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‘Big Three’ Continue to Champion Jose Antonio Vargas: ‘America’s Most Famous Undocumented Immigrant’

Jose Antonio Vargas, a 31-year-old illegal immigrant, was detained by border patrol agents while trying to board a plane from McAllen, Texas without proper documentation. Following his arrest, the “big three” networks did their best to promote his cause on their Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning broadcasts. 

ABC’s Good Morning America did the most to cheerlead for Vargas, with reporter Jim Avila declaring him “America’s most famous undocumented immigrant” without ever referring to him as an illegal immigrant. To their credit, both CBS This Morning and NBC’s Today correctly labeled Vargas as “illegally” living in the United States. All three networks did play up the fact that Vargas was a “Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.”

Avila began his one-sided report by highlighting “one of this country's biggest advocates for immigration reform spent a day in custody of the border patrol arrested along the border and detained right along with the kids and mothers from Central America he went to help.” 

The ABC reporter continued to play up Vargas’ advocacy by beaming that “earlier in the day, Vargas tweeted this picture showing his Filipino passport and a miniature version of the U.S. Constitution he was traveling with. Vargas had lived in the States for more than 20 years and considers himself an American.” 

In contrast to ABC, CBS This Morning did refer to Vargas as “being in this country illegally” but reporter Anna Werner did play up his political activism: 

Vargas traveled to McAllen, Texas, last week in solidarity with the immigrants who have been detained there...Shortly before he was apprehended, he tweeted this photo of his Filipino passport and a copy of the U.S. Constitution and directed his 15,000 followers to other Twitter accounts for updates. Supporters said his experience highlights the plight of undocumented immigrants in South Texas. 

NBC’s Today offered only a news brief on Vargas with news reader Natalie Morales mentioning:

A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has placed himself at the center of the immigration debate has been released by the border patrol. Jose Antonio Vargas was detained Tuesday at a south Texas airport for being in the country illegally. He had visited the area to publicize the plight of unaccompanied immigrant children coming into the U.S. from Central America. Vargas was himself an unaccompanied child migrant from the Philippines. He was set free with a notice to appear before an immigration judge. 

On Tuesday night, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News highlighted the fact that Vargas was a "Pulitzer Prize winning journalist"  in their coverage of his arrest. During a report on the larger border crisis, CBS anchor Scott Pelley hyped the "interesting development this afternoon, one of the immigration movement’s most visible activists Jose Antonio Vargas was detained in Texas. He's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.”

Nightly News anchor Brian Williams provided a news brief on Vargas: 

Also today at the airport in McAllen Texas, just a few miles from the border, prominent immigration activist, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas was detained and taken into custody, while making his way through security. Vargas has lived and worked in the U.S.. without legal documentation for years. He was there in McAllen as part of a vigil to highlight the plight of these unaccompanied children. He was released from border control custody late today. 

The media’s celebration of Vargas is not a new phenomenon as they have a long history of championing his cause for “immigration reform.” In 2011, NewsBusters’ Tim Graham documented how Vargas had become “the left’s illegal-alien hero” with such headlines as the Huffington Post declaring “Jose Antonio Vargas Is an American Hero.” Graham also noted how Reid Epstein at Politico summed up how the left has anointed Vargas “the embodiment of the American dream.” 

See relevant transcripts below. 

ABC's Good Morning America

July 16, 2014

LARA SPENCER: And also this morning, new controversy in the immigration debate. A Pulitzer winning journalist, who is also an undocumented immigrant, apprehended and held at the Texas border. ABC’s Jim Avila is live in Washington this morning with that story. Good morning, Jim. 

JIM AVILA: Good morning, Lara. Jose Antonio Vargas, one of this country's biggest advocates for immigration reform spent a day in custody of the border patrol arrested along the border and detained right along with the kids and mothers from Central America he went to help. America's most famous undocumented immigrant arrested and detained Tuesday by the border patrol in McAllen, Texas, speaking first to ABC News about the ordeal.

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: It was really surreal and scary and very emotional thinking that I'm getting arrested for boarding a plane in my own country. I'm going to tell you something that I haven't told a lot of people.  I’m actually a undocumented immigrant. 

AVILA: Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and documentarian who came to the U.S.. from the Philippines when he was 12 went to the Texas/Mexico border this week to document the humanitarian crisis underway among Central American unaccompanied children. He has no U.S.. driver's license, birth certificate or passport. 

VARGAS: I just didn't realize going down to McAllen that that was the situation, that border patrol would be checking my passport right next to TSA. 

AVILA: When he tried to travel back north a border patrol agent stationed at the airport cuffed him and sent him to be processed holding him for eight hours releasing him with an immigration court date. 

VARGAS: I got out. Many people are not getting out. 

AVILA: Earlier in the day, Vargas tweeted this picture showing his Filipino passport and a miniature version of the U.S.. Constitution he was traveling with. Vargas had lived in the States for more than 20 years and considers himself an American. 

VARGAS: You're talking about the most privileged undocumented immigrant in America. Can you imagine all these other 11 million people who just want to live their lives with dignity? I dare any politician to go down there, look at the eyes of these children and tell them, I'm going to send you home. 

AVILA: Vargas insists this was no stunt. He's never been arrested before and he travels all over the country. The border patrol says its agents are always stationed at airports near the border and Vargas openly told one he had no legal papers so they had no choice but to arrest him. Lara?

SPENCER: Alright, Jim, thank you.

 

CBS This Morning 

July 16, 2014

MARGARET BRENNAN: A high-profile immigration activist is free this morning. Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He was taken into custody yesterday at a Texas airport for being in this country illegally. Anna Werner is tracking these developments from Dallas. Good morning, Anna. 

ANNA WERNER: Good morning. Vargas traveled to McAllen, Texas, last week in solidarity with the immigrants who have been detained there. But after he arrived, he says he was surprised to learn that his immigration status could become an issue when he returned to the airport. Jose Antonio Vargas knew he was taking a risk by trying to fly out to Los Angeles. A friend who went to the airport with him on Tuesday captured this exchange with a border patrol agent at the security checkpoint. Moments later he was taken in handcuffs.

Vargas, 33, has been living illegally in the U.S.. since he was 12 years old. A prominent activist, he has testified before Congress and travels the country speaking about immigration issues. At most airports he says, TSA agents only check the name on his travel documents. But at McAllen, a 20-minute drive north of Mexico, border patrol agents also review the immigration status of departing passengers and there are checkpoints on surrounding highways.

Vargas spent the weekend publicizing his predicament, writing an article for Politico and giving interviews. Shortly before he was apprehended, he tweeted this photo of his Filipino passport and a copy of the U.S.. Constitution and directed his 15,000 followers to other Twitter accounts for updates. Supporters said his experience highlights the plight of undocumented immigrants in South Texas. 

TANIA CHAVEZ: Now the nation’s going to know that we're trapped and we’ve always been trapped here. 

WERNER: Despite his visibility and notoriety, Vargas told CBS This Morning in 2012 that immigration officials seemed unconcerned about his case. 

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Most people in my situation, haven’t been encountered by the government. There's 11.5 million of us, right? And most people have not been encountered and so I'm not even in their database. 

WERNER: On Tuesday that finally changed. Well, the Department of Homeland Security says Vargas was processed at a nearby border patrol station. Then, after consultation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he was given a notice to appear in front of an immigration judge later then released on his own reconnaissance. Charlie?  

CHARLIE ROSE: Anna, thanks.

 

NBC's Today

July 16, 2014

NATALIE MORALES: A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has placed himself at the center of the immigration debate has been released by the border patrol. Jose Antonio Vargas was detained Tuesday at a south Texas airport for being in the country illegally. He had visited the area to publicize the plight of unaccompanied immigrant children coming into the U.S... from Central America. Vargas was himself an unaccompanied child migrant from the Philippines. He was set free with a notice to appear before an immigration judge. 

— Jeffrey Meyer is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Jeffrey Meyer on Twitter.