BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Jose Antonio Vargas, a 37-year-old immigration advocate set to have a school in Mountain View named after him, has come under fire for posting a widely shared photo of a young boy behind a cage that has since been identified as depicting a protest in Dallas, Tex., not a migrant child detention center.
“This is what happens when a government believes people are ‘illegal,’’’ Vargas tweeted on June 11 with the zoomed-in photo of the tearful boy grasping the bars of a cage. “Kids in cages.”
His Facebook post has been shared more than 10,000 times and his tweet has been shared 25,000 times, apparently misinforming some viewers who believed the photo depicted a migrant child in custody at a detention center.
On June 12, a day after he posted the photo, Twitter user Karissa Knox Sorrell asked for the photo’s source.
Vargas responded by tweeting, “Still trying to find a source for this photo. Saw it on a (Facebook) friend’s timeline but looking for confirmation. Has anyone seen it elsewhere?”
The fact-checking site Snopes.com has since identified the photo as being of a June 10 protest by the Texas chapter of the Brown Berets de Cemanahuac, not of a detention center.
The protest was in response to the detention centers, however. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents while attempting to cross the Southern border and placed in federal custody under the Trump administration’s new zero-tolerance immigration policy.
Vargas said that when he found out the photo was of a protest, he contacted one of the organizers, Leroy Pena, who Vargas said told him “the actual thing is way, way, worse than we were depicting.”
Vargas said that he was locked up with boys ages 5 to 14 at the immigration processing center in McAllen, Texas, in 2014. Vargas was released after eight hours in custody, he told the Post.
Vargas says he won’t apologize
Andrew Kirell, senior editor at the Daily Beast, called on Vargas yesterday to delete the photo and apologize for distracting from the issue of the child detention centers themselves.
“Every single right-wing radio or TV host has used this false image (it’s from a protest) to dismiss the entire outrage over the detention centers,” Kirell tweeted yesterday afternoon. “This is doing harm.”
But Vargas doubled down and refused to remove the photo.
“I am not apologizing or deleting the image. Because of the intent of the protest, what Leroy said and what I personally experienced in that jail cell, as a journalist who happens to be undocumented,” Vargas responded.
In an interview with the Post, Vargas said he posted the photo immediately without checking the source because he was so moved by the boy’s face, which reminded him of the boys he was locked up with in Texas in 2014.
He said that because he didn’t know the source, he intentionally posted minimal information in the caption.
“It did not say ‘U.S. government.’ It did not say that it was a detention center, or that the Border Patrol did this, or ICE did it,” Vargas told the Post. “As a journalist and as a writer, I’m very thoughtful about the words that I use.”
Vargas added that because the protest was intended to represent the detention centers, he didn’t see the photo as disingenuous.
Complains about ‘right-wing news ecosystem’
“If I thought that what I’m being accused of is correct, I would have just taken it down and apologized. But to me this means something,” Vargas said. “This is not, like, some little tweet for me… to me, intention matters and context matters. I refuse to fall into this kind of simplistic binary.”
He added that he thinks too many people, including journalists, have fallen into the “right-wing news ecosystem” where what happens is framed as less important than “how the organized Right reacts to it.”
The Mountain View Whisman school board voted last week to name a new elementary school after Vargas, who attended local schools. The name was proposed by school board member Tamara Wilson last year.
Board Vice President Greg Coladonato raised concerns last month about the risk of naming a school after a living person, for fear that the namesake could do something that the district views as objectionable.
The Palo Alto school district is still in the throes of controversy after a school-renaming debate. The board decided to rename Jordan and Terman middle schools because their namesakes, David Starr Jordan and Lewis Terman, were both supporters of the eugenics movement.
The renaming process led to even more strife in the district, including a controversy over the name Fred Yamamoto, a Palo Alto High School graduate who was held in Japanese internment camps, then died fighting for the U.S. in World War II.
Dozens of mostly Chinese parents objected to the name because it reminded them of Isoroku Yamamoto, the Pearl Harbor mastermind.