Daniela Vargas, 22, arrested in Mississippi after speaking out against ICE raids
Agency denies its immigration enforcement operations "target aliens indiscriminately"
Attorneys for a 22-year-old DREAMer detained after she publicly criticized immigration raids have filed a petition in federal court asking for her immediate release.
But Daniela Vargas’ fate is up in the air. She could get released, or she could be deported.
“Technically they can deport her at any moment,” said Nathan Elmore, one of her attorneys.
Vargas was arrested last week, shortly after sharing her family’s story during a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi. She told the story of her father and brother, who were recently arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Vargas also advocated for young people such as herself who were brought to the United States illegally as children, then qualified for a temporary reprieve from deportation under DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
DACA participants are often called DREAMers, a reference to the DREAM Act – which, if approved by Congress, would give them permanent legal status.
“Immediately following the press conference, ICE agents arrested and detained Ms. Vargas in retaliation for the exercise of her First Amendment rights,” states the habeas petition, which was filed Monday in US District Court in Alexandria, Louisiana.
“Ms. Vargas’ continued detention and inability to contest her detention and removal violate her Fifth and First Amendment rights.”
ICE released a statement last week saying Vargas was arrested during one of its “targeted enforcement” operations.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took Daniela Vargas, 22, an unlawfully present Argentinian citizen, into custody March 1, during a targeted immigration enforcement action in Jackson, Mississippi,” the statement said.
“Every day, as part of routine targeted enforcement operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations teams arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws. ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”
DACA status lapsed, family arrested
Vargas said she arrived in the United States with her family at age 7 as an undocumented immigrant from Argentina and later was granted DACA status, which lasts two years.
One of her attorneys, Abby Peterson, said Vargas’ DACA status expired in November. She could not immediately afford the minimum $495 renewal application fee, Peterson said, and put off the process until last month. The government recommends DACA recipients apply for a renewal between 150 and 120 days before their status expires.
Days after Vargas reapplied, her father and brother were taken into ICE custody at their home, on February 15.
Goico De la Cruz, a Methodist pastor and friend of the Vargas family, told CNN Friday that Daniella’s father has agreed to be deported to Argentina while her brother prefers to go to Mexico, the native country of his wife, who’s also undocumented. De la Cruz said he visited the family members at a detention center on Friday.
And even though Vargas’ DACA status has expired, she shouldn’t be a high-priority target for deportation, her attorneys said.
“Dany, an aspiring math teacher and active community member, is not a threat to her community,” her attorneys said in a statement. “Her detention only serves to chill free speech and stoke fear throughout immigrant communities.”
Hope for reprieve
Vargas spoke to her attorneys from the ICE detention center in Jena, Louisiana. She shared with them her fears.
“I don’t understand why they don’t want me. I’m doing the best I can. 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.
Vargas’ attorneys hoped to deliver their package to the detention center on Friday.
“Like so many immigrants, she doesn’t take this country for granted,” Peterson said. “She has pursued an education, she works hard, she pays her taxes. She is a very deserving individual.”
CNN’s Gustavo Valdes, Holly Yan and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.