Immigration reform advocate and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas was released Tuesday after being detained for several hours by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in McAllen, Texas.
Define American, the immigration advocacy organization he founded, released a statement late Tuesday from Vargas saying he had been released. He had been detained earlier in the day after attempting to pass through security at McAllen-Miller International Airport following a visit to the region to raise awareness about the surge of unaccompanied children that has been flowing across the border.
“As an unaccompanied child migrant myself, 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 the statement. “But what I saw was the generosity of the American people, documented and undocumented, in the Rio Grande Valley.”
The Department of Homeland Security told Business Insider in a statement Vargas was detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the airport after Vargas told them he was in the country illegally. He was processed and provided with a notice to appear before an immigration judge, and subsequently released after consulting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Mr. Vargas has not previously been arrested by ICE nor has the agency ever issued a detainer on him or encountered him,” DHS said in the statement. “ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the agency’s resources to promote border security and to identify and remove criminal individuals who pose a threat to public safety and national security.”
In his statement, Vargas went on to thank his supporters.
“I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country,” he said. “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?”
A Define American spokeswoman said the group didn’t immediately have any more information.
Vargas is perhaps the most prominent undocumented immigrant in the United States, based on his advocacy after revealing his undocumented status a New York Times Magazine essay published June 22, 2011. He is a former reporter who was part of the Washington Post team that won a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Virginia Tech shooting the prior year.
Vargas traveled to Texas last week to promote the efforts of United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization, and other immigration-reform groups advocating for the unaccompanied children who have fled gang violence over the border. However, Vargas soon found himself trapped in an area within a secure perimeter featuring many U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoints, and questioned whether he’d be able to leave.
Vargas told Business Insider on Monday that he didn’t realize his predicament until last Thursday. That was when Tania Chavez, an undocumented youth leader from the Minority Affairs Council and one of the organizers of a vigil in solidarity with the young, undocumented children, pointed out to him the unique situation involving the Border Patrol checkpoints.
Vargas came to the U.S. as a child, but he is not eligible for the federal deferred action program because he is over 30 years old. He said he was thinking about flying out of the McAllen airport, and he made the attempt on Tuesday in order to attend a screening of his documentary, “Undocumented,” in Los Angeles.
This post was updated at 6:50 p.m. ET.
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America's Most Famous Undocumented Immigrant Has Been Released From Border Patrol Detention
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