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_dude

    Great writting now GTF out of my country and go back to the craphole you crawled out of.

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

      You set a great example of the American citizen. Where did your ancestors come from?

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

      Yeah. We have enough great writters here all ready.

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

      Lydia, if the commenter is a legal citizen, it doesn't matter where his ancestors are from. He is here legally. Those who are not here legally need to get legal. There are plenty of ways they can do that. I have friends who have done it. Illegals are ruining our country in many ways, and it is time to stop letting them do that. I don't care who your new idol is that wrote the article and needs sympathy, he admits he has been a liar and is here illegally. Let him leave and apply for citizenship. There is nothing wrong in wanting that. (And some of my direct ancestors are American Indians. Some are English, and some are Scottish. This country was established, and there was a war fought called the American Revolution. Learn your history.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • shaktakdopulous

      What this illegal has done is indeed disgusting and he should be deported BUT you are far more disgusting than he is. Do me a favor and get off my side of the lawn. You should just stand in the gutter with a sock of poop stuffed in your mouth whimpering like the dumb dog you are.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Criminy

    If he is going to come forward (in perhaps an attempt to mitigate the fact that he is an illegal alien), then he ought to go all the way or keep apologizing. He should leave the country and apply for citizenship. I am sure that he can legally get his citizenship because it is possible to do when one gets an employer, lives here as a resident, and then completes the process. If he has voided his options to be a legal citizen, then at least he knows that it was his choice to remain illegal that is the reason he must stay in his country. I am sick of everyone "being an exception" to what is legal.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Excellent Point

      If he's wanting to be so honest and honorable, then he should leave and correc the issue instead of waiting for the gov't to do it for him just because he has a decent paying job and won a pulitzer prize. I like your train of thought. =)

      June 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Amusingly, the fact that he's remained here illegally for so long after age 18 makes him ineligible for employment visas. Serves him right, too!

      June 22, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. shelly

    Pack your Pulitzer and go home!

    June 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. shelly

    How many felonies has he committed?

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

      He only needed to commit one: entering our country illegally.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobba Fett

      Shelly, Shelly.. if someone had a gun to your head, would it make you feel better knowing that they've never killed anyone before?

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

      I wish stupidity were a felony since Jimmy and Boba Fett obviously both need a trip to the big house. What do they contribute to this country besides insensitivity and stupidity? This certainly won't help us with our economic recession.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      He came to the US when he was 12. Presumably he didn't come all the way here on his own – presumably it was his parents or some other relative who made the decision to bring him here. That would suggest he personally did not commit any felonies.

      Yes, he is here illegally in the country. But his situation is really the same as that of children born to illegal immgrants – being born in the US they are automalically citizens.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ron David

    Many posts here mock him for being dishonest and would like him to face punishment. I wonder how many of these very same people are that squeky clean to point fingers at him. Maybe they should have another round of self introsepction.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      He's a self admitted criminal. Throw him out

      June 22, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobba Fett

      You know what makes me squeaky clean? My legal docs

      June 22, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • JG

      Here's the great thing about the law, his guilt isn't contigent on mine. We are supposed to be judged equally and independently of one another. Regardless of what I or others have done, by virtue of being an illegal immigrant, he has violated the law. He must pay for that crime. Let us all be judged for our own crimes in turn

      June 22, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ignoramus

    Nothing is above the law. Not even the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jimmy

    Someone pass this guy's name along to ICE, so that this criminal can be removed from our country at once.

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

    he needs to see a mole removel doctor, hes ugly , with the black moles on his face, deport the mole man today

    June 22, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. William

    Let's see exactly what the consequences are.
    Since he works for one of the most Liberal rags in the country, I'm sure he'll get "deferred" status.
    What's the matter Jose, not enough pole smokers in your country?

    June 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill

    I think a good way to end this story is to see him being deported.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill

    Pulitzer prize??? Like that's some kind of honor?
    They gave one to Barry for god's sake.
    Throw his lying a** out.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    Does anyone here know what it takes to become a citizen? I'm not interested in anyone's opinion–I'm looking for facts. Is it that hard to do? It seems pretty hard to live as an illegal immigrant–so why not become a citizen?

    Again–no opinions please.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • cyberia

      Becoming a US citizen is not very hard – it takes filing the required paperwork, paying for your naturalization/citizenship application, and waiting for a certain period of time for your application to be processed. I entered this country on a K-1 visa in 2007; I will be eligible to apply for the US citizenship in July of this year – it will take me about USD 1,000 and 6-12 months of time to become a US citizen. But to be able to apply for citizenship/become a citizen, one has to enter and reside in the US legally (on a visa), and Mr. Vargas here seems to have entered the county illegally.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • gagaga

      cyberia has no clue what she is talking about... most likely she is a mail-order bride or arranged marriage victim, no one gets a visa just like that there are strict requirements for entering this country for immigration purposes.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Michael

    The person who can afford to hire lobbyists and win elections can make his actions legal and his enemies actions illegal.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bababa

    Some people here have no clue what they are talking about, and the ignorance is amazing. Broke the law, broke the law! ..... Smoking marijuana is also breaking the law in some states? So ????? The guy came here when he was 12, he doesn't know any other life other than USA. He is a talented young man, but unfortunately cannot reach his true potential because.... well... because he just doesn't have the right piece of paper...That's sad..
    For those who say " oh he was here for so long , didn't do anything to make himself legal, therefore, he is bad", please , go read the laws a little bit, there are not many options to legalize yourself, if you are already illegal, especially, if you are a gay man . What should have he done?
    People who are quick to judge and condemn the person who just wants to have a better life and be part of this wonderful country should really place themselves in that situation and think what would they do? Nobody talks about how much psychollogical pressure and internal fear and shame and guilt is put on the person who is living an underground life against his own will. Immigration laws need to change!

    June 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • blahblahblah

      So, let's go ahead & let you join him in the deportation. You can feel bad for him, being with him.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dg

    Mr. Vargas has courage to reveal his big mistakes and face them; Can we do the same thing?

    June 22, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
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