WASHINGTON — A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covered the Virginia Tech massacre for the Washington Post went public Wednesday with a secret he said he has been keeping for nearly two decades: He is an illegal immigrant.
Jose Antonio Vargas, whose mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in California when he was 12, said that now he wants to push Congress to pass a bill called the DREAM Act that would allow people like him to become citizens. “I’m done running. I’m exhausted,”
Vargas wrote in a New York Times Magazine essay posted online Wednesday. “I don’t want that life anymore.”
Vargas referred a request for comment from The Associated Press to his public relations team, which did not make him available Wednesday. He also spoke to ABC News in interviews that will air today and Friday.
He said he didn’t know about his citizenship status until four years after he arrived in the U.S., when he applied for a driver’s permit and handed a clerk his green card.
“This is fake,” a Department of Motor Vehicles clerk said. “Don’t come back here again.”
Vargas confronted his grandfather, who acknowledged he purchased the green card and other fake documents.
He convinced himself that if he worked hard enough and achieved enough, he would be rewarded with citizenship, Vargas wrote in the magazine piece.His grandfather imagined the fake documents would help Vargas get low-wage jobs. College seemed out of reach, until Vargas told Mountain View High School Principal Pat Hyland and school district Superintendent Rich Fisher about his problem. They became mentors and surrogate parents, eventually finding a scholarship fund for high-achieving students that allowed him to attend San Francisco State University.
Vargas was hired for internships at The San Francisco Chronicle and the Philadelphia Daily News. He was denied an internship at The Seattle Times because he didn’t have all the documents they required. But he kept applying and got an offer from The Washington Post.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Cori W. Bassett would not comment on Vargas’ case Wednesday but said the agency prioritizes cases that pose the most significant threat to public safety.