TIME Immigration

Immigration Activist Jose Vargas Released From Border Detention

Jose Antonio Vargas Arrest Immigration
Jose Antonio Vargas in handcuffs at the airport in McAllen, Texas, on July 15, 2014 United We Dream/Define American

The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist turned activist lacks a U.S. visa

Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who became an immigration activist after openly admitting his undocumented status, has been released after he was detained by border-patrol agents at a Texas airport on Tuesday as he attempted to board a flight.

“I’ve been released by Border Patrol,” Vargas said in a statement. “I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country. Our daily lives are filled with fear in simple acts such as getting on an airplane to go home to our family.”

A border-patrol spokesperson had earlier confirmed to the Associated Press that Vargas was held after being arrested at the airport in McAllen, Texas, but had no other details.

Vargas, who has a valid Philippine passport but not a U.S. employment visa, announced his undocumented status in a 2011 story in the New York Times Magazine and wrote a cover story for TIME a year later about his experience.

He now travels the country as an activist working to change U.S. immigration laws. On July 10 that work brought him to McAllen, which he visited with a camera crew from his advocacy organization, Define American, to document the shelters housing thousands of unaccompanied children who have fled the escalating violence in their Central American hometowns. Vargas was apparently unaware that the U.S. Border Patrol has a checkpoint set up about 45 minutes outside of the South Texas town.

“I feel stupid. I’ve been traveling around the country, visiting 43 states in like 3 years, and I’ve been flying using my Philippine passport,” Vargas reportedly wrote in a text message sent over the weekend to a Washington Post reporter. “But I’ve never been to the Texas border area. I just figured I could use the passport. But apparently I can’t because border-patrol agents check foreign passports.”

Shortly before his arrest Tuesday, Vargas tweeted that he was attempting to pass through security with a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution and his Philippine passport as his only documentation:

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