Article Lead Image

Jose Antonio Vargas detained by Border Patrol—just like he predicted

Vargas had traveled there to help raise awareness for the Honduran refugee children detained at the border this month. 


Ramon Ramirez

Internet Culture

Posted on Jul 15, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 11:08 pm CDT

Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer prize-winning reporter turned immigrant activist, was detained in handcuffs Tuesday while trying to fly out of McAllen-Miller International Airport near the Texas-Mexico border.

Vargas had traveled there to help raise awareness for the Honduran refugee children detained at the border this month. In 2011, Vargas outed himself as an undocumented Filipino immigrant in a New York Times op-ed

Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post first tweeted a photo of the detainment. The news was confirmed by Define American, the Vargas-funded immigration-reform nonprofit.

Photo of @joseiswriting in handcuffs in McAllen after being detained by Border Patrol (via @ryangrim)

— Kolten Parker (@KoltenParker) July 15, 2014

In a Facebook post, Define American campaign director Ryan Eller wrote:

“It became apparent during our time here, in this border town, that the founder of our organization, Jose Antonio Vargas may not be able to leave McAllen — a situation shared by thousands of undocumented Americans who are “stuck” at the border, which for them is a daily struggle.

“This morning, Mr. Vargas attempted to board a plane to Los Angeles where we are scheduled to screen our film ‘Documented.’ Mr. Vargas did not make it through security at the airport. Our understanding is that he is currently being questioned by border patrol.”

Eller also called on President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to “exercise prosecutorial discretion” and release Vargas.

Vargas was aware of the Border Patrol checkpoints on highways and at the airport, having reported for Politico about the risks. Vargas also live-tweeted his imminent date with these checkpoints Tuesday morning, pointing out that he has a valid passport from the Philippines but no United States visa.

About to go thru security at McAllen Airport. I don’t know what’s going to happen. For updates follow @DefineAmerican & @MAC_UTPA

— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) July 15, 2014

The only IDs I have for security: Philippine passport and my pocketbook US Constitution @DefineAmerican & @MAC_UTPA

— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) July 15, 2014

Define American tweeted that Vargas was taken to the McAllen Border Patrol station. 

#plsRT @joseiswriting detained @CBP, being taken to the mcallen border patrol station.

— Define American (@DefineAmerican) July 15, 2014

A social media campaign has since been launched and supported publicly by outlets like phone carrier Credo Mobile, as well as MSNBC and Univision correspondents.

Free @joseiswriting #istandwithjose – for more follow @DefineAmerican @UNITEDWEDREAM

— CREDO Mobile (@CREDOMobile) July 15, 2014


— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) July 15, 2014

We condemn human rights abuses around the world, but fail to see what goes on in our own backyard. Journalists in handcuffs #IStandWithJose

— Enrique Acevedo (@Enrique_Acevedo) July 15, 2014

Update: Vargas was released from custody later on Tuesday, reports the New York Times, thanks in part to his lack of criminal record. “I was released today because I am a low priority and not considered a threat,” Vargas reportedly said by phone. “I would argue that the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country are not a threat either.” The author will appear before an immigration judge. 

Photo by Knight Foundation/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III

Share this article
*First Published: Jul 15, 2014, 2:01 pm CDT