Pinoy Pulitzer prize winner detained in US

Jose Katigbak - The Philippine Star

WASHINGTON – Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino Pulitzer prize winner who burst into the headlines four years ago when he outed himself as an undocumented alien, was detained after visiting the US-Mexico border to draw attention to the plight of immigrant children flooding into the United States from Central America to escape escalating violence in their homelands.

Vargas, 33, was detained by the US Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas on Tuesday while attempting to board a plane to Los Angeles and handcuffed. He was released a few hours later after consultation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Department of Homeland Security confirmed Vargas was processed at the McAllen Border Patrol station, provided with a notice to appear before an immigration judge, and ultimately released.

“Mr. Vargas has not previously been arrested by ICE nor has the agency ever issued a detainer on him or encountered him,” DHS said in a statement. “ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the agency’s resources to promote border security and to identify and remove criminal individuals who pose a threat to public safety and national security.”

News of his detention spread through the Filipino American community like wildfire.

“Oh no – que oror,” wrote Mitzi Pickard in her Facebook page.

“We remain proud of him,” wrote Philippine Consul General Leo Herrera Lim, adding the consulate was ready to assist him.

When he went to the border town of McAllen, Vargas did not know he would need to pass through an interior US Border Patrol checkpoint

“I realize that for an undocumented immigrant like me, getting out of a border town in Texas – by plane or land – won’t be easy. It might, in fact, be impossible,” he wrote on Facebook.

He proved to be prescient.

The only document he had with him was his Philippine passport without a US visa.

A video of Vargas presenting his Philippine passport and a pocketbook of the US Constitution to security officials was posted on YouTube.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, where Vargas lives, called for his immediate release, saying he exemplifies what America is about.

“I hope that he can stay in the country that has been his home and to which he has contributed so much,” de Blasio added.

Vargas was part of a Washington Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for the paper’s coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre the previous year.

In a New York Times expose in June 2011, he disclosed he was an undocumented immigrant.

He was 12 years old when his mother in 1993 handed him to a man at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport who smuggled him to the US to be reunited with his grandfather and grandmother in San Francisco.

He later found out the man was a coyote, paid $4,500 by his grandfather to smuggle him to the US under a fake name and a fake passport.

A year after writing his exposé Vargas landed on the cover of Time magazine surrounded by 35 other undocumented young people, their picture emblazoned with the legend “We are Americans, just not legally.”

In the Times essay he said after months of waiting for something to happen, he decided to confront immigration officials and asked them if they were planning to deport him.

He was told that technically he did not exist in the eyes of ICE. Like most undocumented immigrants, he’s never been arrested and therefore not on an ICE list.

He is America’s best known undocumented immigrant and unlike many of his compatriots, the TNTs who live and work in the United States in the shadows of anonymity, he is up front and in-your-face about his status.

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