NEW YORK CITY, New York – The McAllen Border Patrol released undocumented Filipino journalist-turned-immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, after about 8 hours of detention, on Tuesday.
Vargas, who has been open about his undocumented status for years, was never caught by immigration authorities until Tuesday morning.
Armed with a pocket book US Constitution, boarding pass and Philippine passport without a US visa, Vargas went through McAllen airports security on his way to Los Angeles.
U.S. Border Patrol agents detained Vargas after he told airport TSA agents that he was in the country illegally, according to Homeland Security spokesperson Marsha Catron.
“In McAllen, the TSA Agent sits beside a Border Patrol agent, so if you hand them a passport the Border Patrol agent automatically scans it and that's why he got arrested,” said Maria Cruz Lee, Define American Communications and Engagement Director.
Vargas was then released on his own recognizance and was given a notice to appear before an immigration Judge, Catron said.
“I did not anticipate it. I've been traveling around the country for the past three years. I've never been to the Texas border. I've been to the California border. I've been to Arizona,” Vargas said, “I didn't know that Texas, you know, that border basically was within the 45 mile radius of that area is a militarized zone. I knew there were checkpoints. I always knew I could fly out because I had a Filipino passport.”
Cruz-Lee said, “So Jose is out, he's not in custody anymore, he's with friends, unfortunately that's all I could share at this point.”
Meantime, in New York, dozens of Pinoy immigration reform advocates and Vargas supporters braved the rainy night and gathered at the Union Square Park Tuesday night.
Community leader and Filipino psychologist Kevin Nadal organized a candlelight vigil in support of the freed Filipino journalist.
“I think it was just very important for all of us who love Jose to come out here and show our solidarity for him as well as to show solidarity for all the undocumented people here in the US,” said Nadal.
Bea Sabino of AnakBayan, NJ and NAFCON said, “The fact that he's free doesn't negate the fact that he was arrested at the border.”
Yves Nibungco AnakBayan USA added, “There are 2 million Jose Vargases that are already deported and there are 1 million Filipinos that are still undocumented. This is why we're still here to continue the fight and to call on the rest of the Filipino Community to stand up for Immigration Reform.”
The Filipino American Legal Defense And Education Fund (FALDEF), who has stood by Vargas from the start, said they will take the necessary actions to keep Vargas from getting deported.
“Prosecutorial discretion may be exercised by the homeland security – motu propio, on their own,” FALDEF Lawyer Merit Salud said, “It would be political suicide for this administration to do that to deport him, because even the Republicans are afraid to touch him.”
Define American spokesperson said they are not commenting on Vargas' legal proceedings at this time. Vargas has not expressed what his next moves are.
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