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Journalist, Activist, And Undocumented Immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas Detained By Border Patrol

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Attends Panel Discussion For "Documented"

Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who revealed that he had been in the country illegally since he was a child in a 2011 article in The New York Times and has since become something of an activist on immigration issues, has been detained in Texas:

McAllen, Tex. — Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented Filipino immigrant who is arguably the most high-profile leader of the immigrants’ rights movement, was detained Tuesday morning at a Border Patrol checkpoint in the airport here before he could board a flight to Houston.

He was handcuffed and taken for processing to the McAllen Border Patrol station, which has been teeming in recent weeks with undocumented immigrants from Central America, part of a wave of migrants who have been streaming over the border.

Mr. Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, came last week to McAllen, a city just a few miles north of the border with Mexico, for a news conference and vigil organized by United We Dream, an undocumented youth organization, outside a shelter downtown for recently released Central American migrants. On his Twitter feed, Mr. Vargas said he did not realize until he was here that he would have to cross through a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint to leave the Rio Grande Valley.

His apprehension poses a dilemma for the Obama administration, which will now have to decide how to handle his case at a time when the border situation has made all decisions about immigration high profile and politically fraught.

Mr. Vargas travels on a valid Filipino passport, but it has no current United States visa in it.

(…)

In an interview Sunday, Mr. Vargas said he had flown to many events around the country in recent months where he showed a documentary film he produced, “Documented,” about his life as an undocumented immigrant. He had not been stopped at airport checkpoints because Transportation Security Administration officials checked his passport but not his immigration status.

“I didn’t even think twice about it,” when he accepted the invitation to join the news conference, Mr. Vargas said. When he realized that he was effectively trapped, he said, “No, this can’t be for real.” He wrote about his limbo in McAllen for the magazine Politico last week.

The news of Vargas’s arrest was first broken on Twitter by Huffington Post reporter Ryan Grim:

I wrote about Vargas’s case, and the danger he believed he was probably in by being so close to the U.S.-Mexican border, on Sunday and, as I noted at the time, his case is obviously a demonstration of the need for immigration reform and that it didn’t make sense for the government to specifically target him for deportation. In this particular case, it doesn’t appear that this was the result of deliberate targeting, but rather the fact that Vargas was caught during the course of a routine check at the McAllen airport. Whatever the circumstances of his arrest, though, the question now is what happens to him going forward. Theoretically, immigration authorities could choose to decline to prosecute Vargas as simply release him or only file minimal charges against him that would not result in deportation. The other option, of course, would be that the matter could proceed forward just as any other immigration case does, with the same delays and bureaucracy that everyone else experiences. Given his work experience and his connections to the media, one would imagine that Vargas would be heavily involved in documenting that process. So, maybe, his arrest will give Americans a glimpse inside a system that few of us ever see up close.

Update: It is not late in the afternoon and it appears that Vargas has been released:

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is also an undocumented Filipino immigrant and an immigration reform activist, was detained Tuesday in Texas and held at a Border Patrol station. He has since been released.

“As an unaccompanied child migrant myself, I came to McAllen, Texas, to shed a light on children who parts of America and many in the news media are actively turning their backs on. But what I saw was the generosity of the American people, documented and undocumented, in the Rio Grande Valley,” Vargas said in a statement after his release

“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.”

After arriving in McAllen, Vargas quickly realized that it would be nearly impossible for him to leave the area unquestioned.

“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,” he wrote in Politico. “It might, in fact, be impossible.”

Before his release, Cristina Jimenez, the managing director for the immigrant youth-led network <ahref=”http://unitedwedream.org/”>United We Dream, issued a statement Tuesday.

We stand in solidarity with Jose Antonio and demand for his immediate release, but we must remember that there are thousands of people along the border that live with this same fear every day,” she said.

“Our undocumented community along the border is trapped within its own country, unable to leave and surrounded by checkpoints. It’s immoral that people aren’t free to move around the country they know as home because of a system that seeks to criminalize them.”

“As an unaccompanied child migrant myself, I came to McAllen, Texas, to shed a light on children who parts of America and many in the news media are actively turning their backs on. But what I saw was the generosity of the American people, documented and undocumented, in the Rio Grande Valley.

It is unclear from these early reports if Vargas has actually been charged with anything, if he faces the possibility of being charged in the future, or if he has simply been released with ICE once again declining to pursue a case against him.

Further details from The Washington Post, which indicates that Vargas will have further dealings of some kind with ICE in the future:

Jose Antonio Vargas, the former journalist who has spent the past few years crusading on behalf of fellow undocumented immigrants, was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents Tuesday and held for much of the day after trying to leave a Texas border town without a valid U.S. visa.

Vargas, taken into custody Tuesday morning at McAllen-Miller International Airport, was held for about eight hours until his early-evening release after receiving a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge.

“As an unaccompanied child migrant myself, I came to McAllen, Texas, to shed a light on children who parts of America and many in the news media are actively turning their backs on,” Vargas said in a statement following his release. He added: “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.”

The high-profile and widely documented detainment came after Vargas made a series of public pronouncements that he might be trapped on the border. Vargas, 33, is a Filipino immigrant who has lived in the United States, without proper documents, since he was 12.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron said in a statement that federal agents who encountered Vargas at the airport “apprehended him after he stated that he was in the country illegally.” Vargas, Catron said, was taken to the McAllen Border Patrol Station, “where he was processed and provided with a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge. He was released on his own recognizance after consultation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).”

According to DHS officials, a foreign passport is an acceptable primary form of ID for travel. TSA agents verify that the name on the ID “substantially matches the name on the travel document.” Agents, officials said, do not check immigration status.

So, it would appear that Vargas will have further dealings with the government on this issue.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    I suspect this is exactly what he wanted to happen.

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  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I’ll repeat my comment when I mentioned this development on the prior thread:

    Will he be treated just any legal alien would under similar circumstances, or will he get preferential treatment and released? Or allowed to board the plane without valid ID?

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  3. Ron Beasley says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Or allowed to board the plane without valid ID?

    How else are they going to be able to get him back to the Philippines?

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  4. Yolo Contendere says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Or allowed to board the plane without valid ID?

    He has valid ID. He doesn’t have a visa.

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  5. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Ron Beasley: How else are they going to be able to get him back to the Philippines?

    We routinely send illegals back via plane.

    If that doesn’t work, then a boat, or Parcel Post. Preferably COD.

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  6. ernieyeball says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:..Will he be treated just any legal alien would under similar circumstances,..

    I hope he is not treated just like any other illegal alien as most of them are treated like vagabundos.

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  7. Just Me says:

    I think the interesting story would be to deport him and without any political pull go through the legal immigration process with all the time and money that entails.

    It would provide a perspective of legal immigration he may not have.

    One of the frustrations many legal immigrants (or spouses, loved ones of them) express about illegal immigration is that doing it legally demands time and money but illegal immigrants are essentially cutting line with permission. I think it’s a fair frustration-and of course one answer would be to make this aspect of legal immigration cheaper and easier.

    I think one reason immigration reform stalls out is because there are people on both sides of the aisle that want a steady flow of illegal immigrants.

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  8. Grewgills says:

    In this particular case, it doesn’t appear that this was the result of deliberate targeting, but rather the fact that Vargas was caught during the course of a routine check at the McAllen airport.

    Given how high profile his case has become and where he was, I have a feeling he was recognized and then the ‘routine check’ happened.

    The other option, of course, would be that the matter could proceed forward just as any other immigration case does, with the same delays and bureaucracy that everyone else experiences. Given his work experience and his connections to the media, one would imagine that Vargas would be heavily involved in documenting that process. So, maybe, his arrest will give Americans a glimpse inside a system that few of us ever see up close.

    That has been my hope and I suspect his. He wants his ”Letter from the Birmingham Jail” moment.

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  9. ernieyeball says:

    @Ron Beasley: I suspect this is exactly what he wanted to happen.

    Are you some sort of mind reading Swami or are you just guessing?

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  10. Pinky says:

    Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that this supposed voice of immigration issues didn’t realize that he could get in trouble visiting the border? He says it didn’t even cross his mind. Why? Because he doesn’t understand the issue, or because he figures he gets a pass because he’s one of the elite?

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  11. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Compare Jeno’s reaction to this to his reaction Cliven Bundy.

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  12. ernieyeball says:

    @Pinky:..Am I the only one who finds it hilarious …

    You and Raggedy Ann Coulter!!!

    We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee. That’s just a joke, for you in the media.

    She’s a gag a minute!!!

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  13. bandit says:

    @Just Me: 100% agreed – I know and work with any number of HB1 and Green card holders – and they’re the ones getting screwed by the immigration system

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  14. mantis says:

    @Pinky:

    He says it didn’t even cross his mind. Why? Because he doesn’t understand the issue, or because he figures he gets a pass because he’s one of the elite?

    Largely the latter, sort of, and he’s mostly correct. He has been able to travel within the US without trouble for a long time. He just hasn’t spent time in border areas where enforcement is much more focused on immigrant status. There are no immigration checkpoints driving from NYC to Newark (or wherever) like there are in the Rio Grande Valley.

    That said, I’m guessing he had some idea he was taking a bigger risk than normal, but is willing to accept the consequences for the sake of journalism.

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  15. Grewgills says:

    @Pinky:

    Why? Because he doesn’t understand the issue, or because he figures he gets a pass because he’s one of the elite?

    I think it is option C and has been for some time now, he realized the danger on some level and knew that if he was nabbed it would be a journalistic win for him. Once he’s in the system he will be writing his story from within the system and he becomes a better and even more high profile spokesman for his cause.

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  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Pinky: Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that this supposed voice of immigration issues didn’t realize that he could get in trouble visiting the border? He says it didn’t even cross his mind. Why? Because he doesn’t understand the issue, or because he figures he gets a pass because he’s one of the elite?

    Bullcrap. He knew he’d most likely cause a stir at airport security. His last Tweet before being detained:

    About to go thru security at McAllen Airport. I don’t know what’s going to happen. For updates follow @DefineAmerican & @MAC_UTPA

    He planned for this to happen.

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  17. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    He knew he’d most likely cause a stir at airport security.

    He may not have known prior to traveling to south Texas, after which he says a friend alerted him to stricter immigration security in the area. He wrote about it in the article previously covered at OTB in the post you commented on and linked in this post.

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  18. I’ve noted in an update to this post that Vargas was released this afternoon. It is unclear from the initial reports if there have been any charges filed, or if any are contemplated.

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  19. ernieyeball says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I’m certain Immigration could get Jenos to sign a complaint if they need to cover their keisters.

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  20. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @mantis: (and Pinky and Jenos, too) I think one of the things that some of us are (deliberately???) ignoring is his account of other situations where he has had to show identification and allowed to pass because “you don’t look like a Jose Antonio Vargas.”

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……………………….

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  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: think one of the things that some of us are (deliberately???) ignoring is his account of other situations where he has had to show identification and allowed to pass because “you don’t look like a Jose Antonio Vargas.”

    Of course I’m ignoring it. Why should anyone pay any attention to it? Does it have any bearing whatsoever on his legal status?

    His whole POINT is to write about illegal aliens as an illegal alien. It’s his whole purpose now.

    And he went to the airport with his passport (no visa) and a copy of the Constitution as his “identification.” Anyone who intends to show a Constitution as a “form of ID” is essentially begging for closer scrutiny, much like those Free State nutjobs.

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  22. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Perhaps you shouldn’t be ignoring it because if the people who screen who’s coming it use “you don’t look like a…” as the criteria for checking ID closely this lapse may be part of the problem in finding and detaining undocumented people.

    Of course, you may not actually care about finding and detaining undocumented people, but merely use the “problem” as a way to rag about how much better is was when (whoever) was in charge. If this is the case, feel free to rant away.

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  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: I’m not getting your point. Are you expecting me to be shocked that government officials are incompetent?

    I didn’t remark on it because I don’t see that sort of thing as remarkable.

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  24. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    And he went to the airport with his passport (no visa) and a copy of the Constitution as his “identification.” Anyone who intends to show a Constitution as a “form of ID” is essentially begging for closer scrutiny, much like those Free State nutjobs.

    He never said he carried the Constitution as a form of identification, just that he carried it. Why do you constantly make shit up?

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  25. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @mantis: He never said he carried the Constitution as a form of identification, just that he carried it. Why do you constantly make shit up?

    From the guy’s own twitter feed.

    The only IDs I have for security: Philippine passport and my pocketbook US Constitution

    You’re obviously an illiterate moron, so I’ll spell it out to you: He said “IDs,” as in plural. He then listed two items — the passport and the Constitution. And then he ended the Tweet. Ergo, he considered the Constitution as a form of ID.

    So he actually said it.

    Tell me, do you really enjoy the taste of your own feet? Do you use any kind of seasoning?

    ReplyReply

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