Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Says He’s an Undocumented Immigrant

Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist who shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his coverage of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, announced today that he is an undocumented immigrant.  In a piece for the New York Times, he recounts going to get a learner’s permit at the age of 16, only to be told that his green card was fake.  He had been sent to the United States from his birthplace, the Philippines, at the age of 12 to live with his grandparents.  They were naturalized citizens, but his grandfather had to purchase fake documentation for Vargas.  For all his life, Vargas explains, he has had to rely on a “a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.”

Throughout his adult life, Vargas admits to having committed a number of fraud-related crimes in order to obtain the documentation he needed to keep working in the United States, writing false information on employment forms and using an invalid Social Security card.  All of this, he writes, was in service of “living the American dream.”  But now, he says he’s sick of pretending.

“I’m done running,” he writes. “I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore.”

I highly encourage you to read the entire piece, which tells the complicated saga of Vargas’ successful career as a journalist, and the web of false forms and information that accompanied every move he made.  Vargas is also adding his voice to the chorus of people clamoring for the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to stay in the country as long as they enroll in college or join the military.  The bill was reintroduced to the Senate in May.

“We don’t just mow your lawns and babysit your kids and serve you tacos,” said Vargas. “We do that. We do a really good job doing that, but we do other things, and we are a part of this society. And I think that everyone deserves dignity.”

The question, of course, is whether Vargas will be deported – and more complicated still, whether he should be.  Some are raising questions about whether Vargas’ repeated deceptions count as a violation of journalistic ethics.  And as Nick Baumann points out on the Mother Jones blog, although it’s one thing to sympathize with Vargas, many foreign journalists have also “paid thousands or tens of thousands of dollars and waded through miles of red tape and seemingly senseless regulations” to stay and work in the United States – and they may not be so sympathetic.

Still, it seems clear that like the many other undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, Vargas has made a place for himself in the United States, and has every right to consider himself an American.  Vargas, though, is something of a different case, since while he is foreign-born, he lived as an American for much of his youth.  And while he did deceive his employers and colleagues, it seems unlikely that Vargas’ immigration status affected his ability to be a good reporter.

The tide may be changing for people like Vargas, though, even if it’s just a little.  A new memo from John Morton, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, encourages immigration agents to consider how long an undocumented immigrant has been in the U.S., whether they were brought as a child, and if they are enrolled in school or the military.  While this could just be a PR move, it also could mean that the government is inching toward fairer treatment toward undocumented immigrants who, like Vargas, have made themselves an integral part of the fabric of American life.

Photo from pamhule’s Flickr photostream.


Cindy B.
Cindy B6 years ago


Brian F.
Brian F6 years ago

The law must be enforced. What about the people waiting in line to come here the right way. He needs to be arrested, pay his fine, go home, and apply to come back the right way. If we allow him to cut to the front of the line like so many illegal aliens have, then we will have 50 million illegal aliens in 5 years, instead of the 20 million we have now. It's also an unfair slap in the face to the people who came here the right way. He must be deported, and we must enforce the law.

Lynda H.
Lynda Harrison6 years ago

To all those who advocate giving such people as this journalist who is here ILLEGALLY a token slap on the wrist, perhaps you should try explaining how unfair it would be to deport him and make him wait his turn in line to those who have been waiting their turn, sometimes for many years.

Anita R.
Anita R6 years ago

For those of you who say "I" (or "my parents", or "my grandparents", etc) were immigrants who came here "legally", for those of us whose ancestors came to North America several generations ago, there WERE no immigration restrictions in those days! My great-great-great grandmother ran away from home in Northern Ireland in about 1817, an aunt helped her to get on a ship in Belfast, and she sailed to New York City. That was it. She met my great-great-great grandfather in New York state and his family had already been in North America for a few generations. Some of their descendants are still living in the USA and some of us in Canada like me. We're here legally, even though our ancestors didn't have to go through bureaucratic hoops to get here. I assume immigration restrictions came about later as the population in both the USA and Canada swelled - but at one time anyone could come here and immigrants were valued for their contributions. I'm not going to get holier-than-thou and start slamming someone for being an "illegal" when all it took for my own ancestors was a one-way ticket on a sailing ship.

Suzette L.
Suzette L6 years ago

Sometimes I think some of the people who read the articles here on Care 2 are putting down reflexive remarks without engaging in thoughtful critical analysis of the information presented. For example, in this article, it states that Mr. Vargas was sent here by his parents when he was a boy of 12 years old. I don't know about y'all, but when I was 12 y.o. I did what my parents told me to do. And when I was 18 years old, I wouldn't have been brave enough to want to leave the country I came of age in, and return to a country I hardly knew how to function in. But apparently some think that when Mr. Vargas came of age, knowing he was undocumented, should have somehow come up with the big bucks to fly back to the Phillipines to do the right thing by you (or your grandparents) who immigrated here legally.

With the heartless and inhuman commentary I see all around me on this and many other topics, lacking in compassion, and opinions that reduce others to non-human status, I can only be reminded of Matthew 24:12 where Jesus says of the end times to come, "And because iniquity will abound, the charity of the many will grow cold."

K s Goh
KS G6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Juliet D.
judith sanders6 years ago

I keep hearing about how evil a "one world government" would be, but anyone who grew up watching Star Trek understands that it might not be so bad. Every time you use the internet you're bringing us a bit closer. Who would object? Only those who want to deny equality to everyone.

JW H.6 years ago

Catt - I'm not boasting - its just pure luck like Karen said - that I'm an american and by default americans are a bit better just because we live in america, Its not me personally it is us collectively. One example: As a group we give more to others

Steve R.
Steve R6 years ago

Ana G - how do you rationalize that we should change the law that makes people who BREAK the law and come here ILLEGALLY, criminals?

Maybe some crimes should not make people CRIMNINALS in your mind?

This country was built on immigrants - immigrants like me that came here LEGALLY! Millions and millions of us. We did not see the need to sneak in like thieves in the night!

The immigration laws are perfectly adequate - as the millions of immigrants like me can verify. They are in fact, a thousand times better than the immigration laws of other countries, including Mexico and most South American countries!

So tell us - why should they be changed to accomodate criminals that have broken them?

Steve R.
Steve R6 years ago

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist should go back to school!

Hello Jose - could you give us a Pullitzer worthy explanation of how an "IMMIGRANT" can possibly be "UNDOCUMENTED"?

We'd love to know Mr illegal ALIEN! And while you're at it, why not tell us how you have managed to avoid the law while committing a "number of fraud-related crimes in order to obtain the documentation you needed to keep working in the United States"?

Hopefully USCIS will now take note and implement OUR "Dream Act" which is to clear up our illegal ALIEN problem once and for all - starting with YOU!

Are you taking note Amelia T - for future articles? "IMMIGRANTS" are legal - they have PAPERS - they cannot be "UNDOCUMENTED" - not even in the biggest bleeding heart!