Jose Antonio Vargas, who grew up in Mountain View, interned at the Chronicle and would later go on to share a Pulitzer as a Washington Post staff writer, has admitted in a New York Times Magazine story that he is an illegal immigrant. The AP reports:
- Vargas, whose mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in California at 12, now wants to push Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would allow people such as him to become citizens if they go to university or serve in the military.
- Vargas says he didn’t know about his citizenship status until four years after he arrived in the U.S., when he applied for a driver’s permit and handed a clerk his green card. “This is fake,” the clerk told him.
- Vargas confronted his grandfather, who admitted he purchased the green card and other fake documents.
- But he convinced himself that if he worked hard enough and achieved enough, he would be rewarded with citizenship. University seemed out of reach, until Vargas told his school principal and school district Superintendent about his problem. They became mentors and surrogate parents, finding a scholarship fund that allowed him to attend San Francisco State University.
- When the Washington Post hired him, the newspaper required a driver’s licence, so Vargas’s mentors helped him get one from Oregon, which has less stringent requirements. He used it to cover a state dinner at the White House. But he was always anxious that his secret would be found out. He tried to avoid reporting on immigration policy, but once wrote about then-senator Hillary Clinton’s position on driver’s licences for illegal immigrants.
- Senior staff at the Post kept the secret until Vargas left the paper. Yesterday spokeswoman Kris Coratti condemned their actions. “We are reviewing our procedures, and believe this was an isolated incident of deception.”
- The Post originally planned to publish Vargas’ story, but decided not to. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency prioritises cases that pose the most significant threat to public safety.
- Vargas shared a Pulitzer Prize for the Post’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.
Among those who had hired Vargas was the Chronicle’s Phil Bronstein, who wrote this morning “I was duped.”
- Jose lied to me and everyone else he worked for, and that’s not kosher, especially in a profession where facts and, more elusively, the truth are considered valuable commodities. In 2003 he wrote a story for us about illegals getting fake drivers’ licenses in the Mission when he’d used phony documents to get his own. He told me last week that he decided then that was a serious conflict of interest and wouldn’t cover immigration any more. But he later wrote on the topic for the Post.
After Vargas left the Chron in 2004, he kept in touch with Bronstein, who gave him job recommendations. Bronstein writes:
- For me, despite the subterfuge, he’s done what he intended: given a surprising, articulate and human face to an important issue for at least some of those millions of people out there floating in terrifying limbo.
(Photo credit: Matthew Worden, The Washingtonian)