Mountain View's Pulitzer Prize winner outs his illegal status

Jose Antonio Vargas is a former Voice intern

Jose Vargas, former Mountain View High school student and top American journalist, has outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a startling article in The New York Times magazine.

In the first-person account, Vargas recalls learning of his illegal status at age 16 when he took his green card to the Mountain View DMV to get a driver's license. He was shocked to learn that his green card was fake and that his grandparents had paid $4,500 to bring him to the U.S. in 1993 with a fake passport.

In the article Vargas, 30, says he is tired of keeping a significant part of himself a secret and admits to using fake documents throughout his life and to get jobs at the Washington Post and Huffington Post.

"I tried to compartmentalize my fears, distract myself by reporting on the lives of other people, but there was no escaping the central conflict in my life," Vargas writes. "Maintaining a deception for so long distorts your sense of self. You start wondering who you've become, and why."

Before that realization, Vargas said he had

convinced himself "that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it."

Vargas has launched a website campaigning for the rights of undocumented immigrants who have been educated in the U.S., It includes a video about his story.

Vargas says that the first person he told about his situation was Jill Denny, his chorale music director at Mountain View High School. The choir was set for a trip to Japan, so Vargas told Denny he couldn't afford it. When she replied that they would find a way to pay for him, he finally admitted "I don't have the right passport, I'm not supposed to be here."

But Denny "got it," Vargas says in the video. "The next day she told me the choir was going to Hawaii instead."

Jose also gives credit to former Mountain View school superintendent Rich Fisher and former MVHS principal Pat Hyland, whom he calls members of his personal "underground railroad."

"For more than a decade now Pat and Rich have been with me every step of the way,

guiding me and supporting me as I've tried to define what it means to be an American," Vargas says.

Vargas says he was been inspired by the courage of those campaigning for legal status of students with the DREAM Act.

Vargas was an intern at the Mountain View Voice in the late 1990s. The Voice profiled him in 2008 when he won his Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the shootings at Virginia Tech.

The New York Times magazine decided to publish the story despite concerns that Vargas could be deported. The Washington Post, Vargas' employer, was initially set to publish the story but decided not to at the last minute, presumably for legal reasons.

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Like this comment
Posted by Les
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2011 at 9:31 am

Mr. Vargas represents the potential our immigrant population provides and the fulfillment of the American Dream. He illustrates that a key to success in this country still involves placing a value on education, work ethic, and leading a positive and productive life. Sadly, Mr. Vargas didn't create the situation he found himself in, but his grandparents did. No one should be starting their lives in the U.S. under the guise of a fake passport or other illegal documents. We can't lose sight that behind every person who has experienced what Mr. Vargas has, there was an adult who failed to do the right thing and set up that child for future problems and obstacles.

Campaigning for the illegal status of students is admirable, especially when so many of those students and young adults had no say in their course in life. In my opinion, and as a product of immigrants myself, we should always embrace and welcome the positive contributions from those seeking to experience and become a part of American life. We also need to honor and respect that process, and with that said, I believe that someone like Mr. Vargas would equally serve his cause by not only campaigning for the rights of undocumented immigrants who have been educated in the United States, but also campaign for new immigrants to follow the legal path of entry and citizenship into this country.

Like this comment
Posted by American citizen
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2011 at 9:59 am

Smart, optimistic, successful young people like Mr. Vargas are the future of our country. Our country is much stronger with them than without them. We should not be suppressing them through out-dated immigration laws.

The DREAM Act was originally supported by many Republicans, but has now languished as the Republicans try to shut down everything associated with Obama. Can't they realize that this sort of political nonsense hurts the whole country more than it hurts Obama?

Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2011 at 11:01 am

The Dream Act needs to be passed. There are many young people who were either sent, like Mr. Vargas, or were accompanied by their parents in order to enter the country illegally. These people go to school in the US, speak perfect, unaccented English, and consider themselves Americans. I cannot see a reason for withholding a path to citizenship from these people. They have done no wrong because they made no choice when they entered the country illegally.

Like this comment
Posted by An Outsider
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 23, 2011 at 11:08 am

I agree with Les, as a non-American working here on a Visa I feel that Mr Vargas is EXACTLY the type of person this country needs. On the otherhand I am a well educated individual working at a "world class institution" and have to fight with Immigration over visa issues every three years. Exasperating and expensive so why should some people get an apparent free ride?

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2011 at 11:17 am

@An Outsider: It shouldn't be such a big hassle for people like you, that should also be part of immigration reform. I don't think Vargas (and others like him) has had such a "free" ride when you take into account the fear & stress he has lived under all his life. But the point of the DREAM act is that these are motivated and hard working people who have lived in the US since childhood. They had no say in coming here or staying here, but it is the only home they know, and they are as "American" as any other kid. To send them back to a country where they know no one, often don't even speak the language, or to deny them the opportunity to get a college degree, thereby earning their US citizenship and make meaningful contributions to American society, is just mean-spirited and, frankly, as stupid as hassling people like you every 3 years.

Like this comment
Posted by LWW
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2011 at 11:40 am

A political party which supports illegal activity as a way to garner votes is wrong. For a person to want to help someone out of compassion is a normal human trait but if it is outside the laws of the nation that person lives in that is also wrong. The Mountain View educators took a short term view to a long term problem and that was wrong.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2011 at 12:39 pm

This is a tricky one. Whereas I do have sympathy for children who are brought here illegally and don't even realise it, there are those who are trying to do the legal wrangle and get refused. This has happened recently to acquaintances of ours who tried to bring in their over 18, but still teenage, dependent children when moving here through a job transfer. They had no option but to leave these teenagers in their home country, paying for overseas fees and accommodations in their home country and getting no help from either country with the problem.

For all the illegal sob stories we hear, there are a lot people who are opting to do it legal and have sob stories too. Making it so attractive to do it illegally will only make more people want to attempt it and still do nothing to help those with legitimate desires to try and do the right thing but come up against unsurmountable hurdles.

Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm

It's not right that people can come here illegally and then based upon their contribution, gain citizenship. Nor is it right that illegals can win the lottery.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Why don't we just form a small committee composed of people like several of you above who think this kind of behavior is not only OK but also that anyone perpetrating it is some kind of hero.

Then this new committee can decide who you like and once designated as such relieve them of having to obey any of the laws of this country you choose?...

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 24, 2011 at 9:22 am

justification, special stories...none of it matters. An interesting story. Millions of others are not as compelling. Illegal is illegal. Doesn't matter if parent came over to give birth in San Diego at CA taxpayer expense (anchor baby) or brought child over when child was too young to be unaware. It was still wilfully done and needs to be stopped. Oh, I guess some don't feel the U.S. is to be "permitted" to have sovereign borders to this country? I understand TB rise attrributed to illegal immigrants (not Hispanic, incidentally), but that doesn't even matter - illegal is illegal and if you have any respect for the rule of law, then laws should be enforced or else we have a lawless society.

Like this comment
Posted by Narnia
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2011 at 10:55 am

After 1930 refugees (some illegal) gave a boost to american technology without which WWII probably wouldn't have been won (I am not just referring to Einstein). The contribution of those national origins, who at one time were considered too stupid or indolent and dirty, feeble of mind (exact words of a teacher), lacking good moral standards, was born of simpleton racism, even if the motor of science and technology and therefore riches has been driven mostly by immigration and some of it illegal. Not only that, but many specialized immigrants have had their schooling paid by their home countries draining them of resources and come here already fully schooled, scoring a home run for the US in many ways. Immigration is a complex issue. Certainly, nobody is advocating an open door policy. But we have to recognize that there are special people we need .To do otherwise seems to me blind and unpatriotic. The proposed Dream Act only applies to the college educated. If achievement of the innocent in wrong doing is not reason enough for granting residence I conclude that the US maybe setting itself for a future of disappointment. Should those special people go and enrich some other place?

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm

I cannot support anything that is illegal. Legal immigration is fine.

Like this comment
Posted by some guy
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm

We can't be flooded with illegal immigrants. We can't afford the social cost and the billions of dollars that are sent out of the country. It's unfair to Americans and to legal immigrants. For every illegal immigrant who is supposedly an asset to society, there are a million who are a drag. This person used fake documents to take jobs away from American citizens. The choir had their trip to Japan cancelled because of this person. These people have to be deported, no matter how heart-tugging their story may be. We can't have people being rewarded for coming here illegally, we have to discourage it rather than encourage it. I used to not care about it, but then too many people started acting like they are entitled to it and that we are wrong for saying anything about it. I'm saying something about it, for the moment, until it gets censored by the Palo Alto Online staff.

Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm

since you don't support anything ilegal do you then think we should pass the Dream Act so that those who came to the US without their knowledge and went to college can be legal?
Would you refuse emergency medical treatment from a doctor if you knew that this physician was an illegal immigrant?

Some guy,
which jobs did Vargas take from anybody? How many Pulitzer prize winners do you know that ended up being harmed by Vargas?

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Don't be taken in by the liberal spin on this. Despite the "Hispanic" name, Mr. Vargas is a Filipino. A fact conveniently omitted in most press reports, and not mentioned here in the article or in the blog postings.

The Philippines was a former American colony, and as such there should be no obstacles for Philippine nationals to immigrate here. Indeed, to this date, we haven't provided Philippine solders who fought for us in WWII the benefits we promised.

The liberal media would like you to think he is Hispanic. One of the 30 million unwanted people Latin America has encouraged to come here.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Like this comment
Posted by ann
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 25, 2011 at 7:25 am

very enlightening Outside observer...thank you for the truth and stopping the spin..and it sounds as if mr. vargas is productive, not on the dole and paying taxes and probably has real medical insurance, drives a registered car that is covered by insurance...and on and on...although his accomplishments are admirable and i applaud him....he is hardly typical of the millions of illegal immigrants who are gaming the system...and they are gaming the system and bragging and laughing at us all the way....

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2011 at 7:58 am

The bottom line on this is that the US "needs" the illegal workers just as much as the workers "need" to come here. After all, they pick our crops, clean our homes, tend our property, and do a myriad other jobs that Americans don't want to do at wages won't accept.

For this reason, we should have some type of low wage work visa available just like the other work visas for high tech and other professionals. These visas should be easily available, perhaps at border checkpoints, for incoming workers who need to show id from their home countries, require a sponsor (perhaps some type of low wage work agencies would be set up to do this), require an annual renewal, and maybe some other simple requirements. In return, the workers would be able to obtain a Social Security number, drivers license, pay taxes, and all the other benefits a professional visa comes with. The aim of these visas would be that the workers could obtain citizenship legally after 5 or 10 years for themselves and their children.

These illegal immigrants tend to be hard workers who want to make a better life for themselves and their families. They are not, for the most part, coming here as people who consider themselves criminals and want to indulge in criminal behavior. If any of these low wage work visa people ever committed a crime they would be deported immediately with their family and never allowed to return.

Some type of middle ground, sensible, way round this problem should be found to make this a win/win scenario for all concerned.

Like this comment
Posted by Just stop it
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 25, 2011 at 8:19 am

Illegal is illegal. If we have bad legal immigration laws that are too restrictive, change them...

But, I don't care how many stories there are of "exceptions" to the rule, I don't care if an illegal is from Mexico, Philipines, or Russia, I don't care how sad the story or how much they make....illegal is illegal.

I don't buy for one tiny second the notion that we "need" the illegals ( ok, undocumenteds) .. for the work that "we" won't do. Stop paying so much in subsidized housing, welfare, EBT ( formerly called Food Stamps, now used for anything from pizza to go from Pizza Hut to perfume at the drugstore), other words, stop making it so cushy to be unemployed, and I am willing to bet that suddenly there will be takers for the jobs.

Just stop supporting illegal immigration.

Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm

What would sound good to me would be to stop profoundly ignorant comments, that is ignorant on the facts, as well as the ones that are so mean spirited that they must reflex some deep seated frustation coming from people who couldn't make it in life as they wished.
What have you done for this country that entitles you to diss others who clearly possess skills
that are superior to yours? Being born here as if you were God's gift to the USA?

Like this comment
Posted by To Outside Obeserver
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Anyone who can see can see that the guy's not Hispanic, but Filipino. Most news reports state what country he is from, so there's no "liberal media" whitewash on this topic at all.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 26, 2011 at 11:14 am

Narnia, it has nothing to do with being God's gift, or a matter of respect. It has everything to do with the essential rights of citizenship. Very few people have an issue with legal, documented immigration. Our immigrant population and the generations that followed has been the backbone of this country since it began. What people do take exception to is illegal, undocumented immigration. It is also frustrating, and hard to understand, why so many illegal immigrants and their supporters feel that they have some inherent right to simply ignore the laws of the country they wish to be a part of. There are already laws and rules in place for people to immigrate and gain citizenship legally.

With that said, how can you expect the natural born citizens of this country, as well as those who played by the rules and did it right to feel when so many others want to reap the benefits and advantages this country has to offer by immigrating illegally. Makes no sense, so don't be surprised if there is some anger and resentment that exists. Never mind the simple fact of a country being able to control their borders from potential threats as well as health and safety issues.

Bottom line, if an immigrant, or anyone for that matter wants respect and validation, then that person needs to respect the laws of the country they have chosen to exist. Citizenship is a privilege not a right.

Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm

What I expect is for the country to recognize when it's in its own interest to put in action mechanisms by which people who are under a general law can become part of the exception provisions of the law. The US has done this millions of times. Antonio Jose Vargas, a filipino born person is innocent of growing up in this country undocumented. When he came to know this he was already fully american and nothing else. His life,his work, his friends, his language and his heart are all american and he is an unusually distinguished person. His family here also is all legal (he is the exception) . I would say that under this circunstancies I expect and support the provisions of the law to make Vargas a lawful resident, because less than that contradicts the belief that this is both a country of laws and of compassion.
Yes, there is a provision of the law applicable in cases like this.

Like this comment
Posted by Arch Conservative
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Just what is it about "Illegal" that you don't understand?
Enough of the "feel good" gibberish.

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Dear Arch: Agreed. I was born of a LEGAL immigrant and a USA citizen. Born to a LEGAL immigrant who divorced his old country and married this one. In those days, you had to give up your old citizenship.When an immigrant became a citizen, he became a better citizen with fiercer love of country, pride of citizenship, and knowledge of what made this country great than those born and raised here.

Fortunately, they both passed their love of this country and its original values on to me.

And I see almost nothing but problems with people who are not commmitted to this country ( dual citizenships) and who don't therefore vote for the long term good of the country, let alone the undocumented ( illegal) immigrants here only to take what they can and then "go home). I don't blame them, of course, but it is bad for our country.

Just stop supporting illegal immigrants. Support immigrant law reform, yes..but slam the door shut on our borders and deal with what we have already here.

Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Arch Conservative,
It is you how do not understand what illegal is. It is you who do not know the law. It is you who is ignorant both of the facts and the law. And it is you that for whatever reason doesn't seem to understand that it is a patriotic duty to do the best for your country within the provisions of the law. So, please stop the nasty gibberish and parrot like repetitions. They add nothing to the discussion. We are talking about a Pulitzer prize winner, not about general immigration. By extension we are talking about the Deram Act.

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I am sure this is PURE coincidence, ( and if you believe that, I have some great ocean front property for you in Nebraska), but lo and behold, the Democrat, led by Durbin, plan to make a big push for bringing forward the DREAM act ( cuz, you know, I have so much money left over after paying for my kid's coller to pay for other peoples' kids to go to college, let alone kids of folks who never paid taxes)...

Web Link

STOP STEALING OUR MONEY and "giving" it away! This is not why we paid so many dollars in taxes over our lives!

You wanna make the kids brought here innocently "legal", that is one on it. They shouldn't be punished for their parents'. However, 1) Stop allowing anchor babies at all and 2) Don't make anyone else pay for them. Charity from those who want to donate to help, yes..forced payment (called theft)

Back when we weren't forced to pay from govt theft from our wallets, I was involved in raising money for assistance groups like Catholic Charities and bringing food to the poor,donating to scholarships etc. Now that it is a tyrannical full-court press to simply force me to pay, with not one bit of choice on which to support and which not..I say NO!!

Like this comment
Posted by sam sell
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm


When have you been taxed at a lower rate then our current rate?

Too bad all you can think about is your selfishness when we are tlking about a highly productive contributor to our society.

Or do you hate him because of his orientation?

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm

To Sam Sell..I guess you haven't heard that only 53% of us pay anything in Federal taxes, the top 25% pays 86% of the total Fed tax revenue. How much more do you want to take from those who work and earn, launder through a govt employee, and "give" to those who don't work?

The truly disabled, the elderly ( redefine elderly..we live a lot longer than 65 now which was the average age when Social Security was created) ..yes...those who won't work, won't move to work, are too comfortable on the dole to work, want to 'earn a living" making

BTW, what orientation? Are you trying to imply he is straight so I hate him cuz I am a dyke? What are you trying to say?

The greedy ones are those who want to take what they didn't earn.

Like this comment
Posted by Selfish
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

True, I also may be selfish or mean spirited by thinking that there is and should be some meaning to citizenship or legal residence.

Mr. Vargas has lied and misrepresented himself in order to get a better life. He has fraudulently leveraged our resources, including our values and institutions.

He claims he was required to lie, but really, he was required to lie in order to get what he wants more easily. It's one thing to allow immigrants in without papers to protect them against torturing or murdering governments or powerful movements. But when it was suggested to him that working as a reporter in the Philippines would be terrible, his response was, "nothing could be further from the truth."

He is not here for political asylum. He's here because he thinks it accelerates his career to be here. It's more convenient and he prefers the values here.

That's sufficient reason to fraudulently misrepresent himself?

If his contributions to our society are seen to be so wonderful that he should be placed in front of everyone else in the path to become a citizen, congress can act. And requiring some sort of perceived merit to justify citizenship has a long history in the US. But this is a slippery slope. Should an autistic child of legal residents receive less consideration as an illegal than Vargas? That also was not the child's choice.

Vargas has shown that he will do what he thinks benefits him, without worrying about our laws.

Should a trader convicted of insider trading be let off because he goes to church every week and throws money there? He also commits fraud, and according to some provides a huge benefit to a community.
Clearly, he shouldn't be let off on these grouds, but this seems perfectly analogous to me.

Why can't Vargas go back to the Philippines and process himself legally, and wait his turn?

Because he's too selfish for that.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Did anyone on this thread listen to him being interviewed by Terri Gross last week? I heard part of the interview & had mixed feelings. I've seen people work very hard to become American citizens legally & they're proud of both their country of origin & being an American. I do appreciate the hard work of Vargas & others here illegally, as well as what they contribute to our country. But it also seems that many of them don't care about the US, or take pride in contributing, so they don't contribute. They just want to make some money to send back home. This narrow focus means that they don't assimilate, learn the language well, participate or contribute the way that citizens - recent or not, do. I have watched this, over many years & it's disturbing to me.

Just because Vargas has been honest now about his dishonesty & has demonstrated he has a conscience, does that erase his lies & fraud or does it excuse them?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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