Journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas has been detained in McAllen, Texas, Lara Drasin with Define American told Poynter in an email. Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is an undocumented immigrant and the founder of Define American. (Update: Vargas was released Tuesday evening.)
“Mr. Vargas did not make it through security at the airport,” Define American’s campaign director Ryan Eller said in a statement that ran here. “Our understanding is that he is currently being questioned behind us at border patrol headquarters.”
In the statement, Eller said that Vargas came to Texas to humanize the stories of children and families fleeing the most dangerous regions of central America. “It became apparent during our time here in this border town that the founder of our organization, Jose Vargas, may not be able to leave McAllen.”
On Monday night, Eller said Vargas told him the following: “Our America is better than this, we’re more humane, more compassionate, and we are fighting for a better America, a country we love, but has yet to recognize us.”
Dan Kowalski, an immigration lawyer with the Fowler Law Firm in Austin, Texas, told Poynter in a phone interview that Vargas has a law firm or a lawyer on retention, though he’s not sure who. Kowalski said several lawyers on the ground in McAllen are trying to reach Vargas. For now, border patrol has just three options.
One, they can let Vargas go and set up recurring meetings to keep track of him. Two, they can let him go, set up those meetings and put him in removal proceedings. But because he has no criminal record and isn’t one of the refugees coming from Central America, Kowalski said, that could take years.
“But the third option is they could actually detain him and take him into custody.”
One question is, why now? Vargas has been traveling since coming out as undocumented in The New York Times in 2011.
“In theory, he could have been stopped at any one of those trips,” Kowalski said. “It does raise an interesting question. Why now, why here?”
Ryan Grim and Igor Bobic wrote more about the situation for Huffington Post.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, immigration rights activist and self-declared undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas waits to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on comprehensive immigration reform. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
On July 12, Igor Bobic wrote about Vargas’ trip to the Texas border town for The Huffington Post. On July 11, Vargas wrote a piece for Politico about what led to the trip, and how he feared being detained.
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. (“Even if you tell them you’re a U.S. citizen, they will ask you follow-up questions if they don’t believe you,” Tania told me.)
Around 9:30 a.m., Vargas sent out this tweet:
On June 27, Poynter spoke with Vargas about his documentary, “Documented.”
Vargas calls himself the most privileged undocumented immigrant in America. He’s a product of the country, he said, and a product of American newsrooms.
“I think we in the media for the most part are missing the moral crisis that is happening in our own country.”