Washington: Eighteen years after arriving in the US and three years since he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, Filipino journalist Jose Antonio Vargas revealed a long-held secret on Wednesday: he is an illegal immigrant.

“I'm done running. I'm exhausted. I don't want that life anymore,” the 30-year-old Vargas wrote in an extensive article in The New York Times. 

Vargas, part of the Washington Post team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting in 2008 for its coverage of the previous year's shootings at Virginia Tech, forged a successful career by obtaining false documents to conceal his illegal status, he confessed in the article. 

An Oregon driver's license he obtained thanks to an elaborate series of lies enabled him to join the Washington Post in 2003 as an intern.

“My license, issued in 2003, was set to expire eight years later, on my 30th birthday, on Feb 3, 2011. I had eight years to succeed professionally, and to hope that some sort of immigration reform would pass in the meantime and allow me to stay,” Vargas said.

It seemed like all the time in the world, he wrote.

At the start of this year, he obtained a new driver's license in the state of Washington that was valid through 2016.

“This offered me five more years of acceptable identification - but also five more years of fear, of lying to people I respect and institutions that trusted me, of running away from who I am,” he said. 

Vargas' experience as an undocumented immigrant began at the age of 12 in 1993, when his mother took him to the Manila airport and introduced him to a strange man she said was his uncle. 

The 'uncle', in reality an immigrant smuggler, took the boy to Mountain View, California, to live with his grandparents. His mother told him she would join him in a few months but that promise went unfulfilled. 

The young Vargas did not realise he was in the country illegally until he tried to obtain a driver's license four years later and was told by an agent at the California DMV that his green card was false.