MANILA, Philippines — The Filipino mother of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who came out as an illegal immigrant in the U.S. told The Associated Press that she tried to persuade him not to risk deportation and losing his success by revealing his status
Jose Antonio Vargas' mother, Emelie Salinas, sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in California when he was 12 and has not seen him in person since.
She said in a telephone interview from her residence near Manila on Thursday evening that she worried about the consequences of his revelations to the U.S. media and tried to stop him, thinking all of his hard work and achievements might be wasted.
"We could not understand ... he was already there, he already achieved his dream, what else did he want?" she said.
At the end, she said she supported him because it was his choice.
Vargas, 30, who shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre as a reporter for The Washington Post, 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.
Salinas, 53, a former office assistant, said that her son was ready for the consequences of his action – a possiblity of deportation – and has already obtained a Philippine passport.
He has been wanting to see his family in the Philippines and has promised his younger sister, whose nursing education he is financing, that he would come home for her graduation next year, she said.
He also has a 14-year-old brother who he has only seen via the Internet.
"We are excited to see him," Salinas added. "I just hope he can come home with his documents in order."
When she sent him off to America, Salinas said she promised she would follow him and had applied several times for a U.S. visa but was denied.
She said that she felt her son resented her unfulfilled promise and for a time after he went to college, he seldom called or wrote letters. But she said they reconnected after he joined The Washington Post.
Salinas, who separated from Vargas' father when the boy was 3, said she could not afford to send her son to school in the Philippines. She said she sent him to his grandparents in the U.S. because like any mother, she wanted a good future for him.
"In the beginning, there were times I would think I wish I did not send him there, I wish we could be together especially during special occasions," she said. "But I saw what he was doing ... I saw that he was achieving his dreams, getting the things which he could not get here."