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. Bobbi

    Who cares??? Pulitzer Prize winner??? iIlegal is illegal. Now what? Do people not see what is wrong with America? Thousands and thousands of illegals sucking us dry. He even admits to giving the Secret Service an illegally obtained Social Security number so he could attend a White House dinner. They carry the word illegal to the limit. There are widows in my town alone who can't get help... But let an illegal drop a baby and they get assistance, food stamps, etc. I know this for a fact. Our government doesn't care. Obama wants socialism. The illegals will destroy America. America will become another Mexico.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. HillClimber

    Deport the person now. Access to this country is denied and his continued presence is an affront to America and Americans everywhere. Immigration was a tradition not a right and immigration is over. Get the aliens off my land, off my roads, out of my schools, and out of my pocket. Call the President's Comment Line at 202-456-1414 if you are an American Citizen and demand that the first step to immigration reform is the mass deportation of illegal aliens.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alyssa

      I think I'd prefer for you to leave America than for this guy.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • An American Citizen

      @ Hill Climber .. What a retarded comment!! It is financially impossible to deport 10-12 million people! This is America; a country that grew out capitalism and immigration both legal and non ... To deport illegal aliens costs the money that we don't have

      June 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Sounds like a confession, either deport him or make it a crime

      June 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joe

    If he was Mexican you people wouldn't have any sympathy at all!!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |

      mexican, irish, black, orange...illegal is only one color: illegal.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sandra

    Bye Bye...

    June 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Steve

    Break the Law, pay the price. Illegal is illegal no matter how positive of a "contributer" you are. And 12yrs of age is plenty old enough to know you're breaking the law, especially if you continue to do so when you file your taxes, get a drivers license, etc...

    Sorry, but go back.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • USMC88

      "12 years of age is plenty to know your breaking the law," Wow, you must be from Kentucky or West Virginia, where its legal to marry your 12 year old sister. This guy was from the Phillipines. I doubt he could speak good English let alone, know that he was breaking the law when someone brought him here illegally. In any event, he needs to face deportation proceedings ASAP. The law is the law, regardless of who turns you in. However, I don't support sending him home. Make him pay a hefty fine!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Greg

    "He even once gave the Secret Service an illegally obtained Social Security number so he could attend a White House dinner."

    Are you kidding me? Seriously? UGH!!!!

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

      You are kidding!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BRETT

    If we got in a war with Mexico today, we would absolutely crush them.

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

      Seriously, what in the he** are you talking about? War with mexico? What kind of life do you lead...I'm just curious. War and destruction anywhere is not the answer. By the way mexico is not our adversary...our immigration laws are!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. made in the USA

    we are all citizens of the same planet! SUE YOU ARE IGNORANT!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Luisito

    $$$Marry – divorce – $$$marry – divorce...... that is americal legal immigration

    June 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. speckledmom

    Oh, wow. This is a toughie. Yes, he's illegal, BUT he's hard-working, talented, ambitious, and cute! Bless his heart, I say we keep him and send Donald Trump, Nancy Grace, and Steve-O back in his place.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Actually, his story is what immigration is all about. Come to America and suceed on your hard work and grit. I think most bloggers here are either jumping on the immigrant bandwagon or are just insecure that someone has come into this nation and accomplished much more than they could ever hope to. Just saying. I don't know how many stories I have heard growing up of immigrations coming here and doing the exact same thing as this guy... and it was looked at as a good thing. Go figure!!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      Yes, what a swell guy he is. Come here innocent as a 12 year old and then you succeed by lying to the Secret Service to get what you want. There's better ways to success than that! Maybe we should admire better people than this guy...

      June 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • speckledmom

      Mel, I think the bigger problem here is that he fooled the Secret Service. That's kinda scary, don't you think?

      June 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. no way back

    If he were not a Pulizer Prize winner, then there would be no way for him to enter the country. There are no visas available, practically speaking, for poor people in other countries.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kingofthenet

    All a Country consists of is a collection of people, the smarter and better that collection is the STRONGER a Country you have. If the top 1 percent of the worlds population wanted to become Americans tomorrow, I would be SO Happy! We would RULE THE WORLD!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ja

    i don't have problem with illegal immigrants, the problem is the cheating #$%$%^ in corporate america, you export manufacturing overseas to avoid as you say high cost, you do it on backs of legals, taxbreaks, etc

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