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. CrimsonNeck

    He took my jobbb!

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

      then you obviously didn't deserve it

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

    If it's worth your time to try and take from others, warranted or not, you are absolutely PATHETIC!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Enitan

    Though his immigration status is indeed unlawful, his accomplishment should not be overlooked nor minimized

    Apparently he is not a burden on the society, as so many others are, however, law breaking is law breaking no matter how many awards he has received.

    Yes he does need to be sent back, then re-apply and then come into the country legally.

    I migrated to United States in 1978 with a student visa, i have followed the rules according to the law of the land and has since became a citizen since 1988.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DeportNOW

    "I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore."
    Then you shall have your wish. Authorities will be called and you will be deported back to the Philippines.
    Because it doesn't matter how many awards you have won.
    I have news for you my friend. This is not your country.

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

      a sane point is made

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

      Um, except he's probably paid more in taxes than you ever will because he's probably paid more money than you will. Plus, he shouldn't have to pay the price for the sins of his parents. You are ridiculous.

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

      So you're Native American?

      Because if you're not, it's really not *your* country either.

      I'm just sayin'.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kingofthenet

      All a Country 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 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • DeportNOW

      AmyTC – "He paid more in taxes than you ever will."

      It doesn't matter. American citizenship IS NOT for sale. Don't you get it???

      "Plus, he shouldn't have to pay the price for the sins of his parents."

      But why should America pay the price for the sins of his parents???

      June 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • DeportNOW

      LMD – You're confused.
      America was not founded by the Indians. Yes they were on this CONTINENT first, but they did not found this country, so to be more precise, they were the first "NORTH AMERICANS".
      We're talking about two different things.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Paul E.

    Another media story ramming amnesty down our throats. Warm, fuzzy stories don't change the fact that illegal immigration is ILLEGAL. Deport them all.

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

      My thoughts exactly.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |

    Exactly the reason why the Dream Act SHOULD have passed, so REAL AMERICANS like this man could continue living in our country and contributing to the betterment of this twisted, begotten society

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

      "YOU'RE DELUSIONAL" calling him a "Real American".
      While I am not questioning the fact that he is real, in that he exists, he most certainly is NOT an American citizen.
      Despite the fact that you seem to like the guy a lot.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. connie

    Breaking the law is not something to be proud of. My mother moved here and recieved her citizenship the same time I graduated high school. I am so proud of her. It's one thing to be an immigrant, but to be an immigrant disrecptful of the countrys laws doesn't deserve anything but deprtation. He should be stripped of the prize and deported for breaking the law.

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

      maybe your mother married an american citizen

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

      Stripped of his prize? The prize is not contingent on his being a legal citizen! Jeez!
      Yes, he should face the SAME penalty any other illegal immigrant should face for skirting the law. Not a harsher punishment, the SAME. So he keeps his Pulitzer because he did great work and it was well-deserved. The Pulitzer has no bearing on his immigration status.
      Good LORD the number of crazies that show up on these pages is just depressing. Totally depressing.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Luisito

    If we deport him it will add more on the budget deficit since he probably pays a lot of taxes.

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

      at least he can teach others how to maintain a fine MANscape and what facial products he recommends

      June 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Human2

    The irony here is that he had ALWAYS had the option to correct the situation, just like anyone else. Every illegal immigrant KNOWS they're here illegally, but don't want to face the consequences of their own actions. I don't have any patience for people who hide for years, then whine, complain, or say they have too much to lose and 'it's not fair' if the US takes action so they comply with immigration laws.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. brick

    I mean I dont see how being an illegal immigrant is relevant to any of his work. He is a talented writer. You don't have to be a naturalized citizen for that. Roman Polanski is also talented...I will say it is terrible to deport people who were minors when they arrived here illegally but that's not really the governments fault. The federal government didn't bring them over; it was their parents. Now how can you blame people just trying to make a better life for their children...you can't. But the fact is that it is illegal and stealing from people (heathcare, jobs, hit and runs) just because you are poor is no way to gain wealth. Remember America has millions of homeless and under employed citizens themselves who could be working and receiving aid. Are they less valuable? Im not saying we should just throw away all these people like Jose but we seriously need to get our own house in order...

    June 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Guest

    There's nothing wrong with immigration. It's one of the cornerstones of our society. It's the illegal part of the equation that's the problem. When you give a pass to people who ignore one law you weaken them all. Today you're okay with illegal immigrants but tomorrow you may not like what people start giving a pass to. Only by defending the entirety of our body of laws can we protect the rule of that law that we all enjoy living under so much. Should this man be held responsible for his parents' action? No, he didn't really have any options. He was twelve. Should he be held responsible for deliberate violations of our laws as an adult? Yes. You can't decide to enforce some of the laws and not others and at the same time claim to be someone who respects the rule of law. This author has done a responsible thing, but he's also got things he has to answer for if he expects to continue to be a part of our society.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. blake

    Grant him citizenship or kick him out. But don't sit back and ignore this in your face action.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. gravis

    I'll tell you what, I'll trade you. Go ahead and kick the illegal immigrants out of our country. At the same time, kick out the millions of ignorant white arrogant teabag American trash that also leach off our system. Better yet, do that first.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. hodel

    First, so what if he is a Pulitzer winner. I don't think anyone says that illegals can't be smart, or productive, or creative... However, he is an illegal alien and therefore must be treated like any other person in his situation. We can't only give "smart" illegals rights and "dumb" illegals" no rights.

    Also, I think that all peoples wanting to complain about USA policies on immigration and illegal aliens need to look at the policies of other countries, including their own native lands. Most other nations are much more strict than the USA.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • DeportNOW

      SPOT ON!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. gLEN

    the solution is simple, deport yourself. then apply for reentry legally. you would think a Pulitzer winner could find a news organization who are willing to attest to his unique skills and sponsor him.

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