Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old immigrant who was brought to the United States as a child, is facing deportation without a court hearing after speaking to the media about that very fear, according to her attorney.
Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials detained Vargas’ brother and father outside their home in Mississippi. Vargas and her family came to the United States from Argentina, and her brother and father were living here undocumented. Vargas hid in a closet until agents obtained a warrant and entered the home. She was handcuffed but released when agents discovered her status as a “Dreamer.” (“Dreamer” refers to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] policy, which grants deportation exceptions for some children brought into the country illegally.)
Vargas’ status had expired in November but she was in the process of renewing it because she could not afford the $495 fee right away. She was able to apply in mid-February.
On Wednesday Vargas spoke at a news conference at Jackson City Hall.
“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 that is very much my country,” Vargas said.
While leaving the conference she was arrested by ICE agents. According to Vargas’ lawyer, Abigail Peterson, an officer said to Vargas, “You know what we are here for.” She was taken to a Louisiana detention center and is being held without bond.
The New York Times reported that Vargas, according to her attorney, “would be processed as a ‘visa waiver overstay,’ which means she would not be given a hearing and would be flown to Argentina.” This could happen in several weeks.
“[The arrest] could be retaliation,” Peterson said. “They had been reading about her in the news, they had seen her at this press conference… [maybe] they didn’t want to hear it anymore. Maybe I’m mistaken on that, but common sense would certainly imply that’s what happened.”
Peterson called it “mind-boggling” that Vargas is being held while her application is pending.
According to ICE agents, Vargas was arrested because they discovered her visa was expired. And since Vargas entered the country through the visa waiver program, she does not have the right to contest her removal. To obtain a waiver, individuals must give up the right “to contest, other than on the basis of an application for asylum, any action for removal.”
But Vargas was only seven when she came to America and was not old enough to make decisions regarding her rights, according to Peterson.
“She didn’t waive those rights, her parents waived those rights. And now she’s an adult trying to assert her own rights.”
ICE called Vargas’ situation routine, but some officials have questioned that assertion.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D) on Twitter called the incident “disturbing.”
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) March 1, 2017
California Sen. Kamala Harris (D), who also served as attorney general of California, weighed in on Twitter as well.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) March 1, 2017
President Donald Trump has made conflicting statements on his position regarding DACA. Recently he received praise for his seemingly lighter tone on immigration. But, as the Huffington Post reported, words and actions from the administration have been contradictory:
“Department of Homeland Security officials claim that DACA recipients are not being targeted for deportation. But advocates point out that recipients still can be considered a priority for deportation under the Trump administration’s guidance. And treatment of Dreamers has been haphazard over the past several weeks. Some people were left alone, like Vargas was initially. Others were detained and then released. A smaller number were arrested and remain in detention.
“‘It’s like a roll of the dice,’ said Gregory Chen, advocacy director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. ‘If the officer who picks you up along with other family members thinks, ‘You’re an OK kid, we’re going to let you go,’ maybe you’re OK. But if somebody sees it a different way, you could be subject to enforcement.’”