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. cyberia

    gagaga, cyberia is NOT 'a mail-order bride or arranged marriage victim' – I am a Professor of Linguistics at a university here in the US; my fiance (now husband), a US citizen, was the reason I chose to immigrate to this country. In my personal experience (however small and humble), obtaining the US citizenship is not a hard thing, if you enter and reside in this country on a legal basis and in compliance with the law - then the immigration and naturalization process is simple: all it takes is paperwork, money and some time. Tom asked a question looking for plain facts regarding obtaining the US citizenship; I provided an honest answer based on my personal experience. So, trust me I do know what I am taking about.

    June 23, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
    • gagaga

      May I ask how did you meet your husband????

      And also, who do you think a 12 year old boy should have married to become a legal citizen of this country?

      June 23, 2011 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mel

    Talk about the sins of the fathers! Since he was required to be in school (k-12), that was not his fault. Was he just supposed to leave at 18 and go back to the PI? This is a guy that, it seems like people would want to stay in the US, being a productive member of society and a Pulitzer Prize winner as well. Was he taking the prize from someone who couldn't put together a coherent sentence? Come on!

    June 23, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  3. mskitty

    yea; there truly are a "few good men" who immigrate here. the question is, how do you distinguish who is sincere and has truly "good" intentions.....?come one, come all? those days are gone. now that our society supports our young teens having babies, we can't handle (population/financial) our own society.... so, why do we want another country's "trouble"....

    June 23, 2011 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dennis

    It's not just Muslims and Hispanics. That's insulting. wife is caucasian and Australian. in 2009 we went back to the U.S. for an extended holiday (I have a good job as a programmer and can work from anywhere). My wife received a 5 year visa which we didn't fully understand the terms and conditions of. Although she could leave and enter as many times as she wished in those 5 years without undergoing the visa application process again, each time she entered she could only stay for 6 months before she was required to leave again. We stayed in the U.S. over the 6 month limit. On our way back from Mexico she was deported for having over stayed and banned for 3 years. We went back to Australia and started the process to have the ban overturned. In the year that followed the entire process at up our life savings, caused an enormous amount of stress (I was effectively barred from the U.S. unless I was willing to leave my wife for several years) and yet we followed the process and did what was asked of us and the ban was lifted and my wife is now free to enter the U.S. again. There is a process, yes it's intensive and difficult but it's not insurmountable and mostly it requires you follow all the rules and guidelines. It's not asking for much really. So I don't feel any sympathy for this man. My mother, my wife and my brother and sister are LEGAL immigrants to the U.S. and my heart doesn't go out to queue jumpers who bypass the system. I'm an American citizen and have been with my wife for 10 years. We're college educated and have very good jobs. We don't ask for special treatment and didn't receive any. This man shouldn't either. Follow the rules. Send him home and let him follow the procedures like anyone else.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Carlos

    I am Illegal imigrant and been here years.... most of those who want people to come here Legal... need to find out the following:

    1.- The USA goverment takes away from my paychecks every WEEK.... $838.00 ( taxes, madicare, etc....)

    2.- I have 14 properties ( rental ) it is soo funny when I go to show my properties to potential tenants and on one hand they are asking me to PLEASE low the rent and PLEASE lower my deposit and ont the other hand they start talking to me on how much they hate Illegal immigrants... I just take it as a joke and let them live peace full in my properties.

    3.- i have my own company here in USA i pay around $850,000.00 on taxes... and I do have about 64 wmployees most of them american and they are legal because we do e-verify.

    4.- out of all this money we pay taxes I am not expecting in getting any back is a donation for all those who are legal here... NOT A PROBLEM, I am here Illegal I don't qualify to get any of the money that has been taken.

    5.- about 80 % of the people who come to the USA legally as most of you guys want, 80% are 50+ years old. 1 week after they get here LEGALLY they start getting $850.00 a month from the USA goverment, from your Taxes, mine Taxes... So do you really want people to come here legally????

    do some research and then tell me what you want......


    June 23, 2011 at 5:05 am | Report abuse |
    • US Citizen


      June 23, 2011 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
    • US Citizen


      June 23, 2011 at 6:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil in Oregon

      So there was this gay illegal immigrant reporter and...hey, is this some kind of joke?

      June 23, 2011 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • lisa

      You should be totally ashamed of yourself and you should be locked up!!! REAL Americans are locked up every day for even minor crimes – why should you and other illegals be given a break????? You and yours have cost our country BILLIONS...

      June 23, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rothgar

      You are a criminal! GET OUT!!!

      June 23, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dale

      As a 66 year old native-born white guy, I am much more alarmed by the vitriol being directed at hardworking and contributing immigrants to our country than I am who is here legally and who is here illegally. Immigration reform is the answer, not scapegoating a man like Jose Vargas who has demonstrated not only incredible talent as a journalist but courage in coming forth to set the record straight and open up a dialogue around this whole very complicated issue.

      June 23, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Coffee Party Member

      Either you are lying or you are ignorant. The INS has a system of investment quota for enterprising foreigner who can bring in US$0.5 million and create jobs. You have taken advantage of the system, make a fortune and invest in properties. I wish the IRS should check on checking illegal alien like you.

      June 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Coffee Party Member

      IRS should check on this shameless illegal alien. However, I think this is more a case of blowing trumpet

      June 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • CARLOS

      Thank you for your comments.... I came here with $35.00 with me... Work 4 jobs for 10 years... did my savings and now I share my knoledge, provide jobs to some of you guys... and share FOUR SEASON HOTEL SUITE in MOUI with Important people ... I am Ilega because I don't get an opportunity but it doesn't stop me in provide jobs to you guys who are here legally it is fine with me....

      GOD BLESS AMERICAN.... If you would like to start your own business ... Stop spending your time in talking about Illegals start working and if you need help ... I would be more than Happy to Guide you on how to start your own business ... but there is only one condition... You have to be wiling to work hard something that many of those who like to complain don't like to do ( WORK HARD )........

      June 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Haverty

      You need to be deported now, felon.

      June 25, 2011 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. mmb

    Alot of people from other countries for instance, I know someone who knows someone who gets social security checks for $2,000-$3000 a month who have never worked in this countyry plus medi-cal, like most Russians that are here are illegals, on welfare. Jose Vargas is not from Mexico or central america or south america he's from the Philippines. They're educated people most of them come here with degrees., work at the Silicon Valley, entertainment, doctors, lawyers, nurses, caregivers, teachers, engineers. They don't need to be on welfare. You people need to read their history how they got here in the first place. Philippines was an American colony they fought side by side with the Americans during WW2 WW1 also in every wars. Without their help we would not have freedom that we have now. They have shared history, Alot of you don't know histories, Anyway, about Jose, He's smart he can stay here for all I care, better than all the illegals who crosses the border in masses have kids every year get on welfare etc. the more kids they have, the more money they get, their husbands, boyfriends don't bother to go to work they got it made. There just too many of them here so tell me would you rather have them come here steal the taxpayers money or have someone like Jose Vargas who is intelligent. I'm sure if he's given the chance he would contribute to this country than those people who doesnt know anything but makes babies & collect welfare checks.

    June 23, 2011 at 5:25 am | Report abuse |
    • bud

      I thought Russians were our allies too. I guess we can just let in illegals that are smart. Moron.

      June 23, 2011 at 6:54 am | Report abuse |
  7. bud

    So he wrote an article about the Virginia shooter. Wow. Now GTFO

    June 23, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Bud, this has nothing to do with the Russians being an allies or not, moron they still don't like the U.S. I'm talking about people who are illegals who come here, who have never worked in thier lives here & gets checks from the U.S. govt. including the Mex. Central Americans etc. Jose Vargas came here when he was 12, but he did accomplished something that other illegals never have. So be it.

      June 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. cyberia

    gagaga, did you know that people curious about and appreciative of the world they live in travel to other countries (where they often meet other people :))? - my husband and I share a passion for traveling, and that was how we first met: in Europe while on vacation traveling. You seriously never heard about people meeting that way? 🙂 Thankfully, we both had the means to travel often to be able to meet again and at a later stage – date for a year and a half, frequently traveling to each other's respective countries and other interesting places in the world. I hope that answers your question.
    As to the question about the 12-year-old boy in this story - his parents were at fault, of course, arriving here illegally and condemning their child to a life of hiding and fear of 'what if anyone finds out'. In my view, sneaking into a country illegally (the US or any other country) is a violation of the law and should be, first of all, prevented when possible, and where it is not a possibility and it is discovered later on (like in this story where the 12-year-old boy is now a grown man) - the person/people responsible/involved should face the consequences. I do not know where his parents are now; as for him, he should be prepared to be deported, Pulitzer Prize winner or not.

    June 23, 2011 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
    • kow

      clearly you did not read vargas's piece. thank you for your insightful commentary about his "illegal immigrant" parents. uhhh...

      June 23, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. LOL

    Vargas is proof, after reading the comments of this article, that most illegals are smarter than U.S. Citizens.

    June 23, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. TA

    What a brilliant article Jose wrote. Must have taken some courage to write that. I thought you'd be interested in this "Refugee Special" – a series of articles that challenges the stereotype of the refugee as merely a burden on the economy of host states. Check it out here: http://thinkafricapress.com/refugees-special

    June 23, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |

    I just read the entire piece and I want to offer a clarification regarding Jose's S.S.# and the Secret Service. The social security number he gave to the Secret Service is a valid number as he got a social security card from the Department of Human Services. The card said: "VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT WITH INS AUTHORIZATION" Therefore, the Secret Service did not make a mistake as the number is a valid one. It is important to know the facts before building an opinion.

    June 23, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |

    Even if Mr. Vargas married an american citizen, he would still have to leave the U.S. for 10 years before he would be eligible to live here legally. You must enter on a valid visa in order to have marriage cure unlawful presence here.

    June 23, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. guest

    Wow! Opinions are like butt holes. Everybody has one.

    Both sides have valid points. Maybe we can have a general amnesty and charge all the illegal with a fee to be legalize in america. After all, the "great" america is in "DEBT" big time. Millions of illegal immigrant would pay and american will have money.
    Stop pampering all the parasites of the community just because they can vote. (There are a lot of citizens who are not worthy of section 8 housing, WIC, LINK etc.)

    June 23, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jimbo Jammy

    I can see both sides of the argument, but here's food for thought. What if you taxed illegal immigrants who want to gain citizenship at a high rate for a number of years and slap a fine on them before they are granted citizenship?

    Those that want to continue to be productive members of society would surely hop on that chance, while states and the federal govt. will have an additional revenue stream to help meet budget deficits. Mind you, many illegals do pay taxes, just Google it. They pay under a tax ID number the IRS issues regardless of citizenship in an effort to show good character if and when another round of federal amnesty is approved.

    These people are here already. The ones that are criminals should get the boot out of this country, but there are a good amount of those that have and want to continue to do their part for this country. Surely, it's in the public's (financial) interest to give those people a chance.

    June 23, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mmb

    Jarrett, this immigrant Jose Vargas is not unskilled. He speaks english. It's their second language back home. You're right about everything you said. Some of these people are ignorant. They post something they're not even sure of. Alot of them has lied, cheated, probably lied on their applications for a job, unemployment etc.

    June 24, 2011 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
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