Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer-Winning Reporter Who Came Out As Illegal Immigrant, Worked For the Chron

Categories: Immigration, Media
vargaspic.jpg
Vargas was a Chron editorial assistant before he was famous
A Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter at The Washington Post came out as an undocumented immigrant in a story in the New York Times Magazine published online Wednesday. Jose Antonio Vargas is a Filipino national who climbed this country's journalism ranks while using a photocopy of a fake Social Security card and claiming to be a citizen.

His résumé includes the San Francisco Chronicle, where Vargas wrote that he was an editorial assistant sorting mail and freelancing articles while a freshman at San Francisco State in the early 2000s. (SF State's Web site features him as one of its "alumni hot-shots.")

Vargas wrote that he kept his immigration status a secret to all but a few colleagues. Reporter Carl Hall tells SF Weekly he certainly didn't know Vargas' immigration status at the time.

"I think he was a talented young man, and I guess someone told me he went on to bigger and better things, and now I don't know what he's up to," Hall says.
A message to assistant managing editor Allen Matthews about what the Chron knew or didn't know wasn't immediately returned. The Chron published an Associated Press story on Vargas, along with a column this morning by executive editor Phil Bronstein, who tells his version of how he was "duped."

Indeed, the Chron's archives turn up Vargas' stories about Mission missionaries, mad cow disease, and Americans' ignorance of world geography. In one very personal essay from 2002, Vargas wrote about being sent to America at a young age. He avoids the sticky visa issue, instead writing about "survival in this foreign land; my adoptive home." He concludes: "There is a better life here, but only if I make that life for myself."

The story of Jose Antonio Vargas has made a splash not only because of its revelation during this politically tense time for immigration reform, but also because the Post refused to publish the piece.

Vargas wrote in his Times confessional about the torment of living a double life ever since a DMV worker in or near Mountain View -- where his mom sent him when he was 12 to be raised by his grandparents -- told him his green card was fake. At Mountain View High School, his choir director changed a student trip to Asia to Hawaii because of Vargas' lack of a valid passport. 

Vargas wrote that he lost an internship at the Seattle Times when the paper's recruiter found out he was undocumented. Yet with his fake documents and a driver's license from Oregon, he managed to get on the payroll at the Washington Post -- where he came clean with one staffer about his status -- and the Huffington Post.

Yet for all his success, Vargas was weighed down by his secret. On the day he won his Pulitzer for covering the Virginia Tech massacre, his grandma called to ask: "What will happen if people find out?"
 
"I rushed to the bathroom on the fourth floor of the newsroom, sat down on the toilet, and cried," Vargas writes.

Vargas wrote that in recent months he had reached out to many of his former employers to apologize "for misleading them." We wonder whether anyone at the Chron was on that list.

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