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Undocumented Immigration Activist Jose Antonio Vargas Detained at a Texas Airport

Vargas travelled to McAllen, Texas, to visit undocumented child immigrants detained there, but border checkpoints make leaving difficult.
July 15, 2014, 4:30pm
Photo by AP/Susan Walsh

UPDATE: Jose Antonio Vargas has been released by the McAllen, Texas Border Patrol, the activist said in a statement issued on Monday evening by his organization, Define American.

"I’ve been released by Border Patrol. 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 said.



One of America’s most prominent undocumented immigrants, Jose Antonio Vargas, was detained this morning at a border patrol checkpoint in McAllen, Texas, as he was attempting to go through airport security, according to his organization, Define American.

Here's a photo of — Ryan Grim (@ryangrim)July 15, 2014

The Philippines-born journalist and immigration activist had travelled to the Texas border town on Thursday to attend a weekend vigil for unaccompanied child migrants from Central America and visit a holding facility where these minors are currently being held.

Thousands of children are detained at centers like this throughout the country, often under horrific living conditions, after crossing into the US without parents. Many originate from Central America, in an immigration situation that has evolved into a refugee crisis.

Wave of unaccompanied Central American migrant kids overwhelms US holding facilities. Read more here.

Vargas realized shortly after arriving in Texas, as friends began to express concern, that leaving McAllen would be challenging because he would have to go through one of the many border patrol checkpoints in order to leave the area, including one at the airport.

“I do not have a single US government-issued ID. Like most of our country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, I do not have a driver’s license — not yet, at least,” he wrote in Politico on Friday, upon realizing he was essentially trapped in the town.


In an interview with the Huffington Post on Sunday, Vargas announced his plans to leave McAllen using his Philippines passport. According to Define American, he was flying out to Los Angeles for a screening of his film, Documented.

US Government tries deporting migrants from Texas to California, but fails. Read more here.

As he headed through airport security this morning, Vargas tweeted about his uncertainty.

About to go thru security at McAllen Airport. I don’t know what’s going to happen. For updates follow — Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting)July 15, 2014

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist also posted a photo of the personal identification in his possession.

The only IDs I have for security: Philippine passport and my pocketbook US Constitution — Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting)July 15, 2014

Define American said that based on their understanding of the situation, Vargas did not make it through airport security and is currently being questioned by border patrol agents.

"Our America is better than this — more humane, more compassionate — and we are fighting for a better America: a country we love but has yet to recognize us," Vargas said of his detainment, according to the organization.

"We are calling on President Obama and Secretary Johnson to exercise prosecutorial discretion and immediately release Jose Antonio Vargas from Customs and Border Protection custody," Define American's campaign director Ryan Eller said in a statement this morning.


Supporters from activist groups like United We Dream (UWD), which had been working with Vargas and Define American in McAllen, have reportedly begun marching towards the airport on Tuesday morning to stand with him during his detainment. UWD is currently livestreaming from McAllen.

Cristina Jimenez, managing director of UWD, told Huffington Post: "Once again, the Border Patrol has proven to be a rogue agency after arresting Jose Antonio, a low-priority case for detention and deportation."

Not being able to leave the 100-mile radius near the border in the Rio Grande Valley is a fact of life for undocumented immigrants living in the area. UWD said in statement today that for these people: “Jose’s current situation is our reality every day.”

Vargas publicly outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a story for New York Times Magazine in June 2011. Due to his age, Vargas does not qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) directive announced in 2012 by the Obama administration. DACA allows non-US citizens who arrived as children to temporarily reside in the country.

Since going public with his immigration status, Vargas wrote in Politico that he has “been the most privileged undocumented immigrant in the country. The visibility, frankly, has protected me.”

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB