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Jose Antonio Vargas, Undocumented Gay Journalist, Trapped at Texas Border Town

Jose Antonio Vargas, a reporter for the Washington Post, won a Pulitzer Prize before he was 30. Then, on June 22, 2011, he came out as an undocumented immigrant in a major story for The New York Times Magazine.  Well into the vividly revealing story, he tells how in 1999 he came out to classmates after watching a documentary on Harvey Milk. That caused a mighty set of new problems at home and school. But, Vargas wrote, “Tough as it was, coming out about being gay seemed less daunting than coming out about my legal status. I kept my other secret mostly hidden.”

Vargas shot to prominence as a powerful spokesperson for DREAMers, kids brought or sent to America for a better life, who wake up one day to discover they are not “legally” American.  Now he is lending his name and trying to help the thousands of unaccompanied children who have struggled day and night, journeyed over miles of difficult terrain, trying to escape the violence in their homes in Central America - looking for freedom or family in America.  First there is safety, then lrgality. 

Vargas gave an interview to GLAAD  just before a documentary called Documented about his life aired on CNN Sunday. His ongoing efforts to document other undocumented immigrants took him to the Texas border city of McAllen last week, where the now finds himself stuck without the proper papers to leave.

He wrote on Politico last Friday:  

I flew into the valley Thursday morning to visit a shelter for unaccompanied Central American refugees and participate in a vigil in their honor. Outraged at the media coverage of this humanitarian crisis (these children are not “illegal,” as news organizations like CBS News and the New York Times call them), and frustrated by the political ping-pong centered on border security and increased enforcement, I also came here to share my own story of coming to the United States as an unaccompanied minor from the Philippines. I wanted to help change the narrative of the conversation and, with a camera crew, share stories from the shelter and its volunteers. The visit to the shelter was intense and sobering, watching small kids fight for their lives with nothing more than their spirits.

When my friend Mony Ruiz-Velasco, an immigration lawyer who used to work in the area, saw on my Facebook page that I was in McAllen, she texted me: “I am so glad you are visiting the kids near the border. But how will you get through the checkpoint on your way back?” A curious question, I thought, and one I dismissed. I’ve visited the border before, in California. What checkpoint? What was she talking about?

Vargas told the Dallas Morning News on Sunday he doesn't know what will happen next:

And now you have a real fear of not being able to get out of the area. Can you explain why that is and how it feels? I’m the most privileged undocumented immigrant in the country. And with that privilege comes responsibility. The responsibility of tying my specific story to the story of 11 million undocumented people like me and using every skill and resources I have to tell stories and insist that we talk about this issue humanely and fairly.

The feeling of being stuck and trapped by our broken immigration system is very familiar to undocumented people like me. But it’s even more pronounced for undocumented immigrants who live in the border. And now I’m trapped like they are: There are check-points and border patrol agents everywhere, including at the airport. I’ve always felt trapped as an undocumented person who’s lived here for almost 21 years. And you make the most of what you can do. You try to stay positive……

I have no control over what the government chooses to do. But like the other 11 million undocumented immigrants whose lives are in limbo, I am not a threat to this country. Should people continue to be needlessly detained and deported while our government can’t come up with a compromise and provide a solution?.....

I do not know what’s going to happen when I try to leave. But the reality is there are thousands in this region whose lives are confined to a 45-mile radius because of border agents and checkpoints. That’s why I am sharing this fear I have to underscore that shared circumstance.

Here’s the latest from MSNBC’s Joy Reid: