Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas Comes Out as Illegal Immigrant to Fight for DREAM Act

An award-winning Journalist, Vargas has Come Out as an Illegal Immigrant

ByABC News
June 22, 2011, 2:42 AM

June 22, 2011— -- For the past decade, Jose Antonio Vargas has pursued success in journalism. In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize with the Washington Post for his coverage of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, he has also covering a variety of topics including presidential politics, and even scored an exclusive interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Throughout all of his early success, however, Vargas harbored a huge secret: he was living and working in the United States illegally.

"I wasn't supposed to be there. I wasn't supposed to be walking with Mark Zuckerberg. I wasn't supposed to be interviewing Romney's sons. Why was I doing it? Because I wanted to survive. I wanted to live. I wanted to earn what it means to be an American," Vargas told ABC News.

One morning when he was a 12-year-old boy living in the Philippines, Vargas says his mother took him to the airport -- and sent him to America. He arrived in Mountain View, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley, where he lived with his grandparents, and soon became a standout student at the local high school.

He says he spent the next four years in the dark about his citizenship status, only realizing the truth when he rode his bike to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where like his friends he wanted to apply for a driver's permit. But Vargas says the DMV told him that his green card was a fake, and warned him not to return.

After peddling home, Vargas confronted his grandfather, who finally told him the truth: he was in the U.S. illegally. It was the first moment of what would become an elaborate -- and all-too-common -- life of secrets, lies and ever-present fear.

"I remember the very first instinct was, okay, that's it, get rid of the accent... 'Because I just thought to myself, you know, I couldn't give anybody any reason to ever doubt that I'm an American," Vargas said.

Watch ABC's Dan Harris' interview with Jose Vargas this Thursday on "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline" and Friday on "Good Morning America"

After furiously studying American movies to shed his accent, he eventually discovered journalism. One motivating factor for Vargas was that if his name appeared at the top of articles, he felt it was less likely that anyone would question his immigration status.

He says he was able to land his early reporting gigs by using a doctored Social Security card his grandfather had obtained for him. But in his early 20s he got a job offer from the Washington Post -- and they told him they needed to see a driver's license.

Vargas managed to obtain one in the state of Oregon, where the laws are more relaxed, by faking documents. He received help in this process by Rich Fischer and Pat Hyland, two high-ranking public school officials in his town, with whom he had become very close during high school.

"You have to do what you have to do," Vargas said. "I wanted to work. I wanted to prove that I was worthy of being here … and I was gonna do whatever it took to prove that."

Vargas was able to obtain the license, and his career quickly took off -- with no one knowing his citizenship status. At one point he was even able to get into the White House using his fake license to cover a state dinner.

"I was nervous," Vargas said of that night. "I keep thinking every time I've done these things -- was somebody gonna catch me?"

The DREAM Act : Hope for Thousands

Yet after all of these years, Vargas is now outing himself as one of the millions in the United States who are living in the country illegally. He is aware of the danger he is putting himself in, and that he could be sent back to the Philippines.