McAllen, TX, United States (4E) – Undocumented immigrant and Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas was detained by Texas Border Patrol agents at the McAllen/Miller International Airport for eight hours before he could board a flight to Houston on Tuesday.
The immigration reform activist who has been in the U.S. since age 12 but only revealed he was an illegal immigrant in 2011 won journalism’s top prize for covering the Virginia Tech massacre in 2008 as part of a reporting team from the Washington Post. He just attended a news conference and vigil for newly released Central American immigrants in the city near the Mexico border and was about to fly to Houston when he realized he had to pass a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint at the airport to exit the Rio Grande Valley.
When Vargas told Border Patrol agents that he is in the country illegally, he was handcuffed and taken for processing to the McAllen Border Patrol station, which was filled with immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
He was released on condition that he appears before an immigration judge. The Department of Homeland Security said Vargas was released because he had no prior immigration or criminal record.
“I was released today because I am a low priority and not considered a threat,” Vargas said by telephone shortly after his release, according to New York Times. “I would argue that the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country are not a threat either.”
Vargas’ detention was his first since 1993, when he lost his U.S. papers. He travels around the country with a valid Philippine passport but without U.S. visa because domestic airport security officials did not check his immigration status.
Vargas’ mother sent him to the U.S. when he was 12. At 33, he was ineligible to qualify for a deportation deferral under a program Obama started in 2012.