Immigrant activist Jose Antonio Vargas is released after being detained by immigration officials near the Texas-Mexico border

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Carol Hills: There was a vigil this week in McAllen, Texas, in support of the unaccompanied children being detained by the border patrol, and one of those who attended the vigil was Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas. He himself is in the US illegally. Here's Vargas speaking in his recently released film, "Undocumented." Jose Vargas: We mow your law, we work at your houses, maybe we're your doctors. Maybe we're nurses. We're not who you think we are. Hills: Vargas had planned to fly back home from Texas this morning, but when he attempted to go through security at McAllen airport, he was detained and handcuffed by two border patrol agents. Our Global Nation editor, Monica Campbell, has been following the story. Monica Campbell: Jose Antonio Vargas is probably the best known undocumented immigrant in America. He's in his early 30s, he's a journalist, and an activist. And when he was a kid, his mom sent him from the Philippines. His grandparents lived in California, and they wanted him to come over and live here. And he lived here, but he was 16 years old when he realized that he was documented, and that's when he tried to get a driver's license. And ever since, he's become very well known. He wrote a piece in the New York Times saying, "I'm undocumented," and he's been a leader in the movement to get immigration reform passed in the United States. Hills: So why has he been able to travel without problems so far? You know, he outed himself, as I understand it, I think in 2011. How come he's been able to kind of go about his business? Campbell: Right, so he's outed himself, and he's been absolutely declared himself undocumented in every single way possible publically. And he's been able to travel within the United States; he has a Philippines passport, so he can fly domestically, legally. But what we've seen, today, is that things change once you reach the US-Mexico border, and we don't know whether Jose realized this or not before he left for Texas. But when you're in Texas, within 100 miles, border patrol has the legal right to ask anyone for immigration paper. And what we saw today was he's at the US-Mexico border, he's flying out of McAllen, Texas, and things change there. You can get stopped by border patrol agents and asked for your papers. This is something that happens there, it doesn't happen everywhere in the United States. If you live on the border, this is something that you know. You know that you can--there's checkpoints that the border patrol runs in the border area. The airport there, you fly into the airport on the border with Mexico and things are different. It's a lot tighter. And this is the impression that I got after talking to Charles Cook, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia. Charles Cook: I got the impression that he didn't realize the severity of the situation. When a friend tweeted to him and said, "Hey, be careful of the border patrol down there." Because it's not just at the airports; it's literally roadblocks everywhere out there, particularly now, given the current situation where there's a lot of intense pressure on the border to make sure they're stopping everybody. It was highly likely he was gonna be stopped. It's surprising he didn't know, but in some ways, I can understand why somebody who's not a lawyer doesn't understand some of the crazy aspects of our enforcement policy. Campbell: So it's hard to know whether Jose knew what he was heading into when he went to the airport in McAllen, or whether this is something that he knew very well would happen, and is lawyered up and ready to make his case. Hills: So what's gonna happen next? Campbell: Well, he'll be treated by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, and immigration officials, like any other detained immigrant. And he's got a really hard case, and this was the impression that I had after talking to Charles Cook, as well. Cook: His problem, of course, now, is that there is really no easily available form of relief. He's not married, he doesn't have any children. Those are criteria for people that have been here a long time, to seek relief once put into deportation proceedings. That's not available to him, at least at the present time. Although I do think that ICE, given his lack of being a flight risk and the fact that he's not a danger to the community, will release him relatively quickly from custody, and initiate the removal proceedings in which he will ultimately appear before an immigration judge. Hills: So Monica, do we think that Jose Antonio Vargas is gonna be treated like anybody else? Campbell: Yes. The White House is gonna be under a lot of pressure to show no favoritism at all, and treat him like any other undocumented immigrant. Hills: Our Global Nation editor, Monica Campbell. Thanks, Monica. Campbell: Thanks Carol.