Jose Antonio Vargas on why he turned himself into DHS
Two months ago, the prominent undocumented immigrant activist and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas was detained in McAllen, Texas, near the border of Mexico. He was in the border town to speak with child migrants and document the conditions in detention centers. Vargas, who was born in the Philippines, has been living in the United States for over 20 years without legal status. In that time he has traveled frequently and without incident, using his passport from the Philippines. But this time was different. The border with Mexico has become increasingly militarized and it's impossible to leave without going through an immigration checkpoint. Because Vargas is perhaps the most famous undocumented immigrant in the country, his detention garnered a lot of media attention. Some called it a stunt, a self serving ploy. Earlier this week, Vargas responded to these accusations in Politico Magazine, saying,
"getting arrested and detained for trying to board a domestic flight is not a stunt. It is a daily reality faced by undocumented immigrants. The only difference is, my arrest was considered breaking news. DHS officials said I was let go because I am considered low priority and do not pose a security threat. The same can be said of 11 million or so other immigrants".
Vargas was released by Border Patrol and given papers labeled "Warrant of Arrest for Alien". He was told he was let go because he's considered a low priority. Given his high profile and the massive backlog in the immigration court system, it's unlikely that he'll be put in deportation proceedings any time soon.
Yet, Vargas didn't want to wait around for a court date or potential immigration reform or even executive action from the president. He wanted to do something. So, along with the National Immigration Law Center, his organization, Define American, recruited 10 other undocumented immigrants to join his #1of11Million campaign and applied for Deferred Action.
Vargas mentioned the persistent uncertainty that has defined his life and the constant disappointment from broken political promises, saying "Many elections have come and gone and our lives are still in limbo". The 10 other activists vary in age, sexual orientation, race, and nationality. Together they represent the diverse group of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Vargas's courage throughout this whole ordeal has been commendable as well as his openness with his story.
Yet what strikes us most about all of this is the war like mentality of ICE. Vargas describes McAllen, Texas as a "constitution free zone... where a vast system of intrusive checkpoints is seen as a normal way of life". This is absolutely absurd. In our decades of practice, we have never seen things get this bad. Vargas is right when he says that this is what the foreign born have to face every day. The increasing militarization of the border combined with the complete inaction in Washington on immigration reform has created a hostile environment for immigrants. We are appalled because we think that the United States is better than this. We can do better than denying due process to migrant children, keeping them in detention centers and painting them as invaders in the press. We can do better than turning a town into military checkpoint. We can do better than making promises and then breaking them.