Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is gay and undocumented, was detained by border control agents in McAllen, Texas, as he attempted to board a plane to Los Angeles this morning, according to reports from United We Dream.
Vargas, who famously came out about his immigration status in a 2011 feature in The New York Times' Sunday magazine, was in Texas to attend a vigil recognizing the rights of Central American children who are crossing the border into the U.S., fleeing violence and poverty. Vargas was in McAllen to support pro-immigrant groups United We Dream and Minority Affairs Council, highlighting the stories of young immigrants sent to the U.S. in search of safety.
As someone who was sent to the U.S. as a child, Vargas "wanted to uplift the importance of treating the #borderchildren humanely," reads a statement at Define American, the nonprofit Vargas founded to challenge and create media in hopes of changing the culture and conversation surrounding immigration reform.
But McAllen is a heavily policed town, with armed border agents surrounding the city and conducting multiple checkpoints inside the airport. Vargas had only his Philippines passport and a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution with him as he went through security, according to the journalist's most recent tweet. The journalist says he was unaware of the numerous checkpoints inside and surrounding McAllen until he arrived in the town last week, according to a piece he wrote for Politico about his situation.
Vargas did not cross the border into Mexico but was detained after border patrol agents checked his passport — which is Filipino and does not include a U.S. visa — at one of several immigration checkpoints inside the airport.
As of press time, Vargas was still in the custody of immigration officials, as activists demanded his release, pointing to the often unsafe conditions for LGBT detainees at immigration processing centers.
"Every day thousands of LGBTQ Immigrants live under the perpetual fear of detention and deportation," said Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, a gay undocumented immigrant who is deputy managing director at United We Dream, in a statement. "Detention centers are unprepared to protect the safety of LGBTQ immigrants. We are highly concerned for the safety of Jose Antonio Vargas, we demand his immediate release from custody. His situation exemplifies the role and policy of border patrol who continue to detainee low priority cases like him. We stand in solidarity with him and the hundreds of LGBT immigrants in detention centers."
Since publicly revealing his lack of legal papers to reside in the U.S., Vargas has become an increasingly outspoken advocate for humane immigration reform. In addition to the New York Times piece and a cover story in Time magazine, Vargas has produced an autobiographical documentary, Documented, which is currently airing on CNN.
When President Obama announced the his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals package, which allowed many young people brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country legally, Vargas was one year older than the strict cutoff age of 29. Nevertheless, ThinkProgress notes that federal memos on prosecutorial discretion from the administration have identified Vargas and those like him as "low-priority cases," meaning he should not have been detained.
"The ridiculous nature of Jose’s arrest while covering the humanitarian crisis at the border is a prime example of how arbitrary eligibility requirements have left so much of our community behind," said Marco Quiroga, the national field officer at Immigration Equality and a beneficiary of the President's deferred action initiative. "We need the broadest and most inclusive relief possible so that people who urgently need protection from deportation can remain in the United States."
In a recent conversation with The Advocate, Vargas referred to himself as "the most privileged undocumented immigrant in America," recognizing that his visibility and notoriety help to guarantee him a modicum of safety and possible insurance against deportation.
"Can you imagine what it's like for other people who don't have the resources that I have, and who don't have the connections?" Vargas asked The Advocate rhetorically last month.