For a few hours on Tuesday Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas was exactly where he wanted to be: in the middle of the immigration debate.
But instead of talking about his own coming out as an undocumented immigrant living and working in the United States for most of his life, Vargas was behind bars in McAllen, Texas. The author and filmmaker was detained by the Border Patrol for several hours following his arrest at a checkpoint in the McAllen airport while trying to board a flight to Houston.
"I was released today because I am a low priority and not considered a threat, Vargas told the New York Times after his release. "I would argue that the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country are not a threat either."
Hours before his arrest, Vargas tweeted out a picture of the only IDs he said he ever carries with him and said he was worried about what might happen at the airport.
Vargas, who was born in the Philippines and sent to the U.S. by his mother in 1993 when he was 12, received support throughout his period of arrest through his hashtag @DefineAmerican (including from New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio) and a petition for his release.
After his release, Vargas explained his detention as an act of defiance to shed light on the current border crisis involving tens of thousands of undocumented children from Central America who have been crossing 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," said Vargas, who flew to the border to interview and film undocumented immigrants who've crossed the border to escape violence in their home countries. He reportedly didn't realize that he would need to pass through an interior U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint upon his return.
"I've been released by Border Patrol. I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country. 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?"
Vargas was released after Homeland Security officials said he had no prior immigration or criminal record and did not pose a security threat, but was issued a notice to appear before an immigration judge at a later date. He was previously detained by authorities in 2012 when Minnesota State Police officers stopped him for a traffic violation and then turned him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for questioning; no immigration charges were filed in that case.
The focus of the recent CNN documentary "Documented," Vargas outed his immigration status in a first-person story in the New York Times Magazine in 2011 called "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant."