Alum Jose Antonio Vargas: An Undocumented Immigrant's Life of Fear, Activism

Friday, October 19, 2018

WASHINGTON POST -- At age 16, when Vargas applied for a learner’s permit, he learned that his green card was fake and that he was in the country illegally. The clerk at the DMV told him his papers were false and whispered that he should not come back. She did not report him to anyone. In today’s harsh environment young people in a similar predicament might not be so lucky. Shocked and hurt, Vargas tried even harder to succeed, hoping to somehow earn his citizenship. He was a brilliant and active student, writing for the school paper and impressing the principal and the superintendent of the school district with his talent and drive. With these mentors in on his secret, he found a full scholarship to San Francisco State, where he won consecutive internships at the San Francisco Chronicle and the Philadelphia Daily News. He lost the offer of an internship at the Seattle Times because he told the truth about his legal status, so when the opportunity of a job at The Washington Post arrived, he lied and checked the citizen box on his application, successfully passing with false papers.

A few years later, when Vargas shared the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his work on the Post team that covered the Virginia Tech shooting, he went to the bathroom and cried, convinced that this new attention would lead to his being found out. But his luck held, and he remained hiding in plain sight.