Jose Antonio Vargas has been released. Now what?

As you have doubtless heard by now (and as Noah already covered) illegal immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas was taken into custody by the Border Patrol yesterday. Whether or not this was prompted in part by my call over the weekend for ICE to do something about this guy shall remain a mystery. Judging by the response in the comments to my suggestion, it no doubt came as a pleasant surprise to most of us that he was picked up at all. But by yesterday evening it seemed that our congratulations to law enforcement were a bit premature, as Vargas was back on the street in less than eight hours.

Jose Antonio Vargas, the former journalist who has spent the past few years crusading on behalf of fellow undocumented immigrants, was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents Tuesday and held for much of the day after trying to leave a Texas border town without a valid U.S. visa.

Vargas was taken into custody Tuesday morning at McAllen-Miller International Airport and was held for about eight hours until his early-evening release. He received a notice to appear before an immigration judge.

The last sentence is the key bit of news here, since it turns out that authorities didn’t entirely cave and simply let the fish off the hook as they did in Minnesota back in 2012. Vargas was released on his own recognizance, but will have to appear before an immigration judge in the days, months (or years?) to come. I haven’t heard yet how long this process will take, but presumably it would be difficult for Vargas to simply go to ground and disappear, so we can expect that he’ll show up. (And given his history of drawing attention to himself, I doubt he could avoid the temptation of the spectacle.)

So what will happen then? One might naively assume that a criminal who has been flaunting his disregard for the law for this long would almost automatically be deported to his native country, but that might be a bit hasty. Judges are not immune to public sentiment, and to avoid the media backlash over one of their own tribe having to actually face the consequences of his actions the judge may find it easier to simply let him go. This could be accomplished with some sort of generic, judicial legerdemain wherein they claim that Vargas isn’t really “one of the dangerous illegal immigrants” and our resources would be better spent going after drug dealers and terrorists.

This, of course, is nonsense. As I wrote in the original piece, Vargas represents a powerful talisman to potential illegal border jumpers, demonstrating how easy it is to not only flaunt the laws of this country, but to prosper in the land where the streets are paved with gold in spite of them. But such realities frequently fail to overcome politics, so I’m not putting any money on Vargas being sent back home any time soon.