‘Surreal, scary,’ says Jose Antonio Vargas on being arrested by border patrol

A thunderstorm did not deter Filipinos from holding a rally for Jose Antonio Vargas at the Union Square Park. Photo by Sharon Adarlo

A thunderstorm did not deter Filipinos from holding a rally for Jose Antonio Vargas at the Union Square Park. Photo by Sharon Adarlo

By Cristina DC Pastor

Several dozen Filipinos braved the July 15 downpour to gather at Union Square and voice their support for detained undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

The activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was released on the same day by U.S. Border Patrol agents who held him at the McAllen-Miller International Airport in Texas for several hours. Vargas was in Texas to document the conditions of thousands of Central American minors who have crossed the borders to escape gang violence in their countries and seek refuge in the U.S. He stayed with the minors and other refugees for several days, interviewing them and taking their photos for publication in his organization’s website, Define American.

“It’s really surreal and scary, and to think I’m being arrested for boarding a plane in my own country,” he told ABC News.

“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,” he said in a statement issued after he was released.

Despite the rains and reports that Vargas has been freed, more than 30 FilAms still came out to Union Square Park to voice their support for Vargas and millions of undocumented immigrants. More than 250 confirmed in a Facebook page they were going.

“Although it’s raining and Vargas has been released, we’re not here just fighting for Jose. We’re here fighting for his values, his efforts and for everybody else who will benefit from this,” said Steven Raga of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations.

Rally organizer Kevin Nadal. Photo by Lorial Crowder

Rally organizer Kevin Nadal. Photo by Lorial Crowder

Anakbayan USA chair Yves Nibungco said the rally is for Jose as well as the 11 million undocumented immigrants awaiting a legal path to citizenship. “We’re here as a Filipino community to say we join the fight and we want immigration reform now.”

Lawyer Merit Salud of the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund said he admired Vargas’s courage. He said FALDEF was constantly in touch with Vargas throughout his ordeal at the border, and as his lawyers, they are ready to help him at any time.

His legal options appear murky at this point, but Define American spokesperson Maria Cruz Lee, who was at the rally, declined comment on whether Vargas is being processed for deportation proceedings.

The rally was hurriedly organized by John Jay College professor and community activist Kevin Nadal after news of Vargas’s arrest broke out.

“It’s important for us to vocalize our feelings for Jose because he is one person who stands up for us, for our community,” he said at the rally.

There is a stream of angry comments online from people who see Vargas as an “untouchable” immigrant who appears to be getting a special treatment because he is a Pulitzer awardee. These people want him deported back to the Philippines. The comments, hashtagged #deportJose, have called him a “criminal” and a “crybaby,” among other hate-filled remarks.

A video of the rally is available here, courtesy of Kababayan TV.


  1. Jarod wrote:

    Hey, thanks for the article. Really thank you! Jose’s story is inspiring.

  2. Mauricio wrote:

    A round of applause for this article.Really looking forward to read more.

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