After a day of anxiety over his fate, border security agents in McAllen, Texas have released one of America's most prominent undocumented immigrants, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, a Mountain View High School graduate.
"I've been released by Border Patrol," Vargas said in a statement. "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 had traveled to the Texas border town to humanize the stories of children from Central America being detained at the border in large numbers, saying he was angered that the children were called "illegal" in some media coverage.
"I wanted to help change the narrative of the conversation and, with a camera crew, share stories from the shelter and its volunteers," Vargas wrote in an article for Politico on Friday. "The visit to the shelter was intense and sobering, watching small kids fight for their lives with nothing more than their spirits."
Vargas said he did not realize the danger he was in just by going to the Texas town, where immigrants are kept from crossing into the rest of the U.S. at various checkpoints.
"I didn't know what I was getting myself into and knew nothing about life as undocumented in a border town in Texas, where checkpoints and border patrol agents are parts of everyday life," Vargas wrote on Friday. "I've been flying everywhere across the country what would make this trip different?"
Vargas reportedly consulted with attorneys before heading to the airport in McAllen on July 15 with nothing but his Philippines passport as identification. Vargas has been taking some risk of being detained at U.S. airports for years, but McAllen is different in that meeting a border patrol agent is guaranteed.
"About to go through security at McAllen Airport. I don't know what's going to happen," Vargas tweeted at 6 a.m. Tuesday. It was immediately followed by a picture of his Philippines passport and pocket-sized U.S. Constitution before the tweets stopped because he was detained.
"Our undocumented community along the border is trapped within its own country, unable to leave and surrounded by checkpoints," said Cristina Jimenez, Managing Director of United We Dream, one of the organizations that set up an event about the detained children that Vargas attended in McAllen. "It's immoral that people aren't free to move around the country they know as home because of a system that seeks to criminalize them."
Immigrant advocates said that officials could choose to not take action against Vargas and that he does not fit the profile of someone that would be high priority for deportation. In the documentary Vargas created about his own story -- "Undocumented" -- Vargas is shown calling Immigration officials to ask them what they plan to do with him, and he receives no real response.
Vargas was not immediately available for comment about his detention.
Vargas has traveled to 40 U.S. states in his efforts to change the discussion about immigration in the U.S. He is the founder of the nonprofit Define American. He first revealed his situation in an article for the New York Times magazine, and told his story of being brought to the U.S. as a child with fake documents, discovering his true immigration status at age 16, and then working at several of the nation's top newspapers.
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