Meet the Undocumented Journalist Who Was Detained at the Border

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 15 2014 12:57 PM

Meet the Undocumented Journalist Who Was Detained at the Border

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Said it loud, said it clear

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It's been more than three years since the former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas wrote the story that ended that career and started a new one. He was an undocumented immigrant. He'd known as much since he was 16 and the DMV told him that his "green card" was a fake. The revelation, presented in a New York Times Magazine story, was coupled with the launch of Jose's new campaign for immigration reform. 

I didn't know Jose particulary well before the bombshell. We'd covered some of the same events; I'd recognized him in the welcome video that WaPo showed to new hires. (In 2010, at least.) But we became friends, and Jose put up with me even when I asked the same question everyone had for him. Why haven't they deported you yet? Not that we wanted it to happen, but how could he be this public—he even got himself tossed from a Mitt Romney event, after a protest—and be safe?

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Every time I asked, Jose surmised that the feds wanted to avoid a backlash. He was too famous; he'd be a cause célèbre if he was detained or deported.

Well, we're testing the theory now. On July 11 Jose wrote a feature for Politico, from the Mexican border with Texas, where he appeared to be stuck. "I am not sure if my passport will be enough to let me fly out of McAllen-Miller International Airport," he wrote, "and I am not sure if my visibility will continue to protect me—not here, not at the border."

This morning, Jose tried to fly out of McAllen, warning followers that he didn't know how the gambit would end. The result is the lead story at the Huffington Post:

A person who accompanied Vargas to the airport told HuffPost that Vargas handed his Philippines passport to a TSA agent, who asked if he was traveling with a visa. Vargas said he was not. According to the source, Vargas was then directed toward one of the 21,000 border patrol agents who have the border region on lockdown.
The agent asked Vargas two or three questions, placed him in handcuffs and escorted him to the McAllen border patrol station for more questioning, according to the source. The station is not a detention center.

Jose had been leading an extremely public life. Every day he wasn't detained—more than a thousand days since his article ran—was a statement. And so is today.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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