Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old female immigrant in Mississippi after she had given a speech on immigration at a news conference on Wednesday. Vargas was detained although she was in the process of renewing her status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows immigrants who were brought to the county as children to stay legally.
ICE agents detained Vargas on Wednesday, shortly after she spoke at a news conference that took place outside Jackson City Hall. The news conference was organized by immigration activists and attorneys, according to the Los Angeles Times.
During her speech, she denounced immigration raids and spoke about the ordeal of immigrants living in fear of deportation. She then expressed the hope that “Dreamers” and other immigrants would be granted a path to citizenship.
“Today, my father and brother await deportation while I continue to fight this battle as a Dreamer to help contribute to this country, which I feel is very much my country,” she said at the conference, according to the Hill.
DACA recipient Daniela Vargas was hauled away by ICE just hours after speaking at an immigrant rights rally: pic.twitter.com/JGkVF5xKHD— Fusion (@Fusion) March 2, 2017
“A path for citizenship is necessary for DACA recipients but also for the other 11 million undocumented people with dreams,” she added, according to the New York Magazine.
Vargas’ parents brought her from Cordoba in Argentina to the U.S. when she was 7-years-old, the Guardian reports. She later received protection from deportation under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She graduated from high school in Mississippi and started at the University of Southern Mississippi. She hopes to return to complete her education and become a maths professor.
Vargas’ attorney, Abigail Peterson, said she was taken into custody by Immigration agents in Jackson, Mississippi, soon after she left the news conference in a friend’s car.
Two law enforcement vehicles reportedly intercepted Vargas and her friend on a freeway, according to the Associated Press.
According to Peterson, four officers arrested, handcuffed and took her into custody.
“They [ICE agents] asked questions like, ‘Do you know who we are? You know why we’re here?’”
Vargas’ detention came after ICE agents detained her father and brother at their home in Jackson. Vargas barricaded herself in her bedroom closet after the agents broke into their house and took her father and brother away.
The agents broke down the door and arrested her after a five-hour standoff, according to the Guardian. But they later released her.
“They released her because she had a pending DACA case,” Peterson explained. “What changed between then and two weeks later is the big question.”
Vargas went into hiding after she was released. She decided to come out of hiding to attend the news conference in Jackson, Mississippi, the Clarion Ledger reports.
Vargas has no criminal history and was studying at university and hoping to become a math professor. She was granted DACA status in 2012 and 2014, Peterson said.
DACA is the Obama administration’s program for immigrants brought into the U.S. as children. The program allows them to work legally and protects them from being arrested for deportation.
Immigrants protected under DACA have to reapply to renew their status every two years.
Varga’s DACA status expired in November, and she was in the process of renewing it when ICE agents took her into custody. She was unable to file an application for renewal of her status immediately after it expired in November because she was trying to raise $495 needed to file the application.
Her attorneys filed an application for renewal of her status under DACA mid-February after she had raised the money.
But a statement by Thomas Byrd, spokesperson for ICE, described Vargas as an “unlawfully present Argentinian citizen” taken into custody during a “targeted immigration enforcement action.”
Byrd went on to explain that during the previous encounter with Vargas on February 15, immigration agents “exercised discretion to not take her into custody due to her claim that she had DACA.”
But, according to Byrd, “subsequent to this encounter, ICE verified that Ms. Vargas does not currently have approved DACA status.”
But her attorney, Peterson, explained that it is unusual for someone who has filed an application for renewal of her status and has her application pending to be detained.
Byrd said that an immigration judge will determine Vargas’ case.
Several Democratic Senators criticized Vargas’ detention.
“Talking publicly about fears of deportation is not a crime and should not get someone detained,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted.
“Disturbing that ICE may have followed her from an immigration press conference,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) also tweeted.
Senator Durbin was reacting to claims that Vargas was targeted deliberately by ICE agents to punish her for speaking out on behalf of Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants.
Vargas’ arrest comes after ICE agents conducted several immigration enforcement operations in Mississippi. About 55 people were detained on “immigration-related charges” after raids at Asian restaurants in the state.
President Donald Trump has pledged to step up efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants and to end the Obama administration’s DACA program.
But he has given conflicting signals recently, raising the possibility that his administration will look at the case of people protected under DACA with compassion.
“We’re going to deal with DACA with heart,” he said.
He also suggested that his administration could consider a compromise plan that will grant immigrants with no criminal record legal status.
[Featured Image by Charles Reed/ICE/AP Images]