After more than twenty years of living in secrecy as an undocumented American, Jose Antonio Vargas, who was born in the Philippines, outed himself in an essay for the New York Times Magazine back in 2011. He revealed that his grandparents had brought him to live with them in Northern California when he was 12 but that he never had the appropriate visa. His grandfather had acquired a false social security number for Vargas, who did not know of his own undocumented status until four years later when he tried to get a driver’s license.
After learning that he was not legally residing in the United States, Jose continued to study and graduated from high school, then college, and worked as journalist for major newspapers in San Francisco and Seattle. In 2008, he was part of an investigative team that won a Pulitzer Prize while he was writing for the Washington Post. Three years later, after witnessing the the work of young immigrant rights activists, known as DREAMers, who started a campaign called ‘Undocumented and Unafraid,’ Vargas decided to come clean, to come out of the closet as it were, and publicly state, in a nationally circulating publication, that he was an American who did not have legal status in the U.S.
A camera crew filmed every step of his ‘coming out’ and was edited into a documentary that recently aired on CNN. Documented: a Film by an Undocumented American follows Vargas as he deals with the repercussions of his major announcement, creates an immigrant rights organization (Define American), and transforms into a nationally-known advocate for immigration reform, touring the country, and giving speeches.
Then, came the most recent immigration crisis. News outlets have been reporting on overwhelmed detention centers overflowing with unaccompanied minors, young children who had crossed the border on their own. Vargas, who also entered the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor, albeit on a plane, felt compelled to visit kids being held in a detention center in Texas. Last week, he flew to McAllen and after touring the facility, was scheduled to leave this morning. While attempting to board a flight to Los Angeles, he was asked for his visa but could not furnish one, and was detained by Border Patrol agents.
A friend and fellow journalist, Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post, tweeted a photo of Vargas in handcuffs.
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) July 15, 2014
Vargas’ non-profit org Define American released the following statement: “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.”
Activists on the ground have acted quickly and are calling for a peaceful, candlelight vigil at 8:00pm in New York City’s Union Square in support of Vargas.
For further updates keep your eye on the Define American Facebook page.