Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ confession that he has been in the United States illegally since childhood prompted a declaration from a former boss that he feels “duped” and a prediction that Latinos — the group most associated with illegal immigration — could face increased scrutiny in newsrooms.
The ombudsman for the Washington Post, which edited the story and then killed it, criticized the newspaper in his column to be published in the print edition Sunday.
“I think The Post missed an opportunity to tell a great and compelling story, and to air and take responsibility for some internal dirty laundry. It’s that kind of act that earns you the lasting respect of your readers. It keeps their trust,” wrote Patrick B. Pexton.
Vargas defended himself in an interview Friday on NPR’s All Things Considered,” telling host Michele Norris, “. . . if I didn’t tell those lies, I couldn’t have gotten work and I couldn’t have survived,” and he maintained that his journalistic integrity remained intact. “I have written 650 news articles” with only nine or 10 corrections, he said. “The work speaks for itself.
“Lawyers told me not to publish the story at all. One said it was like legal suicide,” he added. But Vargas said he felt compelled to change the conversation about immigration. “I’m going to make sure this is not just about me.”
It appeared that there would be no immediate move to deport Vargas.
Vargas shared in a Pulitzer Prize at the Post and went on to become a senior contributing editor for the Huffington Post. He disclosed in the New York Times Magazine and in an ABC News interview that he has been in the United States illegally since his Filipino mother put him on a plane for the United States in 1993, when he was 12.
In the Times and on ABC, Vargas described a life of using fraudulent documents to remain in the country and of deceiving employers. But finally, Vargas wrote, he decided to go public. “I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore,” he said in the Times. Vargas has founded Define American, which seeks to “change the conversation” on immigration reform, as the Times phrased it.
“What I’m hoping to do in the next few months is looking at this issue as holistically as possible,” Vargas said on NPR, with an eye toward influencing the conversation in the 2012 campaign season.