After spending eight hours in an immigration detention facility in McAllen, Texas, Pultizer Prize-winning gay journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is undocumented, was released after being arrested as he tried to board a plane to Los Angeles Tuesday morning.
"It was really surreal and scary and very emotional, thinking that I'm getting arrested for boarding a plane in my own country," Vargas told ABC News Wednesday. Vargas was reportedly released with orders to report to an immigration court in the near future.
"I was released today because I am a low priority and not considered a threat," Vargas told The New York Times shortly after his release. "I would argue that the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country are not a threat either."
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 for and to report on the humanitarian crisis surrounding Central American children who are crossing the border into the U.S., fleeing violence and poverty. Vargas traveled to 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 an unaccompanied child migrant myself [who came to the U.S. from the Philippines at age 12], 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 after his release, shared by his nonprofit advocacy group, Define American. "But what I saw was the generosity of the American people, documented and undocumented, in the Rio Grande Valley. … 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. With Congress failing to act on immigration reform, and President Obama weighing his options on executive action, the critical question remains: how do we define American?"
Although Vargas did not cross the border into Mexico, he was arrested 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 he stated previously in a piece last week for Politico, Vargas contends he did not know that the border town of McAllen was heavily policed by border patrol agents, who check passports and visas inside the airport, and have set up checkpoints 45 miles outside the town, reportedly in all directions.
"The Rio Grande Valley in south Texas is the most militarized zone I've ever been to in the U.S.," Vargas wrote on Facebook Wednesday. "Can you imagine living there, being trapped in a 45-mile radius of check-points and border patrol agents?"
Since publicly revealing his lack of legal papers to reside in the U.S., Vargas has become one of the most recognizable advocates for humane immigration reform in the U.S. In addition to the New York Times piece and a 2012 cover story in Time magazine, Vargas has produced an autobiographical documentary, Documented, which is currently airing on CNN.
Watch the ABC News report below: