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. Darth Vader


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


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

    For those of you who say that he should pay taxes, he has been ever since he started working at the age of 16. His social security number was obtained legally during the 1990's. He's probably paid more to social security than all of you combined. How would all of you feel if you realized that the home you owned all these years was not really yours? How would you feel if your existence was questionable and that you have to leave your home to move to a foreign country that you have very little recollection of? How do you people think a minor will understand all of this? The biggest problem we have is we lack the ability to feel and think. We are a social race that lacks empathy.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      I don't care if he's paid $5 million in taxes, that's NOT the point. As citizens we don't get to SELECTIVELY decide which of the Laws of our country should be enforced. If it's no the books, if it's a Law, then enforce it. We have Immigration Laws, he violated them, he should pay the consequence. If you're ok with you deciding he doesn't have to obey them, then what about me deciding I don't have to obey tax Law, or your neighbor next door doesn't have to obey the Trespass Law and he'll come over and use your backyard or your car whenever he feels like it. There's really not a shred of difference. It doesn't matter if it's a touching story. Are you telling me that if someone robs you and your family, but then afterward you find out that he needed the money to use for hospital costs, it's ok? You'll forgive him then and the robber shouldn't be prosecuted? Get real.

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

      liberal democrat here and I feel the need to point out while I have no problem with immigration, I DO have a problem with the case we should feel sorry for illegal immigrants because they turned out well. He has been here long enough to be eligible for amnesty programs, ones he chose not to take advantage of. I see nothing honorable in that

      June 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melina319

      Your argument does't apply in this case b/c he wasn't blindsided. He didn't wake up one day and realize he is illegal. He stole SS numbers and lied to Secret Service to get into the White House. He's a criminal on those grounds alone.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gewii

      Let me correct some of the people who responded to me.
      Melina319 : He did not steal his social security.
      ol cranky : He was'nt here when any amnesty was offered.

      Reponse to JT:
      This is not a legal argument anymore because he has none, but what we are talking about here is the moral aspect of what these illegals have done. Let's play a scenario to all of you. If you realized that your mother came to this country ilegally, what would you do? Some people like JT here would probably be the type of person who's going to drag your mother into the car and then drop her off at the border (you'll probably say "well she's not" in a whinny voice). We'll some of us are not like that.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Stephen

    Immigration would not be an issue except for one thing: the welfare state. Now that it's here, no one wants to pay for more freeloaders. If there were no welfare state, immigrants would be more welcome.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      except that illegals are not eligible for welfare....welfare recipients are useless AMERICANS....citizens with no value....

      June 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob MIch

      @Rob But if the illegal immigrants became Legal Citizens then they WOULD be eligble for "Freeloading" and therein lies the problem. At least that's what I believe he is trying to say.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Less Bias

      Do you honestly believe that the folks coming to the US from other countries are here to live off welfare? Read the news, man. They're here to get jobs. To make a living. To feed their families. They know they can't do that on government handouts – which is why they're willing to work hard to make their own dime.
      The reality of the situation is that deportation as punishment for illegal immigration is contrary to our culture. If you get caught speeding, the officer doesn't make you go all the way back to your house and start over. He just gives you a ticket, you pay the fine, and go on with your life. If a person's only crime is the manner in which they arrived in the US, the punishment should be the same – pay a fine, and get over it. Should we still use deportation as punishment for real criminals, who *are* stealing (either from the government, or individuals), or other crimes with real victims? Absolutely. But trying to keep people out of the US just because they didn't have the good fortune to be born here will only further our decline, both economically and morally.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. stymie

    He came here as a child. He should not be held responsible for coming to America illegally.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      That is a ridiculous statement. He is ILLEGAL, what part of that do you not understand. He certainly has known it, and LIED about it. He has had ample time over the years to apply for citizenship, like thousands of others have done, and chose to LIE instead. Treat him as any other ILLEGAL alien.

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

      Sets bad precedent. No two ways about it. If you let it stand, everyone south of the border will be leveraging to get 'their' kids in early. Illegal is illegal. It's not 'our' fault he was illegal either.

      So many people work VERY hard to enter this country legally, it's a major slap in the face to them and theirs and everything they stand for. THEY are the people WE want. NOT the people who premise their approach with illegal activity, what, after they retain legal status, then they will start abiding by OUR laws.....really? Why?

      June 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JT

    Sure, as the author says, it's time to have a REAL discussion about immigration......and here it is.....we have LAWS in this country, Laws about paying taxes, Laws about getting married, Laws about how to buy a house, Traffic Laws, Obscenity Laws, etc. etc. etc.....AND we have Immigration LAWS. It's simple, there is no discussion necessary beyond you OBEYING the immigration laws, or getting deported if you don't. Really, what more discussion is necessary???

    June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      part of our LAWS is that we don't find 12 yr olds culpable for crimes committed by their parents.....

      June 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      Actually ROB we do that every day. If a family of illegals is caught crossing the border, they ALL get sent back, including their 12 year old child, their 5 year old child, whatever. You're absolutely right, it's not the child's fault, but it IS the parents fault and it is REALITY that he is here illegally. Doesn't matter if he is a Doctor, or a Lawyer, or a gardener or a Nobel Prize winner, he's still an ILLEGAL immigrant. If I was twelve and my parents committed and crime and got sent to prison, I was not responsible for their crime, yet, I would still pay a penalty in a way, being sent into the Foster Care system. Would it be unfair, of course, but it's not the Governments fault, it would be the fault of my parents, just as this is the fault of HIS parents. Let him blame them when he is deported.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mrmailman


    June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Palos

    Give him a break people. He was a victim (of his parents who brought him here illegally). He did not work for small companies but big ones like Washington Post. I can assure you that he pays taxes too. The only problem is that the Social Security and Medicare that he is contributing to is not going to him in the long run. So don't even say that he is a freeloader in this country.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod C. Venger

      So because he pays taxes, he earns his way into the US? Isn't that just paying a bribe? Bank robbers steal what isn't theirs and what do they do with the money? They spend it. Cars, homes, computers, flat screen TV's...they contribute to the economy with money that otherwise would not have gone into circulation...ie, if someone steals $25,000 from an FDIC bank, the bank is reimbursed. So the robber is ADDING $25,000 to the economy.

      Do we give him a pass for being such a good guy? No, we put him in prison for stealing, scaring the sheet out of people and being anti-social.

      Why should this guy get a pass? Fascinating that at the end of the article he chose to reveal that he's the ultimate victim: a GAY illegal! lol. Deport him. He's morally decrepit on top of everything else.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Canadian Genius

    I don't really have anything to say about the immigration aspect, although I do have opinions, it is your country, your laws.

    What I do want to say is, cases like this are perfect evidence debunking a lot of what the conspiracy theorists are always saying. They would have us believe that the government can do things like watch us all 24 hours a day, keep track of the books we read, where we go, what we do, what our associations are... In fact, they can't even keep track of the movements of a 12 year old Filipino kid, or even be aware that he is illegal, even though he later seems to have access to people at high levels of government.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    Deport all illegals and those who support them. They obviously have no respect for our laws.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alyssa

      Deport people who have no human compassion. Obviously you're sociopaths.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • duhtruth

      How about black slaves that were brought to this country. Should they have been immediately deported? Or should the American Indians have deported all white settlers? We love laws we make to address issues that are in the favor of the aristocracy. POWER TO THE PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD!!!!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • lucy

      ignorance is bliss

      June 22, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. garg

    They be stealin' our pulitzer prizes!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Canadian Genius

      But at least he not be stealing your women.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Draeggo

    If illegals get to choose what laws to break and not be punished then do I get the same right? After all I am a legal citizen and should at least be able to choose what laws I wish to break and not suffer any consequence if an illegal immigrant can do so. I can use emotion as an argument and I can act like its my right so do I qualify for this benefit?

    June 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • duhtruth

      Certainly! You can also choose to purchase food that the illegals picked for you or you can pick your own.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. educatedguess

    who doesn't want to get the hell out of this rotten place called america?

    June 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. krozareq

    We only care if he's Mexican or came via Mexico.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ummm, NO.

    "It's time to have a real conversation about immigration in our country."

    "Our" country? NO part of this country is your country, fool. Come back when you decide to follow American laws and come here legally.

    Please don't tell me you had a kid here too.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
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