Pulitzer-Winning Reporter: I Am An Undocumented Immigrant

Jun 22, 2011
Originally published on June 22, 2011 5:01 pm

Watch in coming days to see how this story plays out in the always hot immigration debate:

Jose Antonio Vargas, a reporter who shared a Pulitzer Prize when he was with The Washington Post, reveals today that he is an "undocumented immigrant" and that he has over the years obtained (with help) a series of false documents to conceal that fact from employers.

Vargas tells his story in The New York Times Magazine and at a new website — DefineAmerican.org — where he hopes to host "a real conversation about immigration in our country."

And on a piece that will air during Thursday's World News with Diane Sawyer on ABC, the 30-year-old Vargas says he's revealing all this because he wants others to know that "in my heart I'm an American ... [and that] I am one of many, many people and we are not who you think we are. ... We don't just mow your lawns and babysit your kids and serve you tacos."

Among the things he wants to push for is the Dream Act, which would allow illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to stay if they enroll in college or join the military.

Vargas' odyssey began when he was 12. He was sent by his mother from the Philippines to live with relatives in California. Vargas says he thought he was in the U.S. legally, but found out at the age of 16 that he wasn't. That began a series of deceptions that continued as he grew older. He lays them out in the long Times piece.

Along with how this story plays in the immigration debate, watch for a discussion among journalists about whether Vargas' actions over the years raise questions about his credibility as a reporter.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, journalists should "abide by the same high standards to which they hold others."

Vargas was part of the Post team that won a Pulitzer for its coverage of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

Side note: Ruben Vives, a Los Angeles Times reporter who shared a Pulitzer Prize this year, was also brought to the U.S. illegally as a child. Before he turned 18, however, he was given help that led to his gaining legal status.

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