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. Phil

    Define America: The place where Native American Indians lived that was "discovered" by Europeans who subsequently wanted to kill all of the Definitive Americans.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • AGuest9

      Again with this "Native American Indians". If there were "Native Americans", they couldn't be traced to any other human species and their DNA would be different. No hominids that we are aware of originated in the Western Hemisphere. People came to the Western Hemisphere by way of the Bering Land-bridge approximately 10,000 years ago.

      The only difference between my ancestors and their's? Their's walked. Mine came by boat.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rosslaw

    Deport any and all who opposed the Dream Act which would have allowed citizenship for the children of illegals who served in the military. Or even better, take the children of those super Americans who opposed the Dream Act and let them do 3 to 4 tours on the Afghan-Pakistan border. I'm sure they wouldn't mind, being super Americans and all.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • R Grimes

      Hey dufus. There is already a means for foriegners to serve in our military and be fast paced to citizenship. Bush authorized it after 9/11. They profiled many that have done so In the Washington Post. BUT they did it....LEGALLY!!! No free passes to criminals, which they are. He knew he was here illegally. He was old enough in the Phillipines to return. I don't want to hear his bleeding heart excuse.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • whatsupdoc

      Since i am one of those "Super", I'd say deport those that support the DREAM Act, all the illegals whatever you want to call them. Obey the Law, DA!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • An American Citizen

      @ Rosslaw: Well said!
      @ Grimes & whatsupdoggie : your comments are so retarded coming out of ignorance! You already forgot that this nation grew out of a blending of capitalism and immigration both legal and illegal ... a fact that your tiny minds are unable to comprehend ..

      June 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Julius

    Those who say this person should be deported, imprisoned or fined should be deported, imprisoned or fined....he was a 12 year old.

    Make him a citizen - the debate is over. You cannot punish 12 year old kids for what their parents have done.
    Oh...an anyone who disagrees with me should have their own kids deported out of the US immediately.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      its not punishment, this is just not his country.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. made in the USA

    sue i served my country for 20 years in the U.S military! I was born in the U.S I have earned the right to say what i feel. He works and does not ask for hand outs. He commits no crimes! cant say that about you ignorant!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Max

    He was 12 when he immigrated. He probably didn't have much say in the manner. He went on, against great odds, to become an acclaimed reporter, and yet people still want to kick out the "illegal". The vast majority of comments neglect to even refer to Mr. Vargas by name (he is just "illegal" or, better yet, "h0m0 illegal" (sic)).

    So, tell me, compared to the kid who was brought into a foreign country by his parents at one of the most difficult ages to deal with massive change, who went on to win a Pulitzer prize for his reporting on an American tragedy, what have you done with your life that makes you deserve to be here more than him? Aside from having the dumb luck to be born within a certain geographical region. If you think geography is all that's needed to define "American", get out of our country.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmb

      Thank you, Max. All those people who complained about Jose Vargas are immatures, clueless.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Doinit Properly

    As someone who is going through the pain of applying to bring their wife to this country LEGALLY from another country, I have zero sympathy for illegal immigrants. They think they are special and don't have to follow the rules that law-abiding people have to follow and that later they should be rewarded for breaking the law and getting away with it. I don't care how long your spouse or friend has been her illegally, they are still here illegally and act like they are more special than people like my wife who are doing things the right back. Back of the line (at a minimum) for you, law-breaker. All the other bleeding hard arguments are distracting fluff from the basic truth: you either came here legally or you didn't. If you didn't, bye bye. Come back when you do it the right way...you're not special.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mrmailman



    June 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. elections are rigged

    Oh boo hoo. If he had put that energy into LEGALLY immigrating, he would have been a citizen by now with nothing to worry about. Cry me a f_cking river. There can be no short cuts. Now go back to the Philippines and start from the beginning. Cheating is not the way.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tom

    Even if he won a Pulitzer, he is here illegally. Even if he was brought to this country by his parents, they did so with the full knowledge that it was an illegal act. H e was able to obtain an education here, at taxpayer expense, even though he is illegal. He lied,and cheated to get all the breaks that have been afforded to him at taxpayer expense. If, as he says, he's done running, and is tired of the life as an illegal then he should be deported back to the Philippines, the land of his birth, from which he can apply for US Citizenship legally. He broke the law. There can be no exceptions for that, only consequences!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • brandon

      You're Illegal

      June 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • elections are rigged

      Obozo won the Peace prize. Most of those "honors" don't hold the meaning they once did. We all live in backwards land now where wrong is right and up is down.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michelle

    Amen Suzanne! the hatred spewed on this post is truly shameful.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    My heart breaks as I read the spews of hatred within these posts. If he's illegal, so were all of our ancestors who fled to this land and usurped it from the Native Americans. We should all be shipped back to the homes of our ancestors to rid America of the self-righteous hypocrites we have become.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. boss

    To all that thinks they can win their country back by sending others away. Why don't you go back. Oh I forgot , you have no where to go. I try to tell all my Spanish people to wake up. The other side doesn't won't you in America as much as they don't want us here. They don't care about your skin color. That only comes into play when they speak about black people.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      What are you even talking about? Why the hell should I "go back" anywhere when I was born in this country to parents who were born in this country? My grandparents on both sides were immigrants who came to the USA LEGALLY! They got jobs and didn't suck off the government. They paid taxes and worked their butts off so that their ancestors – me and my family – could have a better life. Tell me why people today should be allowed to just breeze in illegally, suck off my tax dollars and get to stay put with no ramifications whatsoever?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. David

    I have no problem with a fine, and then get in line for citizenship and a work visa.

    But, it does not change the fact that we have to be more accountable to who comes and No. 1 is shut the borders. No. 2 would be to deal with those who are here illegally. No. 3 is revamp the law as to who we let in. We should be striving to get the best and brightest, not a working third world underclass.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. HJS

    Why does everyone assume that he or any other non-citizen has not paid taxes? If a false SS # is used so that you CAN be employed and pay taxes. Not paying taxes would only bring more attention. Do you assume he hasn't paid sales tax, property taxes or insurance premiums? What resources has he drained? The only reason he isn't a citizen is because there is NO LEGAL WAY. Many people assume that you can fill out an application and get citizenship when this isn't the case. Learn more before you judge. Filling out an application would only be volunteering to be deported.
    And yes, just so everyone knows, I was born in the USA (but hope I don't get lumped in the same category as most of you short-sighted people).

    June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      @HJS There is a legal process to follow to come to this country. I, and many others, have done this. It takes time but at least you are not getting the benefit of something, illegally. He has got to go!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
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