Himself. Jose Antonio Vargas, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Washington Post coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, added a lengthy New York Times Magazine piece to his impressive stack of achievements. What he reveals in the piece — and in an upcoming ABC News interview, just about the most public forums possible — puts him at risk for deportation: Vargas illegally immigrated from the Philippines and left his mother behind at the age of 12, he writes, at tremendous cost to his grandparents, naturalized citizens who helped the family buy the necessary fake documents.
Vargas didn’t even realize anything was fishy until 16, when a kind clerk at the DMV whispered to him that the green card he’d happily presented wasn’t real. His family assumed he would have to take the sort of low-paying, low-status jobs that are often the only option for the undocumented (at least until he married an American — but since Vargas is gay, that wasn’t such an easy option, either). Instead, he won a scholarship to college and went on to that juggernaut journalism career, somewhere along the line just starting to check the “citizen” box on the paperwork at each new job after a discouraging meeting with an immigration lawyer. Even after Vargas had become a certifiable success, the worry took some of the joy out of it: “I was trying to stand out in a highly competitive newsroom, yet I was terrified that if I stood out too much, I’d invite unwanted scrutiny.” At one point, he even got into a White House state dinner by giving the Secret Service his illegally-obtained Social Security number.
Vargas says he decided to speak out in December, when Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would have let immigrants, like him, who came to the country and either went to college or served in the military, to become citizens.(The article’s publication also coincided with the rollout of a media advocacy campaign Vargas is working on behalf of, Define Americans.) Whatever ends up happening to Vargas as a result of his self-outing, one thing is clear: The bar just got a whole lot higher for describing personal essays as “brave.”
Update: Michael Calderone reports that Vargas first offered the essay to the Washington Post, his former employer. Editors at the paper’s “Outlook” section spent several weeks working on the piece before killing it, for reasons that remain unclear. Vargas confided his illegal status to an assistant managing editor, Peter Perl, which he writes about in the piece — though presumably any legal action that might be taken against the Post for knowingly employing an illegal worker would happen regardless of where the piece ran. Chris Suellentrop, the Times editor whom Vargas called to offer the story to after the Post spiked it, explains in a blog post that he received the draft just 48 hours before the magazine was scheduled to close, and, at the behest of Hugo Lindgren, editors set about “tearing up the book” to make room for it. On Twitter, The Atlantic’s Joshua Green summed up a general sense of disbelief that the Post would pass up such a story with this: “Little-known fact, but the Pentagon Papers were first offered to the WashPost’s Outlook section.”
My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant [NYT]
Washington Post Passed On Jose Antonio Vargas’ ‘Undocumented Immigrant’ Story [HuffPo]
My (Legal) Editor’s Dream [NYT]