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. Perplexed

    Deport him immediately.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. iShane

    and in other news.....a rancher and his wife were brutally murdered today by illegal immigrants....

    and in more other news....illegal immigrants are responsible the recent rash of 'fires' overrunning Arizona at the cost of billions and lives.

    and in even MORE news....an immigrant (a legal one), took the time to learn English, learn the ways of her adopted country, got educated, found a spouse, found employment, and is now making six figures a year.....ADDING wealth to the over all community called the UNITED States.

    There is NO United in 'diversity'.....one language, one culture.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. joe

    On another note: Whay are so many Fillipinos gay?

    June 22, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tom Joyce

    Deport him now.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. palmjam

    See they come in all race, color, profession.Why was;nt he adopted by the family his mother worked for or why didn't the family filed for mother and son ? Look , you have a good education and you are a professional , so what if they throw you out. ? Get yourself to China or India this big ship is sinking any way all because of the way they treat aliens.
    I just cannot understand why all aliens wont just pack and leave. Then we see what happen to the good old boys. Hateful selfish fools.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Palmjam–If all the Aliens just pack and leave this country , there will be no one here. Yeah let's all go back where we all came from, including you. I'm sure your ancestors, grandparents were aliens. I'm so tired of all you ignorant people who thinks just because you were born here or just became a citizen you think you're high & mighty..

      June 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John B

    I wonder whose ID he uses to drive?

    June 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • herna22

      just reading your comment it is clear to me that you did not read the article. Your comment is clearly inflammatory with only one purpose incite hate and mistrust, however I am also inclined to think you are just $tupid

      June 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. WOW!

    This is an amazing story. I wonder if he was Hispanic or Muslim would this be a question if he should be prosecuted. I am looking forward to seeing the outcome of this situation. I think that this is a shock to many people because of what this man was able to accomplish being an illegal immigrant. He probably was able to get away with so many things because many people just never thought of this intelligent man as being in this nation illegally. It is bound to be an interesting outcome.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      WOW-the outcome will be, he will be able to stay because he has an extraordinary talent. Compare him to all these hypocrites who rants, don't even know the whole truth & already condemning him for something he has no control of. I saw him on TV interview and by observing him he's very focus, intelligent , articulate. He may be an illegal but he's more American than any of these haters.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. R. Mussared

    he needs to go back where he belongs. Illegal is illegal.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • njemnu

      So people like you get to rule the roost? He is worth 1000 you's. Did you get that?

      June 22, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JoeyZaZa

    I guess these kind of deport'em comments wasn't what CNN may have been looking for. Probaby more open hearted cries for the Dream Act.....well so you can see that Americans are not biased....send'em back! He has already admitted to brekaing the law! Or are you going to complain that the only reason we want to deport him is becuase of his "hispanic" last name!

    June 22, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Alex

    He needs to be returned like everyone else. He states he's tired of being scared, that's why he's coming out. BS He created an organization to facilitate illegal immigrants and came out now only for self promotion, hoping recognition of his Putz Prize will be his saving grace. Do you honestly think he hasn't spoke to an attorney and calculated every move?

    My wife came here legally from the same country and is now a citizen. This is just another liberal attempt to make illegal immigration and the deterioration of our country a humanitarian story. For every 1 Vargas I can give you thousands in Los Angeles engaged in criminal activity, voter fraud, over burdening our social services, schools, hospitals etc. Let's take care of Americans FIRST !!!

    June 22, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      You are absolutely right. Boot the lot of them out, period. We WANT onions to be $10.00 each. Practicality is irrelevant.
      Starvation and bankrupt farmers are good for the country! Indeed, exile the bankrupt farmers. They'd just want welfare once they lose their farms anyway.
      Starving America for starving Americans!

      June 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • njemnu

      Why did you not get an American wife? Were there no American women looking? Amuurican's first! utter rubbish.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • e barochoa

      not everyone can afford to purchase a bride on the internet.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Alex–How did your wife managed to come here legally. Are you sure about that? You're not really sure, are you? The way to find out is through the INS. Maybe she married you so she can stay permanently. Surely your wife knows how it is knowing she came from the same country. Vargas was only 12 years old when he came only found out 1991 he's illegal, as being an illegal and be able to win a Prize, that is extraordinary, that 's why he will be allowed to stay. Plus, he worked hard, paid his dues, taxes.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ccxander

    My father is Bernie Madoff. I have become very accustomed to living a life of material excess and global travel. It is not my fault that my father committed his crime and I am just as much a victim of his criminal acts as the rest of you. I do, however, expect to continue living this lifestyle because no child should be punished for the sins of his father. I will expect the American taxpayer to subsidize my existence to the full extent of my father's previous subsidy. Furthermore, I recently heard that my father broke out of prison and is wandering around the country illegally.

    Since he found a way to get out on his own, and since we as a nation hate discriminating between one group of illegals versus another, I hope you will join me in welcoming my father to the country through an amnesty program. All he wants is a better life for himself and his children.

    All the best.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    Join over 1 million other Legal American Citizens at website NUMBERSUSA against these law breaking illegal foreigners!

    June 22, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Imarriedagringa

    I wonder what is going to happen to all these racist when The US, Canada and Mexico become one Country.. get ready perras, the Amero is coming to rule the world...

    June 22, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Creaturz

    This is no more than a confession of a crime. Nothing special and up to a judge on the punishment.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. RealityCheck

    Enjoy your time in our nation's correctional facilities!

    June 22, 2011 at 8:18 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