Update, March 10 at 1 p.m.: After being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents after she spoke out at a press conference, 22-year-old Daniela Vargas was set to be deported without a trial. But a week later, Vargas’ lawyer Abby Peterson has announced that she will be released today, according to The Clarion-Ledger.
“We expect Daniela to return to her friends and community in Mississippi shortly to resume her daily life and pursue her dreams,” Peterson said in a statement. “Court filings regarding the reason and manner of arrest and detention continue to be pursued in an effort to secure Daniela’s rights. We maintain our commitment to the rights of all persons in the US, regardless of immigration status. We appreciate the ongoing support and work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, National Immigration Law Center, United We Dream, and the many others who have come out in support of Daniela.”
On Monday, the SPLC, the National Immigration Law Center, Peterson’s firm (Elmore & Peterson) and the Law Office of William Most filed a habeas petition, which says that someone’s detention is unlawful, calling for her release with the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
Read more about Daniela’s story below.
Currently, a 22-year-old immigrant who has lived in the United States since age 7 faces deportation – possibly without a trial. A couple of weeks ago, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested her dad and brother on their driveway, Daniela Vargas went into hiding. As an undocumented immigrant awaiting the renewal of her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status – which grants immigrants brought to the United States at a young age the right to work and attend school – Vargas felt terrified.
ICE agents eventually broke down the door to her home and found her hiding in a closet, according to The Clarion-Ledger. They handcuffed her and her brother, but they eventually let her go. But at a time when the Donald Trump administration has set its eyes on a larger number of immigrants – even those who haven’t committed crimes – for deportation, Daniela feared for her safety. After two years of receiving protection from DACA, she decided to go back into the shadows.
Earlier this week, Daniela re-emerged – she attended a press conference to speak about her recent experiences. As a friend drove her away from the news conference, ICE agents stopped the vehicle and arrested her. “We believed, because she was a DACA recipient whom ICE had already declined to pick up, that she was safe,” Angela Stuesse, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who’s known Daniela for about 15 years, told me. “When we last spoke she was enthusiastic to participate because she hoped her story could help others. She worked to carefully think through how to best represent her story, and she went to the press conference poised [and] prepared. She spoke not just for DREAMers, but for the dreams of all 11 million undocumented residents of the United States.”
Vargas’ DACA expired in November, but, according to the Huffington Post, because she was saving the $495 to renew her application, she didn’t submit it until February 10. Stuesse notes that she filed her application less than two months after her DACA expired. “She has already received the receipt of her application, and the biometrics appointment is set for sometime next week,” she added.
Her arrest sparked fear and anger across the immigrant community. And on Thursday, her lawyer, Abby Peterson, announced that the government will deport Daniela without a court hearing. The Vargas family arrived to the United States from Argentina through a visa waiver program (which Argentines no longer qualify for) that allows immigrants to stay in the country for less than 90 days without a visa. The Huffington Post reports that those who use this process to enter the country have no means to challenge the removal.
Her lawyer argues that Vargas didn’t choose to waive those rights. “She was 7 years old at the time [she came to the US],” Peterson said. “She didn’t waive those rights, her parents waived those rights. And now she’s an adult trying to assert her own rights.”
Through her lawyer, Vargas explained why she deserves a chance to continue living in the United States. The aspiring math professor said she doesn’t know any other home than the United States.
— Mississippi Today (@MSTODAYnews) March 3, 2017
“I strongly feel that I belong here and I strongly feel that I should be given a chance to be here and do something good and work in this economy,” she said. “There’s so much that I can bring to the table, so much, like I can even teach music. I’m an excellent trumpet player; you can ask my mom about any of that. I’m great with math. I speak Spanish. You know, there’s a lot of stuff I can do for this country that they’re not allowing me to do. I’ve even tried to join the military, and I can’t do that. But, I mean, that’s not the point. The whole point is that I would do anything for this country.”
Vargas’ case highlights the question that many other DACA recipients are grappling with: should they renew? DACA – which the Trump Administration has yet to scrap – only protects recipients for two years. After that, they must reapply to continue benefiting from the program. President Trump has cast a wide net and aims to deport a larger number of undocumented immigrants. Just last week, the Department of Homeland Security released two memos that laid out how it will bring Trump’s vision to fruition, including by expediting the deportation process and hiring 10,000 new ICE agents.
In the last few weeks, ICE has detained a few DACA recipients only to eventually release some of them. But there’s really no blueprint. One thing that immigration advocates and lawyers seem to unanimously agree on is that if a person has never applied for DACA, now’s not the time to apply. “I’m advising clients not to file new DACA applications,” Cleveland attorney David Leopold – a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association – told me. “This administration is clearly deporting Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants with stellar backgrounds. As for DACA renewals, it’s a judgment call. The Department of Homeland Security already has their information. However, there is risk in submitting anything to a DHS run by General Kelly who has shown that he’s more than willing to do Trump’s anti-immigrant bidding.”
Leopold suggests that others who find themselves in a similar position as Daniela – awaiting DACA renewal – should reach out to a lawyer to learn if there’s anything they can do to stay safe. “Everyone’s case is different,” he added. “There is no one size fits all. Legal options vary depending on how someone entered the US, their immigration history while here and other factors.”
But he also asserts that someone like Daniela should not have been in this position in the first place. DACA recipients are heavily vetted, and they don’t pose any threat to national security or public safety. “She should not be considered a deportation priority just because of technicality,” he said.
Currently, Daniela awaits deportation at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana. The Clarion Ledger reports that Daniela’s lawyer Peterson and her partner, Nathan Elmore, filed a stay of removal today. If denied, ICE may deport her in the next two to three weeks.
Meanwhile, activists are once again mobilizing. They held a rally today, and United We Dream started a petition calling for her release. So far, 21,000 have signed. (Add your signature here.) Christina Jimenez, the executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, posted a Facebook message urging others to fight for Daniela. “Please call the Department of Homeland Security’s Deputy Secretary and the members of congress listed below to demand they used their power to release Daniel and Daniela, both immigrant youth who have #DACA!” she wrote on Facebook, adding that you’ll likely have to leave a message but that you should state why you’re calling.
Deputy DHS Secretary: 1-888-872-5316
Senator Cochran: 1-213-335-2336
Senator Wicker: 1-202-517-2078
Senator McConnell: 1-210-714-2768