By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant and prominent activist, was detained for several hours on Tuesday after being stopped at a security checkpoint at an airport in the border city of McAllen, Texas.
The U.S. Border Patrol said agents apprehended Vargas "after he stated that he was in the country illegally." He was later released on his own recognizance and provided with a notice to appear before an immigration judge.
Vargas, 33, who has lived for years in the United States without proper papers, has made himself a focal point of debate about immigration with frequent media appearances and testimony last year before a U.S. Senate committee.
He has called himself one of the most privileged undocumented immigrants in the United States, who hides in plain sight, pays his taxes, and, because of his notoriety, speaks on behalf of millions of immigrants in the country.
Vargas was in the Texas border area to visit a shelter for Central American children who fled their countries to escape heightened levels of violence, said United We Dream, an immigration activist group for which Vargas was working.
In an article on Friday, he wrote that his notoriety had shielded him, but each flight was a gamble because he lacked a visa.
"I am not sure if my visibility will continue to protect me - not here, not at the border," he wrote in Politico.
In the article, he said he was outraged by media coverage of the child migration issue and wanted to showcase his own story during the visit to McAllen.
'DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN'
On Tuesday, Vargas posted a picture of himself holding a passport of his native Philippines and a miniature copy of the U.S. Constitution on a Facebook page for Define American, an immigration rights group he co-founded, as he was about to go through airport security in McAllen for a flight to Los Angeles.
"I don't know what's going to happen," wrote Vargas.
Another photo posted soon afterward showed a man identified as Vargas being placed in handcuffs by uniformed personnel.
Vargas has traveled extensively throughout the United States without any U.S. government-issued identification and using his Philippines passport, which does not contain a visa for staying in the country.
Vargas left the Philippines in 1993 when he was 12 to join his grandparents in California. He only discovered he had a fake green card when he applied for a driver's license at age 16. Vargas won a Pulitzer in 2008 as part of a team that covered the Virginia Tech shootings for the Washington Post. He revealed he was an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 essay in the New York Times Magazine.
In an interview with Reuters in June to coincide with his debut film, "Documented," Vargas said he had lived in fear of deportation.
"I've always been paranoid. I always felt like I had the word 'illegal' tattooed on my forehead," he said.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz, and Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Jim Loney and Peter Cooney)