The Sustained Efforts of Activists Pay Off as Daniela Vargas Is Released From ICE Custody

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Last week, the story of Daniela Vargas – a 22-year-old woman possibly facing deportation without a trial – rallied the activist community. Today, immigration advocates are celebrating her release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. Vargas, who arrived in the United States at age 7, saw her dad and brother arrested by ICE officials a few weeks ago. She hid in her closet, but ICE broke into her house and handcuffed her. They eventually let her go. But because she was 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 shaken.

She went into hiding, but re-emerged last week to publicly speak about ICE targeting her family at a press conference. As a friend drove her away from the event, immigration officials stopped the car and detained her – a move many saw as retaliatory. When last Friday came around, her lawyer, Abby Peterson, said that the government would deport Dany 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. According to the Huffington Post, those who use this process to enter the country have no means to challenge the removal. Vargas’ DACA expired in November, but, because she was saving the $495 to renew her application, she didn’t submit it until February 10.

As her legal team prepared for a fight, so did many organizations, including Southern Poverty Law Center, National Immigration Law Center, and United We Dream – which Peterson said were instrumental in getting Dany released. Greisa Martinez, the advocacy director of United We Dream, further elaborated. “Make no mistake: community organizing led by immigrant youth and families combined with fierce advocacy across the country who called for Dany’s freedom, is what led to this moment,” she said in a press release.

We reached out to United We Dream to learn more about the strategies it implemented to advocate for Dany and learned that it stuck to what has worked in the past. UWD – who have also been calling for the release of Daniel Ramirez, a DACA recipient detained in February and accused of having gang ties – began by launching a petition for Dany.

“Besides the petition being signed, we made the decision last week to round up some of the folks who signed up to our Here to Stay Network, which was launched in the midst of the raids in February,” Sheridan Aguirre, communications coordinator for United We Dream, told me in a phone interview. “Folks were able to sign up for [Here to Stay Network] online to mobilize at the last second if something was needed to protect an immigrant. Last week, we made a decision to use that to make a call to mobilize folks outside of [the Department of Homeland Security]. And that’s where we delivered the 50,000 petitions. That same day and throughout the weekend was when the calls [to DHS] were made. In terms of organizing community, this is pretty much similar to the work we’ve done with other deportation cases. They’re the same kinds of avenues for fighting, because of course, internally, her attorneys are working on a legal strategy.”

And while no new methods were introduced this time around, it’s clear that UWD adapts to what’s happening. As people who are constantly in the trenches of the immigration fight, it’s tapped into the needs of this community. The Here to Stay Network, for example, came as a result of Donald Trump’s administration setting its eyes on a larger number of immigrants – even those who haven’t committed crimes – for deportation.

Today, Dany and her allies celebrate. But the victory’s short-lived. Dany now has an order of supervision, which can mean that she has to check in periodically with an immigration officer, according to the New York Times. Activists aren’t looking for short-term solutions; they want DACA recipients to feel safe in the only country they know. So their tireless fight continues.

“Yesterday ICE tweeted out the technicalities of the DACA policy by essentially saying that DACA is not a legal status that people can still be put into removal proceedings,” Aguirre added. “But that’s just rhetoric to justify the retaliation against Dany for speaking out about her family being targeted by an ice raid.”

“It’s just a justification for the coverup that they’re doing on Daniel’s case, saying that he’s affiliated with a gang member. We are very clearly seeing that ICE is painting all immigrants as a threat to this country. That’s why both Dany and Daniel, as well as other youth with DACA, need to be at least protected and why Secretary [of Homeland Security John] Kelly needs to take a public stand and say that folks with DACA will be protected under these executive orders.”