Jose Antonio Vargas, who made national headlines by coming out as an illegal immigrant three years ago in the New York Times, may be stuck in a border town in Texas.
In a piece for Politico, Vargas, the former journalist and Pulitzer winner, writes that before he came to McAllen, Texas, he did not know that getting out of the town by plane or land may “be impossible.”
After he brought a camera crew to the detention center where thousands of illegal immigrant children who have been flooding across the border are being housed to try to change the narrative and tell them about his experiences in America as an illegal immigrant, Vargas said his friends on Facebook asked him how he would “get through the checkpoint on your way back.” Vargas said it was a “curious question” that he had initially dismissed, thinking, “what was she talking about?”
He then said a DREAMer named Tania told him “the reality on the ground in a border town like McAllen.” She told Vargas he “might not get through airport security, where Customs and Border Protection (CPB) also checks for IDs, and you will definitely not get through the immigration checkpoints set up within 45 miles of this border town.”
“Even if you tell them you’re a U.S. citizen, they will ask you follow-up questions if they don’t believe you,” Tania told him, emphasizing that he would be asked for documentation.
Vargas conceded that he does “not have a single U.S. government-issued ID” and, like most of the country’s eleven million illegal immigrants, does not have a driver’s license. But Vargas notes ever since he came out as an illegal immigrant in a New York Times magazine profile, “I’ve been the most privileged undocumented immigrant in the country.”
“The visibility, frankly, has protected me,” he writes. “While hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been detained and deported in the past three years, I produced and directed a documentary film, Documented, which was shown in theaters and aired on CNN less than two weeks ago.”
He has also co-founded a group that advocates for illegal immigrants and has been “traveling non-stop for three years, visiting more than 40 states,” by using “a valid passport that was issued by my native country, the Philippines.”
“But each flight is a gamble,” he concedes. “My passport lacks a visa. If TSA agents discover this, they can contact CBP, which, in turn, can detain me.”
Vargas said he has not had problems at airports because of his celebrity, but he admits, “I might not be so lucky here in the valley.”
“I am not sure if my passport will be enough to let me fly out of McAllen-Miller International Airport, and I am not sure if my visibility will continue to protect me–not here, not at the border,” he writes before admitting that he “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and knew nothing about life as undocumented in a border town in Texas, where checkpoints and border patrol agents are parts of everyday life.”
The lesson Vargas feels Americans should take away from his situation is that the border is secure, despite the crisis caused by tens of thousands of Central Americans now entering the United States. “#BORDERISSECURE — Wish I could scream that out loud,” Vargas wrote Saturday night as he linked to a Huffington Post report on his predicament.
There have been at least 57,000 illegal immigrants who have crossed the border since October of last year, and another 150,000 are estimated to do so next year. The number of illegal immigrant children flooding across the border spiked just after President Barack Obama enacted his temporary amnesty program for certain DREAMers in 2012, and many migrants interviewed said they made the journey to America believing they would be able to indefinitely remain in the United States – like Vargas has been able to – if they made it across the border.