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., defineamerican.com. 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.