find it amazing how many people knew and helped him, making every single one of the criminals. The lady at the DMV should not have turned him away, but turned him over to the police for having a fake ID – because at that point he WAS an adult and KNEW right from wrong. He could comprehend that what he was doing was illegal according to current law. It does not matter that he came here at 12, he became an adult and did not attempt to correc the problem. He merely carried on with the lie. My father runs a construction company and the majority of his workers are Mexican's. He sponsor's them while they attempt to get citizenship. He provides work visa's. I'd like to see other employer's throughout the U.S. do that. I'd like to see the gov't fine those that do not.

    @ those who compare 2011 to 1776 thanks for the laugh. That's like comparing apples to watermelons.

    This story shows that not every illegal has a low paying job and is on welfare. However, that being said with unemployment being as high as it is, I think GA has it right, instead of collecting unemployment work the fields. I believe it was the Governor of GA that provided stat's that some on unemployment would make more working the fields in GA then continuing to collect unemployment. But as an African American lady said (and yes this was in a newspaper) "I did not get an advance degree to work in the fields." Apparently, collecting unemployment is more honorable them hard work. I hold two degrees and still help come harvest time – it is not beneath me because it provides food to the rest of America. Personally, you deport those that do not have sponorship or work visa's, and limit how long one can collect unemployment and those positions will be filed by citizens...I recently and now live close enough to the boarder that I couldn't tell you if the workers in the fields are illegal or not. It's depressing to think about it and the unemployment rate.

    Just saying.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. John

    Hmnm I dont know. I mean I would rather have this guy as an american citizen than those legal citizens in jails who have commited an actual crime like killing someone.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Criminy

      Oh, I didn't realize this was an "either-or" situation. I don't think of it as that. Both this man and the killers of which you speak should be living in their own country. Let the murderers finish their sentence and pay for their crimes... and then send them home. Get this guy out immediately. If someone wants to be a citizen, let them apply for it and do it legally. Anything else is unacceptable.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • shaktakdopulous

      Demanding a country change its laws to accomodate someone who broke the laws to begin with is just as bad as violent crime. You are just basically handing over the reigns to any tom dick or harry who says we have to do so, otherwise, we;re big bad racists. It almost gives credence to the crazy conservatives in America who want to ban sharia law. I am understanding a bit more why they are paranoid. We are falling victim to this bizarre thought process that we are morally obligated to surrender our country to the rest of the world simply because we are an immigration based nation. I will fight to my last drop of blood before I allow illegal immigrants from any part of the world tell me what I have to tolerate in my own country they illegally entered. If we need to take up arms, SO BE IT.

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