American allowed to stay in America

Undocumented activist Jose Antonio Vargas, 33, a former Daily News intern, was handcuffed and detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in Texas. Photo by Ryan Grim / Twitter / FOR THE DAILY NEWS

It's kind of funny that with all the debate about "papers, please" policies in border states like Arizona, it never got mentioned that places like McAllen, Texas, were already checkpoint-laden "constitution-free zones" where the cherished American right of free movement is illusory. My former Daily News colleague Jose Antonio Vargas, now arguably the nation's leading immigration advocate, learned that the hard way yesterday:

THREE YEARS AGO, Jose Antonio Vargas was a 30-year-old with the kind of career that most young journalists only dream of - a share of a Pulitzer Prize with the Washington Post, a coveted byline in the New Yorker - when he decided to risk everything on the truth.

The former Daily News intern confessed in a magazine article that he's been in the United States as an undocumented immigrant - brought here without papers from the Philippines at age 12 - and then announced he was leaving journalism to fight as an activist for the rights of some 12 million people who share his plight.

"Yeah, I'm fearful just like any undocumented person is fearful," Vargas told the Daily News in 2012, when asked if he was afraid of arrest and deportation. "I've always been looking over my shoulder. I've always had this nagging feeling that someone could pick me up."

The day that Vargas long feared almost came yesterday.

Vargas was released, and while he still has to appear at a hearing, the chances that he'll be able to stay in the United States are outstanding -- and that's good. For one thing, he personally broke no laws when he was sent here by adults at age 12, and America at this point is the only country he knows. And regardless of his documentation status, he is "American" in the best sense of the word -- a striver, a high achiever, a fearless man who has risked his own liberty while seeking justice for many.

And if his personal immigration plight is confusing and frustrating....that is not Jose's fault either. It's long past due for this country to adopt immigration rules that make sense, not just for Jose but for the realities of 12 million -- give or take -- others like him who are here, working, paying taxes and contributing to our society.