By: Julia Preston on July 15, 2014
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. Mr. Vargas wrote recently that 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. Mr. Vargas travels on a valid Philippine passport, but it has no current United States visa in it.
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 insisted he never intended to be detained when he came to South Texas, but his supporters were working hard — on Twitter and at a news conference in front of the Border Patrol station where he was held — to use the publicity to advance their demands for fewer deportations of illegal immigrants living in the country and more protections for the children crossing recently.
A blurry photograph sent by a spokesman showed Mr. Vargas in McAllen airport as a Border Patrol agent handcuffed him.
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 situation in McAllen for Politico Magazine last week.
Because of McAllen’s proximity to the border, all airports and roadways in this region have Border Patrol checkpoints.
Mr. Vargas has lived in the United States without papers since he was 12. He was formerly a reporter for The Washington Post, where he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage in 2008. He announced his undocumented status in an article in The New York Times Magazine in 2011.
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