Photo: Jose Antonio Vargas
Journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas has been detained in McAllen, Texas, Lara Drasin with Define American told Poynter in an email. Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is an undocumented immigrant and the founder of Define American.
“Mr. Vargas did not make it through security at the airport,” Define American’s campaign director Ryan Eller said in a statement that ran here. “Our understanding is that he is currently being questioned behind us at border patrol headquarters.”
In the statement, Eller said that Vargas came to Texas to humanize the stories of children and families fleeing the most dangerous regions of central America. “It became apparent during our time here in this border town that the founder of our organization, Jose Vargas, may not be able to leave McAllen.”
On Monday night, Eller said Vargas told him the following: “Our America is better than this, we’re more humane, more compassionate, and we are fighting for a better America, a country we love, but has yet to recognize us.”
Dan Kowalski, an immigration lawyer with the Fowler Law Firm in Austin, Texas, told Poynter in a phone interview that Vargas has a law firm or a lawyer on retention, though he’s not sure who. Kowalski said several lawyers on the ground in McAllen are trying to reach Vargas. For now, border patrol has just three options.
One, they can let Vargas go and set up recurring meetings to keep track of him. Two, they can let him go, set up those meetings and put him in removal proceedings. But because he has no criminal record and isn’t one of the refugees coming from Central America, Kowalski said, that could take years.
“But the third option is they could actually detain him and take him into custody.”
One question is, why now? Vargas has been traveling since coming out as undocumented in The New York Times in 2011.
“In theory, he could have been stopped at any one of those trips,” Kowalski said. “It does raise an interesting question. Why now, why here?”