Pulitzer journalist held by US Border Patrol

2014-07-15 20:54
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, immigration rights activist and self-declared undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas. (Susan Walsh, AP, File)

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, immigration rights activist and self-declared undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas. (Susan Walsh, AP, File)

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McAllen - Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, a Philippines-born immigration activist who has lived in the US since childhood without legal documentation, was detained on Tuesday by Border Patrol agents at a Texas airport.

Border Patrol spokesperson Omar Zamora said Vargas was in custody after being stopped going through security at the airport in McAllen, a city just across the border from Mexico. Zamora said he had no other details about the case.

Vargas had been visiting the border city for several days as part of a vigil to highlight the plight of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children coming into the US illegally who in recent months have overwhelmed Border Patrol facilities.

Vargas went public about his own immigration status in a 2011 piece for the New York Times Magazine, revealing that he had been living in the US illegally since he was brought from the Philippines as a child to live with his grandparents. He was part of a team of reporters at The Washington Post that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

At McAllen/Miller International Airport, Border Patrol agents stand beside Transportation Security Administration personnel to check documentation - even for domestic flights. On Tuesday morning, Vargas tweeted: "About to go thru security at McAllen Airport. I don't know what's going to happen."

Vargas, who also directed a documentary called Documented, was unaware that he would have to pass through an immigration check prior to arriving in McAllen, said Ryan Eller, the campaign director for Define American, the advocacy group founded by Vargas.

"We had been to border towns before like San Diego and other places, but we didn't recognize until here the situation ... that frankly thousands of people are living in what is really a trapped situation of a militarized zone," Eller said while standing across the street from the Border Patrol station where Vargas was being held.

The security situation at the McAllen airport - and elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley - is familiar to the thousands of people living illegally in the US along the Texas-Mexico border.

Along highways out of the area, drivers are stopped at Border Patrol checkpoints about an hour's drive north of the border. In Rio Grande Valley, it's not uncommon for children who entered the country illegally to stay home when classmates go on field trips along those roadways to San Antonio.

Vargas had flown to McAllen last Thursday to take part in the vigil. In an essay he wrote for Politico on Friday, Vargas said he has travelled in the US for years without a problem but didn't realize that immigration checks are done on those driving or flying out of the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. Vargas noted that he doesn't have any government-issued US identification.

Vargas' last tweet on Tuesday morning was a photograph of his Philippines passport and a palm-size copy of the US Constitution.

Eller confirmed that the only identification Vargas carried was that passport. He said Vargas was en route to Los Angeles and that he had consulted with attorneys before going to the airport. Eller said a "travel partner" was at the airport with Vargas, but they were immediately separated in security.

"We tried to prepare for basically every scenario that we could," Eller said.

Eller said they were asking President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to use their authority to immediately release Vargas.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to comment on Tuesday on Vargas' detention.

- AP
Read more on:    phillipines  |  us
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