Susan Walsh / AP
Published Tuesday, July 15, 2014 | 9:44 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, July 15, 2014 | 3:50 p.m.
McALLEN, Texas — Prominent immigration activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who has lived and worked in the United States illegally for years, was released by U.S. Border Patrol agents on Tuesday after they detained him at a South Texas airport.
Border Patrol spokesman Omar Zamora said Vargas was stopped going through security at the airport in McAllen, only a few miles from the Mexico border. A spokeswoman for Define American, Vargas' advocacy group, confirmed his release Tuesday afternoon.
It's common for the Border Patrol to release people on their own recognizances, with notices to appear in court later. With such notices, people can generally travel throughout the country without being detained again.
Vargas had been visiting the border city of McAllen for several days as part of a vigil to highlight the plight of unaccompanied immigrant children coming into the country illegally who have overwhelmed Border Patrol facilities.
But at McAllen/Miller International Airport, Vargas knew he could have problems. Border Patrol agents stand alongside Transportation Security Administration personnel to check documentation — even for domestic flights and he was carrying only a passport from the Philippines and a palm-size copy of the U.S. Constitution.
On Tuesday morning, Vargas tweeted: "About to go thru security at McAllen Airport. I don't know what's going to happen."
His spokeswoman, Maria Cruz Lee, declined immediate comment. She said a statement would be issued later in the day.
The security situation at the McAllen airport — and elsewhere in the city — is familiar to the thousands of people living illegally in the U.S. along the Texas-Mexico border. Along highways out of the city, drivers are stopped at Border Patrol checkpoints about an hour's drive north of the border. And it's not uncommon for children who entered the country illegally with their parents to grow up in the Rio Grande Valley to stay home when classmates go on field trips along those roadways to San Antonio.
Vargas, a native of the Philippines, had flown to McAllen last Thursday to take part in a vigil. In an essay he wrote for Politico on Friday, Vargas said he has travelled in the U.S. for years without a problem but didn't realize that immigration checks are done on those driving or flying out of the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. Vargas noted that he doesn't have any government-issued U.S. identification.
His last tweet Tuesday morning was a photograph of his Philippines passport and a palm-size copy of the U.S. Constitution.
Vargas went public about his immigration status in a 2011 piece for the New York Times Magazine. He was part of a team of reporters at the Washington Post that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. He also directed a documentary called "Documented," and founded the activist group "Define American."