A 22-year-old who was detained by immigration authorities as she was leaving a press conference on immigrants’ rights will be released from detention on Friday.
Daniela Vargas was in the process of renewing her application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), the Obama administration program that temporarily protects from deportation undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children. Vargas spoke at a rally in Jackson, Mississippi, last week about her dream of becoming a math teacher.
But as she was leaving the event, she was pulled over by Immigration and Customs Agents (Ice), arrested, and transferred to a detention center in Jena, Louisiana.
Last week, Ice informed Vargas’s attorneys that it would pursue immediate deportation without allowing her to first have a court hearing. Vargas’s lawyers filed a petition challenging Ice’s decision.
On Friday morning, her attorneys said Vargas would be released under an order of supervision. Ice confirmed her release on Friday.
“This is a day, at least it is a moment, for celebration in what has been a terrifying set of months for the immigrant community and their families,” said Karen Tumlin, legal director for the National Immigration Law Center. “[Vargas] spoke up against the oppressive immigration force that the Trump administration has put in play that is literally separating our families and terrifying our communities.”
On the day of her arrest, Vargas was speaking at a press conference organized by local businesses, churches and advocacy groups to oppose an anti-immigration law proposed in Mississippi.
As she was being driven away from the event by a friend, Ice agents stopped and detained her. Although Vargas’s Daca permit had expired, her renewal application was under review.
Under Obama in the latter years of his presidency, Ice was directed to focus on convicted criminals. Trump’s policy changes encourage Ice to pursue and detain any immigrant suspected of a crime, but he has maintained in speeches that his goal is to focus on “criminals”. Deporting so-called “Dreamers” who came to the US as children would be a dramatic expansion of his policy. In February, the Daca recipient Daniel Ramirez was also detained by Ice agents. Officials allege he is a “gang member”, an affiliation Ramirez denies.
And on Thursday, the agency sent a series of tweets clarifying that Daca recipients were not inherently protected from deportation:
DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority— ICE (@ICEgov) March 9, 2017
Since the start of DACA in 2012, DHS has terminated deferred action for approx. 1,500 recipients due to criminality or gang affiliation— ICE (@ICEgov) March 9, 2017
Vargas’s lawyer, Nathan Elmore, said at a press conference on Friday he does not know why Ice granted Vargas’s release. Fellow lawyer Abigail Peterson cautioned that there is still a removal order against Vargas, meaning “they could enforce it at any point”.
She said until her request for a block on the removal is granted, “I’m not going to feel as secure as I’d like to about her release.”
Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, credited public pressure with Ice’s about-face.
“I think the combination of the community pressure, the very broad pressure, not only from within the United States but from outside of the United States as well, on this case, contributed to the pressure that got her released,” Chandler said.
Vargas’s family immigrated to the US from Córdoba, Argentina, when she was seven years old, on a visa-waiver program that allowed them to stay for 90 days. They stayed in the US beyond that period. For years, Vargas’s parents worked in Mississippi poultry plants.