Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist outs himself as an illegal immigrant

It isn't often that an undocumented immigrant in the United States outs himself to the world, risking the wrath of the justice system. And rarer too is it for that person to be an award-winning journalist.

So Jose Antonio Vargas's compelling essay in the New York Times Magazine today is worth noting. The former Washington Post reporter shared a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.

When he was 12 and living in the Philippines, his mother put him on an airplane to go live with his grandparents in California, he writes. He didn't realize he was living in the United States illegally until he tried to get a driver's license when he turned 16. The DMV told him his documents were fake.

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I've tried. Over the past 14 years, I've graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I've created a good life. I've lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don't ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

What's going to happen to Vargas now that he's made his story public? The Atlantic spoke to an immigration lawyer who said he could be detained and put through deportation procedures, but the very public nature of his revelation might actually work in his favor.

"He's outspoken in The New York Times, he's drawn considerable attention to his story. It's very difficult for the immigration machinery to operate in front of someone that's that public,"  David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Atlantic.

The more immediate ramifications could be on his career. Vargas -- who has also written for the Huffington Post and the New Yorker -- might have trouble getting publications to pay him, now that he has outed himself as illegal.

"You can't hire an independent contractor knowing he's undocumented," Leopold told the Atlantic.


China's little red envelopes

As China gears up for celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party's 90th anniversary, officials are scrambling to stifle public discourse over endemic corruption within the party. On June 11, Beijing public relations consultant Chen Hong created a website where tipsters could report bribes anonymously, based on a popular Indian anti-graft site established in August 2010. Over the last two weeks, drew 200,000 unique visitors and spawned a raft of imitators, but government pressure has forced Chen and the webmasters of the other report-a-bribe sites to shut down their sites. News reports capture bribe stories galore from the deceased sites, such as this:

On another new Chinese confess-a-bribe website (, one businessman said he had paid 3 million yuan (283,648 pounds) to officials to win contracts, including taking a planning official on a 10-day tour of Europe.

Other postings on the sites included stories of kickbacks for permission to sell medicine, underhand sell-offs of state-owned mines to cronies, payments of money and cigarettes to pass driving school, and "red envelopes" of cash to doctors to ensure expectant mothers were well treated.

And this:

[The website's] anonymous posts wrote about bribing everybody: officials who demanded luxury cars and villas to police officers who needed inducements not to issue traffic tickets. Some outed doctors receiving cash under the table to ensure safe surgical procedures.

In addition to Chen's efforts, officials have had to contend with public reaction to reports that emerged last week accusing government officials of taking 800 billion yuan worth of state assets overseas since the mid-1990s (the official response: The reports' numbers are incorrect). Meanwhile, state media outlets have acted aggressively to assuage public dissatisfaction. A flurry of articles published today publicize anti-graft efforts within the party, fulfilling the time-honored principle of state media agencies worldwide: writing more articles makes you more right.