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Prominent undocumented journalist freed after US border detention

© Photo: Jay Directo, AFP/Getty | Jose Antonio Vargas on July 11.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-16

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who revealed in a 2011 New York Times Magazine article that he is an undocumented immigrant, was freed by US border agents after being held for several hours on Tuesday.

Photos of Vargas being led away in handcuffs by two border patrol agents at the airport in the Texas border town of McCallen surfaced online, angering immigrant rights campaigners. Several political leaders, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, called for his release, some even urging President Barack Obama to intervene.

Vargas, a high-profile campaigner for the rights of fellow immigrants, had been in Texas to highlight the plight of tens of thousands of children from Central America who cross the border into the United States illegally each year in search of a better life.

"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," Vargas said in a statement on the Facebook page of the advocacy group Define American, which he founded.

"But what I saw was the generosity of the American people, documented and undocumented, in the Rio Grande Valley.

"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."

A border patrol spokesperson said that Vargas was detained "after he stated that he was in the country illegally," adding that he "was processed and provided with a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge."

"He was released on his own recognizance after consultation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)," he added, giving no further details of when Vargas was due before a judge.

The Huffington Post posted a video of Vargas being questioned at McAllen airport. "Do you have a visa?" a border agent asks, to which Vargas replies: "No, there's no visa."

'I’ve lived the American dream. But I’m still an undocumented immigrant.'

Mr Vargas – part of a Washington Post team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech University – has attempted to draw attention to the plight of child immigrants over the years.

The 33-year-old activist, who hails from the Philippines, was sent to live in California in 1993 at age 12 and struggled to gain US citizenship.

"I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it," he wrote in the New York Times Magazine.

"I've tried. Over the past 14 years, I've graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist," he added. "I've created a good life. I've lived the American dream.

"But I am still an undocumented immigrant."

Mayoral support

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was among those who had called for Vargas to be released.

"I stand in solidarity with journalist and advocate Jose Antonio Vargas – an exemplary man whose tireless work has helped raise awareness around the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants living on American soil," he said.

"Jose Antonio's detainment today...shows how our immigrant enforcement agencies are failing to use their discretion and detaining long-time immigrants who do not pose a threat to our security."

US authorities are currently dealing with a surge of unaccompanied and undocumented children smuggled through the Mexican border.

Over 57,000 have illegally entered the United States since October, the majority arriving in Texas, according to official US data. They are mostly from Central America, fleeing poverty and violence.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

Date created : 2014-07-16