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. ulalo

    An honest citizen is an asset of his nation... I'm glad that youve come clean and whatever happens, you will be much better off than an ordinary Joe who didnt manage to get past the whitehouse lawn... Youve proven how weak, that "seemed Mighty" system actually is. Its beginning to show its cracks and thats how the mighty civilization like that of the Romans crumble....And to those red necks who oppose...Give that land back to the INDIANS...Your forefathers deserved to occupy that land but most of you are actually but a disgrace to your forefathers...

    June 24, 2011 at 5:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. mmb

    yeah Swampman, how did your family get here? Jose Vargas happened to be educated, he studied hard ,took up political science, journalism, in fact he didn't know he was an illegal until 1991 when he was applying to go to college. He spoke english with no accent. I just saw him on tv interview. He sounded, acted more american to me. So let him be. I'd rather have him stay than have other illegals who doesn't do anything but take taxpayers money, only speaks spanish & they expect us to learn spanish. And that goes for the other illegals from other countries who speaks their own language when they should speak english. This is America.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jack

    American immigrant law is stupid, this is being tolerated by the federal government that is why so many illegal immigrants flood your country. I never dream of going to America and squeeze myself on a lame immigrant law. The real reason for this flood of illegal immigrant in your country is the greediness of your businessmen, abusing these workers like slave because they are not protected by the law since they are illegal aliens. America portray itself as a superpower but cannot act like one, why don't you deport all the illegal immigrants in your country and let's see if your economy will not collapse. That is the real reason.

    June 24, 2011 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  4. ZilTX

    psion – i agree with your point. Driving around this big city I occassionally see anti-immigration (albeit 'peaceful') rallies in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods. I NEVER see them in Asian or Middle Eastern communities or "Eastern European Row."

    I wonder if the same people who believe all illegals should be deported realize – who are the cooks in their favorite medium-priced restaurants? Who does their landscaping? Who does a lot of the hard labor in construction and other such projects? We enjoy a lot of these things at a considerably low cost compared to other industrialized countries because of cheap labor. Everyone is trying to get the most from their money – I know I do. I dare you to take a look at your products and services. Imagine if you had to pay everyone on a construction site for their health insurance and other such benefits. A brand new house for less that $150K good luck. Welcome to the world of contractors and subcontractors.

    There are some immigrants that get in trouble with the law for DWI and other violent crimes – deport them. Offer some type of program to help those that want to stay for work and really better their lives. America can use the taxes and revenue illegal immigrants create. Require those that stay to learn English encourage them to seek higher education by not charging them tuition 3 – 4 times more than what citizens pay.

    June 24, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. John Haverty

    Deport this felon rat at once.

    June 25, 2011 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Wendy

      I heard Mr. Vargas say on the CNN interview "...the state of OUR country", the USA is not YOUR country, North America is not even YOUR continent. You may have been a child with no option when you were brought here. But you had many options as you became an adult. You even accepted a Pulitzer Prize for your work done under false pretenses and lies. This you should be stripped of as well as your freedom! You broke the law knowingly as an adult. That is a pre-conceived and planned illegal action that people are jailed for. Yes there are millions of people just like you...illegal aliens. Hopefully your "outing" will help to erradicate this problem. So many of our LEGAL citizens are unemployed and hungry that need not be due to the millions of illegal aliens working here of which you are a contibutor to. I hope the authorities seriously nail your ass to the wall and let you rot!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • legal citizen

      Illegal is illegal. Why do we reward them ? This is an adult who should have taken care of his 'problem', years ago.

      June 30, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. miles

    Don't you know who were the first illegal immigrants in this country? That's right!! The white people who stole this land from Native Americans. And now you people here are talking about being legal and illegal and treating this person like he's evil. Guess what, he's better than any of you who were born here!

    June 25, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • bea

      DID YOU EVER HEar of giving the other a break Please look at yourself and see if you want a govt that wants you to be dumber so we all can be MANIPULATED

      October 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mmb

    RainyAlaska–If you're from Alaska then you need to go back. Stop this nonsense of being so hateful! He was 12 then, it wasn't his fault. You're so immature.

    June 26, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  8. mmb

    Howlyn I guess you don't know, Native Americans came from ASIA not Northeastern Europe, Look it up.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. mmb

    Border Agent- If you are an Agent, Why don't you guard the border, why are the illegals still crossing the border every minute, stop them. They're the ones who don't pay taxes. they get hands out. Jose Vargas did what anyone would do. if you were in his shoes, what would you do?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Apply for citizenship.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Robert W

    I was dating someone who I did not know was here illegally until about the second year into it. By then, we were a couple. This person came over from Guatemala on a nice jet airplane at 9 years old. The mother was already here working as a housekeeper as was her mother who is still a resident – not a citizen. This person I was dating did not have a choice to come here, and to overstay the visa. That was the mother's fault. This person went through K-12 grade and then paid very high prices to go to college and got a college degree in Business. Very smart person. This person knows almost nothing of Guatemala and wouldn't know what to do there. This person only knows the USA. I don't get why the dream act (with a cut-off point, no new ones) can't be enacted for those kids who came here by parents and had no choice. Give them a break. The USA is all they know. But, there can be a cut-off point. But it will take millions of grown-up kids out of the shadows, to pay taxes (which this person does even though they cannot legallty work here, and is a business degree graduate who cleans houses becasue they cannot use that degree). IT IS NOT THE KIDS FAULT AND THE KIDS SHOULD NOT BE PUNISHED FOR WHAT THEIR PARENTS DID.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • EducateMe

      Bring out the examples like this and let's ask the lawmakers "What will you do if you or your relatives were in their shoes." Many Americans did not know that Immigration Law used to be blatantly discriminatory and unfair. The "law" allow only about 100 Visas for a Black Africans per year but unlimited number of visas for White British citizen per year. Is that a fair immigration law? Many people who have beenhere since then are still stuck here and unable to adjust their status or their childrens' status. (They are now trying to remediate the blatant discrimination with another unjust "Diversity Visa" lottery program.) American Immigration is the most unjust in the world – which is why so many people are deemed to be "breaking" the law.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. American born Mom

    My brother in law was here legally for 40 years, he broke the law and was deported back to a country he hadn't been to in 40 years. You should go back to your birthplace also, now that we have paid for your education, you can be sucessful there too. You too can reapply to come back after 10 years...........

    June 26, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  12. mmb

    gagaga–Wrong, he's not Indian. He's Filipino, You're right that the people from certain countries can obtain a visa, citizenship easier than others, India & Philippines. because they are educated people. In the early 60's Filipinos professionals mostly engineers, nurses, doctors were given working visas they were invited by the U.S. govt. a few years ago teachers were brought here, there were not enough teachers, not enough doctors . I have read the article. And the person you are referring to was a 12 year old at the time when he came here, now he's an adult. I can understand if he was already an adult when he snucked inwhen in fact he was 12, he only found out he was illegal in 1991. My impression is that all the complainers, the haters here have not read the full story. You can't read the book by its cover.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mmb

    Joey- you are correct, I did see him on tv interview recently, he speaks better english than most of these clueless people who posted their hatred towards him, this illegal has class, ok so he violated but it was beyond his control. only if these clueless would read his article they would think twice but I doubt it if they will. They're too selfish, jealous. They can't stand it.,

    June 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. boggie

    he should not receive special treatment just becouse now he is a celebraty. if the law says he is to be deported then so be it. if he wish's to fight it with a lawyer then there goes what ever money he got from the nobel prize.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • netep

      @boogie he did not win a nobel prize and no he's not a celebraty lol

      June 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Andrea

    It's sad to read this type of comments... This country lacks of something called empathy, it's only full of narcissists and sadists.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
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