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Friday, July 18, 2014

A Conversation With Immigrant Activist Jose Antonio Vargas

In this June 20, 2012, file photo former Washington Post journalist turned immigration reform activist, Jose Antonio Vargas, center, an illegal immigrant himself, speaks in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

In this June 20, 2012, file photo former Washington Post journalist turned immigration reform activist, Jose Antonio Vargas, center, an illegal immigrant himself, speaks in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Immigrant-rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas has written extensively about the fact that he has been living illegally in the U.S. for years.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Vargas was recently in south Texas documenting the stories of many Central American child migrants detained at a shelter in McAllen. As an immigrant himself, he says it was only “natural” that he go there.

Vargas often travels without documentation — he told Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti that in the past three years, he has attended “maybe 250 events in 43 states.”

But when he tried to board a plane to return, he was detained by border patrol officers for around eight hours. This was the first time he’s interacted with border patrol officers in airport security, even though he has also visited San Diego and various cities in Arizona. Now, for the first time, he’ll have to appear before a judge in immigration court.

As he remarked, “It’s somewhat ironic: This is the first time that the U.S. government, at least the immigration government, acknowledges my existence.”

Although the incident has raised questions, Vargas insists that it was a legitimate legal conflict, not a publicity stunt to raise awareness about the rights of immigrants.

And he says it was worth the risk: “I came down there last Thursday, before knowing what was going to happen, because I wanted to look in the eyes of those children and I wanted to make a statement that when you see those children, you think of possibility. We talk about them as if they’re insects on our backs. What’s happening right now is not only a humanitarian crisis, it’s a moral crisis.”

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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