Undocumented prize-winning reporter held at US border

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and prominent activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who revealed in 2011 that he is an undocumented immigrant, was detained by US border patrol agents Tuesday, officials said.

AFP| Last Updated: Jul 16, 2014, 00:20 AM IST

Washington: Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and prominent activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who revealed in 2011 that he is an undocumented immigrant, was detained by US border patrol agents Tuesday, officials said.

Vargas, a high-profile campaigner for the rights of fellow immigrants, was detained at the airport in McAllen, Texas, where he planned to board a flight to Los Angeles, his group said.

Define American urged President Barack Obama to intervene to secure Vargas` immediate release. 

"This morning, Mr Vargas attempted to board a plane to Los Angeles .. Mr Vargas did not make it through security at the airport," said Ryan Eller, campaign director of the group Define American.

"Our understanding is that he is currently being questioned by border patrol" agents, he added in a statement.

"We are calling on President Obama and (Homeland Security) Secretary (Jeh) Johnson to exercise prosecutorial discretion and immediately release (Vargas) from Customs and Border Protection custody."
Vargas himself, quoted in the statement, added: "Our America is better than this - more humane, more compassionate - and we are fighting for a better America: a country we love but has yet to recognize us."

A spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection agency, Joe Gutierrez, told AFP: "Yes, we have him in detention," but declined to give any further details about Vargas.

The Philippine-born journalist, who was part of a Washington Post team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008, revealed in a 2011 New York Times magazine essay that he was undocumented.

He was 12 years old in 1993 when his young mother put him on a flight in Manila to be raised by his grandparents in California, in the hope he could live the American dream to the fullest.

What happened since that Times essay is the subject of "Documented," written, produced and directed by Vargas, 33, which got its world premiere last June.
US authorities are currently dealing with a surge of unaccompanied and undocumented children coming over the country`s southern borders with Mexico.

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.

Define American said that, as well as winning a Pulitzer, Vargas has also created dozens of jobs through his activist work. 

"Jose Vargas ... exemplifies what it means to define American. Now, in his hour of need, we stand with him in prayer," the campaigning group said.

It said Vargas had come to McAllen to join other lobby groups "to stand in solidarity with and humanize the stories of the children and families fleeing the most dangerous regions of Central America.

"It became apparent during our time here .. that (Vargas) may not be able to leave McAllen -- a situation shared by thousands of undocumented Americans who are `stuck` at the border, which for them is a daily struggle," it said.