Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The Pulitzer-winning reporter who could have been deported

On a window outside Bell City Hall, September 2010
On a window outside Bell City Hall, September 2010
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A post in late March highlighted the story of Ruben Vives, a Los Angeles Times reporter who was once undocumented, brought here as a child from Guatemala by his mother.

Last month, Vives was a contender for a Pulitzer Prize for his work on uncovering the Bell political corruption scandal. Today, it was announced that he won.

Vives, 31, and veteran reporter Jeff Gottlieb were awarded the Pulitzer gold medal for public service for a series of stories exposing how politicians in the working-class, mostly Latino city of Bell were paying themselves extravagant six-figure salaries and manipulating records. Their reporting led to criminal charges against former city administrator Robert Rizzo and seven other current or former city officials, who were charged with multiple felonies and ordered to stand trial.

Vives' remarkable story became known after his mother's onetime employer, former Times journalist Shawn Hubler, wrote in Orange Coast Magazine about the boy she knew first as her nanny’s son. Hubler wrote:

He was about six months shy of his 18th birthday when she told us the real story: Her son had been born in Guatemala and brought into the country as a little boy. She had left him with his grandma, had saved every spare cent to pay the coyote. For the first six years of his life, she’d scarcely seen him; when she had swept him into her arms, he barely recognized her. She’d never told him that his papers had expired, that he was here illegally. She had assumed they were all going back to Guatemala. Now, though, she was reading that her citizenship wasn’t enough, that at 18, he could be deported. Her boy, she said, desperately wanted to go to college.

Vives ultimately obtained a green card after Hubler contacted an immigration attorney. He went to college, then began working at the newspaper in a clerical job. He eventually got a reporting job, and was assigned to cover the city of Bell.

Vives and Gottlieb also recently won USC's Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for their Bell series. The Los Angeles Times won two Pulitzers today, the other going to photographer Barbara Davidson for a series chronicling the lives of crime victims who survived gang violence.