Immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas speaks about his status as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. in a short YouTube clip titled “Define American: Jose’s Story.” Screen shot/YouTube

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was handcuffed and held by the U.S. Border Patrol at McAllen Airport in Texas on Tuesday for the first time since immigrating to the U.S. from the Philippines. Vargas, who has lived in America since the age of 12 and describes himself as the “most privileged undocumented immigrant in the country,” has shed much-needed light on the plight of undocumented immigrants such as himself in what Truthdig contributor Juan Cole calls Vargas’ “breathlessly awaited documentary, ‘Documented.’ 

Vargas’ release was announced via Facebook by the nonprofit organization he founded, Define American, with the following statement from the writer himself:

“As an unaccompanied child migrant myself, I came to McAllen, Texas, to shed a light on children who parts of America and many in the news media are actively turning their backs on. But what I saw was the generosity of the American people, documented and undocumented, in the Rio Grande Valley.

I’ve been released by Border Patrol. 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.

With Congress failing to act on immigration reform, and President Obama weighing his options on executive action, the critical question remains: how do we define American?”

His statement regarding the kindness he witnessed at the border was not the only heartening part of the troubling incident. Some of the responses to his detainment are also a reason to hope that our definition of American will shift in a more inclusive, positive direction.

BBC News:

It is not yet clear whether Mr Vargas has been issued with some kind of court notice…A photo showing Mr Vargas being handcuffed by two US Border Patrol agents sparked anger.

“We stand in solidarity with Jose Antonio and demand for his immediate release, but we must remember that there are thousands of people along the border that live with this same fear every day,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, an immigrant activist group who helped organise his visit.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had also called for his release, saying that this “shows how our immigrant enforcement agencies are failing to use their discretion and detaining long-time immigrants who do not pose a threat to our security”.

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To learn more about Vargas’ documentary, watch this interview with “Democracy Now’s” Amy Goodman.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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