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. Bill

    Deport him

    June 22, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Billisinnj

    JR why change the law to make it easier? How about people that want to come here actually follow the law? Why should we change the law because they don't like it?
    This isn't the same world our grandparents lived in.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Aaron

    I don't understand how these guys can publicize being in the U.S. illegally, then expect that the feds won't take action to have them deported. They're basically ridiculing the authorities and saying touch me if you dare, and the authorities always dare. If they don't publicize their status, there's little chance of getting deported. 20 million plus illegals in the U.S., and INS manages to find a couple hundred a month...not including those that the states are identifying and holding now, which is alot more.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      what in the article said he did not expect the authorities to act?

      June 22, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. allen

    The post should loose their business liscense for hiring an illegal and immigration should be arresting him immediately! What a spineless bowl of gelatin America has become.If immigration laws were the only ones not followed here it would be 1 thing but over the years washington has expanded its disregard to virtually all laws as it suits those in power.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. whatwhatwhatyo

    thats great. how about you get legal or get the F out? im getting tired of this nonsense and the people who are defending these illegals. this isnt the settlement era and this has nothing to do with what we did to the native americans. this is 2011 in a country that is falling apart so how about you become apart of this country instead of abusing the place you call home. what am I missing here?

    June 22, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • whatwhatwhatyo

      other than my ability to slow down my typing on the keyboard.

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

      It says..."He acknowledges he may be deported." Really. He should be arrested.

      Illegally obtaining a social security card in order to fraudulently steal a job away from honest American citizens is a terrible crime that should be punishable by a prison sentence, not rewarded with a prize in journalism. He is flipping us off by writing this.

      It is an outrage

      June 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Liberty Queen

    Vargas should be arrested, prosecuted and deported. He should be sent back to the Phillipines. Same goes for illegal Mexicans... go back to Mexico and straighten up your economy and stop being a major contributing factor in ruining the economy and jobs here in the USA. The drain on our social services is ridiculous... food stamps, housing, etc. Go back and quit living off the backs of hard-working U.S. citizens and quit having so many babies... you're hurting all economies and Mother Earth with your rampant reproduction.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aleah O.

      "Liberty Queen" I am not the one to fight with anybody. Your views are your views, and I'm glad that you can express them like that. However, I really think you should start putting yourself in their shoes. These people come to the USA because they are trying to give their families a better life. They are still humans, just like you and I. They are precious and loved children of the Lord, please do not be ignorant. What about if that was you? That was dying of starvation? That you didn't even have water to drink? Just a thought!

      June 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Imarriedagringa

      "quit having so many babies... you're hurting all economies and Mother Earth with your rampant reproduction"

      What a racist perra

      June 22, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam

      you have no idea what you are talking about, if only you knew how the system works when you try to apply for a visa to come legally to the usa, first you need to deposit $120.00 us dollards NON REFUNDABLE, whether you get your visa or not, it is so hard to do it the right way that most of the people take their chances walking thru the desert for 3 or more days, i now of so many storys that might interest you, thanks for your time. THE MEXICAN.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liberty Queen

      @Imarriedagringa Just remember, puto, you came from between the legs of a strong perra. Like I said, unless your are legal or in the legal process to become a citizen, stay out of the USA. You come to our country, you have unreasonable numbers of children, you send them to our schools which we pay for and you don't pay any taxes! Straighten out your own country and quit having so many babies! You're like rabbits and a pox upon humanity! Enough already! Get out!

      June 22, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Imarriedagringa

      Wrong, our mother was not strong, she was a skinny perra just like you...

      June 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lydia

    I find laughable and sad at the same time, the many comments from what sound like jealous and angry Americans.

    Yes he is an illegal immigrant who I suspect has worked hard all his life but was unfortunate enough to be born in a foreign country. His parents brought him in just lilke so many Irish, German, Polish, Russians, Italians, etc for the same opportunities in the great U.S.

    What's tragic is that all administrations including Obama's and this congress including past members have not done ANYTHING to solve how to integrate illegal immigrants via either guest programs or otherwise.

    If people want to work here and don't want to be citizens, then we should charge them accordingly a hefty fee for tthe privilege of coming to the U.S. to find work. The U.S. should be able to track all visitors whether temporary or not by a universal type encoded ID system. We can make certain that someone (prospective employer, family member or friend) sponsors them before they apply to enter. We can make sure they apply for driver's licenses and charge them higher fees than a normal U.S. citizen would pay if they wish to drive in the U.S.

    If they wish their children to be educated in our public schools, have public schools charge them a fee for each child enrolled. If they need health care, the U.S. can negotiate with Mexico or whatever country they are from, some type of arrangement for reimbursement from their country for health care costs.

    I suspect many of these families still pay some form of taxes to their country of origin.

    In other words, there is no system that can't be thought of to accomodate these illegal immigrants. Not everyone wants to live here but for the ones that do want to work here, let's try new ways to increase revenues in the U.S. and allow those businesses that need cheap labor to continue.

    We Americans are selfish. We want our inexpensive fruits and vegetables but don't want to work in farming because it's too hard and the pay too low. We like to eat our fast food but wouldn't be caught dead working behind the counter of one. We are always looking for the best deal, the cheapest product but complain when everything comes from China.

    I find that there are many immigrants in this country illegally are sometimes more hard working with a better work ethic than many natural born Americans.

    So for those angry responses of "go home", why not look within yourselves and come up with a better way to utilize this cheap labor and benefit the U.S. I'm sure there are many good ideas our congress has not thought of that could solve this problem.

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

    Deport freeloading americans whose only claim to fame are that their ancestors arrived in 1775. Maybe before they are deported, they should be made to pay for the land that their ancestors robbed from native indians.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joyce Wong

      I totally agree what you said! Deport all imperialist Americans whose only claim to this land is their arrogant whiteness. Join together all poor, anti-imperialist people of the planet, black, white, asian, red, all ready to combat the violence on earth!

      June 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • tati

      Get over your inferiority complex – indians lost the war as they were no match.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BGko

    Adios Muchacho!

    June 22, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Liberty Queen

    The e-verify program should be enforced throughout the United States. As long as corporations and businesses get away with hiring illegals, our quality of life will continue to deteriorate.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Paul

    Who cares? This is just a piece of land – any one can stay if he manages to stay. Like Capitalism, any way to make a buck is OK – see all the guys at the corners! The entire human race or any life form is just a matter of statistical accident or inevitability. There is no higher order or god. It is all within us as human beings to live and let live. Why is it that if you are born here, you should have a better life than those without food or water in Africa? Why is that you can use 25% of the energy resources with 4% of the population. Because you CAN. Be a republican!

    June 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      OK Paul, it's like this. Find the nearest illegal, allow them to stay in your house, pay for all of their expenses, expect them to contribute nothing and report back here in a few months.
      That is how a large majority of illegal immigrants treat the US.
      Oh, the last item, expect them to get a lawyer if you ask them to leave.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. You Racists

    Because he is the winner of the Pulitzer prize and what it means to this country, he should be afforded a path to stay here legally. I doubt very much that had he had a last name other than Hispanic sounding there would be as much ruckus and dissension. Let's face it, it's the fact that he has a Hispanic last name that cause people to come against him. There can be absolutely no other explanations at all! Had he come from England, Ireland, Germany, or Canada, for instance, everyone would be just peachy-keen with him being here and would instead be congratulating him for his award. Again, the ugly claws of racism are being shown quite profoundly!

    June 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • tati

      Not true – I know of people from England and Australia who had to leave before being deported – and they were white, so stop with your race card already. On citizenship for him – I would agree, he should get it as an exceptionally gifted person.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Imarriedagringa

      Very True, excellent point.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bluewater Andy

    Good for him, but, remember that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace prize also.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. IF

    If he was 1 in a million, no-one would take notice. But he is 1 in 20 million, and it seems that most Americans are simply fed up with the costs to our country of allowing our borders to be the laughing stock of those streaming across it with little or no consequences. Yes, Jose was scared of being caught, but he details how FOR 17 YEARS, NO-ONE NOTICED.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joey

    After reading some of his articles, I can definitively say that the "illegal immigrant" featured in this story speaks much better English than about 95% of the people who have posted here.

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