Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and activist who has chronicled his life as an undocumented immigrant in America, was detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas, on Tuesday while attempting to board a plane to Los Angeles. He was later released.
"I’ve been released by Border Patrol," Vargas said in a statement relayed by Define American, the activist group he launched in 2011. "I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country. Our daily lives are filled with fear in simple acts such as getting on an airplane to go home to our family."
Vargas, 33, had traveled last week to the border in McAllen for a vigil to draw attention to the ongoing crisis involving thousands of refugees, many unaccompanied children, flooding into the United States from Central America.
But a day after he arrived, Vargas — who now lives in New York — wrote that he did not know about the checkpoints and Border Patrol agents at the airport and feared he might be detained there.
"In the last 24 hours I realize that, for an undocumented immigrant like me, getting out of a border town in Texas — by plane or by land — won’t be easy," Vargas wrote in a piece for Politico published on Friday. "It might, in fact, be impossible."
More from Vargas' piece:
When my friend Mony Ruiz-Velasco, an immigration lawyer who used to work in the area, saw on my Facebook page that I was in McAllen, she texted me: “I am so glad you are visiting the kids near the border. But how will you get through the checkpoint on your way back?” A curious question, I thought, and one I dismissed. I’ve visited the border before, in California. What checkpoint? What was she talking about?
Then Tania Chavez, an undocumented youth leader from the Minority Affairs Council, one of the organizers of the vigil, asked me the same question: “How will you get out of here?” Tania grew up in this border town. As the day wore on, as the reality of my predicament sunk in, Tania spelled it out for me: You might not get through airport security, where Customs and Border Protection (CPB) also checks for IDs, and you will definitely not get through the immigration checkpoints set up within 45 miles of this border town. At these checkpoints, you will be asked for documentation.
Vargas says, like most immigrants living illegally in the U.S., he does not have a government-issued ID.
On Tuesday, Vargas wrote on Twitter that he was heading to the airport:
A video of Vargas presenting his Philippine passport and pocketbook U.S. Constitution to security was posted on YouTube. (It was later taken down.)
United We Dream, an immigrant youth group that Vargas visited in McAllen, condemned his arrest.
“We stand in solidarity with Jose Antonio and demand for his immediate release," Cristina Jimenez, United We Dream's managing director, said in a statement. "But we must remember that there are thousands of people along the border that live with this same fear every day.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also called for Vargas' release.
"He exemplifies what America is about," de Blasio said in a statement. "I call for his quick release and hope that he can stay in the country that has been his home and to which he has contributed so much.”
In 2008, Vargas was part of the Washington Post team that won a Pulitzer for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.
In 2011, Vargas revealed he was an "undocumented immigrant" in an essay for New York Times Magazine. Vargas came to the United States from the Phillipines in 1993, when he was 12. He used a fake green card, fake passport and a friend's Oregon address to remain in the United States.
In 2012, he wrote a cover story for Time magazine about his life in the United States. It begins:
'Why haven't you gotten deported?'
That's usually the first thing people ask me when they learn I'm an undocumented immigrant or, put more rudely, an "illegal."
Vargas' documentary — "Documented" — aired on CNN last month. He was headed to Los Angeles to host a screening of the film.