NEW YORK, June 23 (UPI) -- A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist says he confessed in a newspaper article he is an illegal immigrant to spotlight the debate over the U.S. immigration issue.
Former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas -- who shared a Pulitzer for coverage of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre -- says even though he was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States when he was 12, he thought he was legal until he was 16 and applied for a driver's permit.
"When I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. 'This is fake,' she whispered. 'Don't come back here again,'" he wrote.
Vargas confronted his grandfather, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and learned his grandfather had paid someone to smuggle him into the United States.
"I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American," he wrote in a New York Times article. "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," he wrote. "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," he wrote. "And that means living a different kind of reality."
Vargas, 30, said he decided to reveal the truth about his immigration status to spotlight the debate over the issue.
"Last year I read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the Dream Act, a nearly decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to legal permanent residency for young people who have been educated in this country," he wrote.
"At the risk of deportation -- the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years -- they are speaking out," he wrote. "Their courage has inspired me."
The Washington Post -- which had planned to publish Vargas' article but killed it for undisclosed reasons several days before it was to be published -- said it would not comment "on individual personnel matters out of respect for the privacy of our employees."
The Post said Vargas' story may have a singular distinction as being "the first published by The New York Times that was developed, fact-checked and substantially edited by editors at The Washington Post."
The estimated number of undocumented immigrants in the United States is 11 million.