Journalist and documentary filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas, who received the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 for The Washington Post, has revealed that he is an undocumented immigrant.
At the age of 12, Vargas was sent from his native Philippines to live with his grandparents in Mountain View, Calif. He says that he only discovered that he wasn’t an American citizen when he tried to apply for a driver’s permit four years later and was told that his green card was a fake.
After deciding to pursue journalism—in part because “if his name appeared at the top of articles, he felt it was less likely that anyone would question his immigration status,” he told ABC News—Vargas managed to use a series of false and doctored documents to land reporting jobs, obtain a driver’s license, and eventually take positions at The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.
He could have easily continued to use the fake papers to avoid anyone finding out about his illegal status, he says, but after reading about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the Dream Act, which would allow illegal immigrants who came to the country as children to become citizens if they attend college or serve in the military, Vargas decided to come clean.
“At the risk of deportation—the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years—they are speaking out,” Vargas wrote in an article that will appear in this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine. “Their courage has inspired me.”
In order to raise awareness of the illegal immigration issue, Vargas is starting an online campaign at DefineAmerican.com. “Define American brings new voices into the immigration conversation,” says the site, “shining a light on a growing 21st-century Underground Railroad: American citizens who are forced to fill in where our broken immigration system fails. . . . These heroes need to be the center of this national conversation.”
Vargas says that he’s aware of the legal ramifications of his decision but that it won’t change how he feels about his adopted home. “You can call me whatever you want to call me, but I’m an American,” he told ABC News. “No one can take that away from me.”