Jose Antonio Vargas, a Philippines-born journalist who earned a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting with the Washington Post, was arrested by federal officials early Tuesday while attempting to board a flight in Texas.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Define American announced at approximately 6pm EST that Vargas had been released by McAllen, Texas Border Patrol.
Vargas, 33, has lived in the United States for two decades but lacks citizenship and official documentation. He tweeted early Monday that he was about to go through security at McAllen-Miller International Airport in McAllen, Texas with only two forms of identification: his Philippines passport and a book containing the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Moments later, colleagues wrote that Vargas had been detained by federal officials.
— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) July 15, 2014
According to the New York Times, Vargas was scheduled to fly from the border town to Houston, TX, around 350 miles to the northeast. Four days earlier, Vargas wrote in an essay published by Politico that even flying domestically within the United States is a “gamble” because his Philippines passport is absent a visa, and federal agents can use this discrepancy to order his deportation.
Previously, Vargas revealed himself to be an undocumented immigrant in an acclaimed 2011 New York Time Magazine essay, having been sent to the US by his parents at age 12.
“I am not sure if my passport will be enough to let me fly out of McAllen-Miller International Airport,” Vargas wrote for Politico on Friday. “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. It might, in fact, be impossible.”
"I feel stupid,” Vargas texted a Washington Post reporter over the weekend. “I've been traveling around the country, visiting 43 states in like 3 years, and I've been flying using my Philippine passport. But I've never been to the Texas border area. I just figured I could use the passport. But apparently I can't because border patrol agents check foreign passports."
Indeed, an unnamed spokesperson for United We Dream, an advocacy group that works with young immigrants, said during a live broadcast of Vargas’ Tuesday morning ordeal that the journalist was “arrested and detained at the McAllen Airport and taken into custody by the US Border Patrol,” according to reporter Brian Ries. Photographs from the scene show Vargas being handcuffed in a room decorated with the seal of the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border operations.
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) July 15, 2014
According to a statement released by United We Dream, Vargas has been traveling near the US/Mexico border “in order to highlight the stories of refugee children who have fled countries in Central America because of increased levels of violence.” US officials say that 52,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the Mexican border into the US in southwest Texas during the first-half of the year, sparking an intense debate in recent weeks between those who say a humanitarian crisis is on hand and immigration opponents.
Over the weekend, the Dallas Morning News called Vargas “America’s most famous undocumented immigrant.” On Tuesday, the New York Times said he is “arguably the most high-profile leader of the immigrants’ rights movement.”