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. Kathy

    Yes. He is here illegally. He's not denying it. Yes. He may very well be deported and he knows it.

    Quite unfortunate, though.

    We pardon murderers, thieves and other criminals all the time.

    We need to change our laws and "pardon" illegal citizens who come into our country, hold jobs (many of these are jobs a lot of you elitists would never take) and are generally good upstanding people.

    I for one would glady welcome this young illegal as my neighbor versus the legal citizens I currently have as neighbors who can't hold jobs, defraud insurance and are just plain obnoxious and rude.

    Again, I applaud him for the stand he's taking. If he can help change our laws, I'm sure he will gladly be deported.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • gaggaa


      I agree with your post!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. pam

    get the fk out!

    June 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. john p

    How can people be honorable when they lie and are deceitful. I recently became an American citizen and it took me 10 years to do so. Have some balls and go back to your homeland and get in line like the millions of others who have done so.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      Only 10 years? Let me guess. You took the short cut, didnlt you? Did you get married (with intention for greencard) or did you have some other tricks?

      June 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Were you an illegal too? I bet you were. So because you recently became a U.S. citizen, it took you 10 years to be one you think you have the right to say for him to go back to his homeland. What about your own people who are probably illegals too, why not tell them also to go back to your homeland wherever you came from.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ducimitiere

    Simple: Deport. Then with his nice Pulitzer, he can apply for a "person of distinguished merit" Visa.
    He will have to lie on his application, but hey, anything goes for a good cause, right?

    June 22, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • gagagaa

      You are talking nonsense!!! He can't apply for a visa if he is deported there is a barrier to entry for at least 10 years, but if he's deported he most likely will not see US again, unless he has very powerful friends or lots of money... I guess sad but true, only the Money talks ...

      June 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. vrim

    He "stole" an education? Oh! I almost forgot; if the citizen child plays on facebook and texting all evening and into the night; shunning their homework; and then plays with the i-phone right after school texting and running their mouth, some "illegal" alien who worked their but off and got straight A's caused the citizen child to get poor grades or completely fail. Yep.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • kasey

      Your comment is incoherent and moronic. Try again.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Wojciechowski

      This comment is full of win.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      Excellent point!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • effelbee

      Actually, Kasey, the comment is perfectly sensible in the ironic tone. Yours, of course is a conclusion without any premise to justify it. The simple fact is that many immigrants work much harder to achieve in the US, whether illegal or legal, than many citizen kids do. I would be immensely proud if one of my four citizen-kids were to win a Pulitzer prize.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sid

      Good one..!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      So if I smoke crack but am productive member of society we should just overlook it. Lindsey Lohan pays a ton in taxes but I'm sure most of you would still say to convict her of her crime. Oh, but poor immigrant, let him stay...I say DEPORT HIM. He broke the law. If the law changes, then he can come back

      June 22, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Throw him out of the country

      No illegal allowed. There's the door. OUT NOW!!!!! Fed up with this crap.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • IW

      I am a legal immigrant. I got pretty emotional when I received my green card. I earned it. Played by the rules for 10 years. Paid my dues (and taxes........a lot).
      Illegal is illegal, that is: against the law!!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jack S. Hitte

    To those saying he stole, should write a check, give it all back....

    Wanna bet he has paid MORE in taxes in his lifetime that the vast majority of you.

    He came when he was child...seriously, what would you have done if that was you? Leave your family as a child? Leave your family and everything you've known and remembered when you turned 18 to go to what is now a foreign country? I very very highly doubt that.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • KBinMN

      Want to bet that he claimed as many dependents as he could on his W-4 so as to minimize the withholding? Why not since he was using stolen SS numbers and couldn't really claim the money.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joseph

      and the job he had to earn all that income was stolen from an american citizen. AMERICA FIRST. Vote out liberals and their Anti-American agenda. It's time to drain the swamp.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • hailey

      You can't steal a job, retard. The employer hires the best person for the job. End of story. I'm sorry that your lazy citizens are so bad at their jobs that they're losing them to foreign workers but that's your own fault.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • docserveralson

      Oh you're so righteous and virtuous! The fact is it was all done illegally. What about stolen SS#, and the legitimate citizens that suffer due to this sort of stuff? Now we give them Pulitzer Prizes? If he really wanted to quit and come clean, he should have turned himself in, not write a pandering, run-on diatribe about himself. With people like you and him, it is easy to predict the demise of this country. Slow motion burn down, I watch it every day.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • docserveralson


      "You can't steal a job, retard. The employer hires the best person for the job. End of story. I'm sorry that your lazy citizens are so bad at their jobs that they're losing them to foreign workers but that's your own fault"

      Nonsense, employers don't care about anything but who's cheapest because we're full-up with qualified people. That's why H1-B visas and illegals get work here. Wake up! And as for your use of the word "retard" – you're no paragon of PC yourself.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Josephine1

    This illegal knows that he could easily gain US citizenship as an immigrant of "extraordinary achievement" because he won a Pulitzer. Sure he might have to return to the Phillipines for a year or so, but so what? He lived there for 12 years. It will not be a strange land to him. He is not interested in US citizenship. He is only interested in making a spectacle of himself and promoting his "open borders" philosophy. Do not feel sorry for him. Expect to see a lot more sob stories like this in coming weeks because the "open borders" crowd is freaking out now that surveys show over 80% of Americans favor mandatory E-Verify and Congress is getting serious about passing it.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • db

      The United States, just like all the rest of the countries in the world, has immigration laws, rules, and regulations. When a person knowingly violates them, or continues to violate them for personal or financial gain, they should be forced to return to from where they came. Then, provided they have not violated any criminal laws, they should be provided the opportunity, just as other immigration applicants, to come to the USA legally. The immigration laws were set up to try and keep out the undesirables, mentally unfit, sick, and criminal elements. Through out the years with more and more liberal applications of the immigration laws or the total lack of enforcement we have been flooded with "unknown" immigrations. Today in a world of terrorism, the laws need to be retightened, enforcement enhanced, and penalties levied to help control this unforseen action agains the USA. The laws were set up to protect US Citizens, aliens rights, and allow more of an equal standing between the two without employeer's taking advantage of either.
      Now I may be speaking out my butt when I say all this but that is my understanding of the purpose of immigration laws.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      gee, I came to US at age 23. If I were to go back to where I was living for more thn 12 years, i wouldn't know my way around.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      Right on the money. Be prepared for heavy Trolling.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tato

      Don't feel "sorry" for him...but for ignorant b**ches like you that have no idea what they are talking about! lmao

      June 22, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shofar

      Josephine: You do a lot of bla bla about immigration but don't have a single clue how it works. HE CAN NOT BE GRANTED WITH CITIZENSHIP FOR OUTSTANDING CITIZEN BECAUSE HE IS ILLEGAL. There is something called the law of the 10 years. He is automatically banned from this country without possibility of reentry for 10 years. How he could get citizenship then? You think it is because his choice, but he didn't have one since he came when he was 12 and after 6 months here he was already illegal . What he was suppose to do? Go back when he was 12 because that would give him a chance? Do you think he could make that decision when he was 12? He came because his parents brought him!

      June 22, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Primo

    With your brains, you could have stayed home and helped turn it into a place where you'd be proud to live.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MarineDad


    The curious case of Jose Antonio Varga!

    June 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Nacho Man

    Dirty Mexican!

    by the way I'm totally joking. Calm down people. Wouldn't you try to escape your crappy birth country to come to America? Our great, great, great, great, great grandfathers did.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • KBinMN

      Of course they came here legally. Also their arrival didn't place any strain on the American tax payer. Not much in the way of welfare, SSI, etc, etc, etc back then.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • janet

      If this guy was Hispanic, there would be so many nasty comments. There are plenty of illegal immigrants in this country but people just want to trash Hispanics You are all such racist and hippocrates...

      June 22, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. KBinMN

    One Pulitzer Prize winner, tens if not hundreds of thousands illegal immigrant gang members. The point of this story is what?

    June 22, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. james

    This is turning into a tragic comedy. More and more these days we hear about church bishops, college students, business owners, writers, teachers who are ALL illegal aliens. Like flees on a dog. They are everywhere.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. james

    He may have been a child when he got here but I'm sure he was an adult when he started stealing social security cards and lying to employers.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. hustlenflo

    If Jesus came back tomorrow they'd arrest him for being an illegal immigrant.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Katief

    Hey, the guy is an attribute to any country that wants him...BUT people need to follow the rules, just like I would have to to be admitted into any other country. It's cool that he wants to be an American...I'm all for smart, talented people being here (G-d knows we could use some more), but do the right thing-apply, wait, get approved – then no one can say sh-t...good luck!!

    June 22, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
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