- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2011

WASHINGTON — For the past eight years, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas worried about a looming deadline: the expiration of a fake Oregon driver’s license that had allowed him to get his first full-time job at a top U.S. newspaper.

The 30-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winner who covered the Virginia Tech massacre for The Washington Post was using a fake license to help cover up a secret: He was an illegal immigrant.

He could have opted for a reprieve. Vargas recently obtained a Washington state driver’s license, offering him five more years to be able to document his residency in the U.S. — but that also would mean five more years of lying.

Instead, he decided to go public.

“I’m done running. I’m exhausted,” Vargas wrote in a New York Times Magazine essay posted online Wednesday. “I don’t want that life anymore.”

Vargas, whose mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in California when he was 12, said he now wants to push Congress to pass a bill called the DREAM Act and open a path to citizenship for people like him if they go to college or serve in the military.

Vargas referred a request for comment from The Associated Press to his public relations team, which did not immediately make him available Wednesday. He also spoke to ABC News in interviews that will air Thursday and Friday.

He 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,” a Department of Motor Vehicles clerk said, according to Vargas‘ account. “Don’t come back here again.”

Vargas confronted his grandfather, who acknowledged he purchased the green card and other fake documents.

“I remember the very first instinct was, ‘OK, that’s it, get rid of the accent,’” Vargas told ABC. “Because I just thought to myself, you know, I couldn’t give anybody any reason to ever doubt that I’m an American.”

He convinced himself that if he worked hard enough and achieved enough, he would be rewarded with citizenship, Vargas wrote in the magazine piece.

When Vargas also told his grandfather he was gay, however, it made life even more difficult. He was kicked out of his house for a few weeks in high school — and his grandfather said Vargas needed to marry an American woman in order to get a green card.

His grandfather had imagined the fake documents would help Vargas get low-wage jobs. College seemed out of reach, until Vargas told Mountain View High School Principal Pat Hyland and school district Superintendent Rich Fisher about his problem. They became mentors and surrogate parents, eventually finding a scholarship fund for high-achieving students that allowed him to attend San Francisco State University.

Vargas found internships at The San Francisco Chronicle and the Philadelphia Daily News. He was denied an internship at The Seattle Times because he didn’t have all the documents they required. But he kept applying and got an offer from The Washington Post.

Story Continues →