A young woman applying for the renewal of her Daca status was arrested and detained by immigration agents in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday, shortly after she addressed a press conference in support of undocumented migrants’ rights.
Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old who came to the US as a seven-year-old child from Cordoba, Argentina, had told the rally how she dreamed of returning to college and becoming a math teacher, according to her attorneys.
Shortly after the event, as she was driven along an interstate highway by a friend, she was pulled over by Immigration and Customs Agents (Ice) and arrested, said immigration attorney Nathan Elmore. Vargas had been a recipient of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, which allows undocumented migrants relief from deportation and education and work rights.
But her Daca status had recently expired, with her attorneys lodging an unresolved renewal application in recent weeks, Elmore said.
“She is not a danger to society. She is a good person who can contribute and she’s the sort of person that the Daca legislation envisaged. It was correct for her to be under there, and we hope she can get under that statute again,” said Elmore. “But first we have to get her out of jail.”
The Trump administration has empowered immigration agents to effectively target most, if not all, of America’s 11 million undocumented migrants for deportation under sweeping reforms that vastly expand the agency’s powers. Nonetheless, the president has been cautious to comment on the Daca program, which still remain in place. Homeland security officials have suggested that Daca recipients will not be a priority for deportation.
Ice spokesman Thomas Byrd did not respond to a set of questions from the Guardian but confirmed that Vargas has been arrested by agents during a so-called “targeted immigration enforcement action”. The spokesman described Vargas as an “unlawfully present Argentinian citizen”.
Vargas’s brother and father were arrested and detained in February after Ice agents arrived at their family home. Vargas told local media at the time she had hid in her bedroom closet out of fear, and was eventually handcuffed by officers who broke down her door after a five-hour standoff. On that occasion, however, Vargas was released.
“During that time, I couldn’t even breathe, honestly,” Vargas told the Clarion Ledger in February. “I just watched them handcuff my dad and take them. I was scared for my life. I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything. I called my mom and I just let out a cry. I didn’t even get to see my brother leave; I think that was the harshest thing for me.”
Ice said they moved to verify Vargas’s immigration status after the incident on 15 February and her case will now be referred to an immigration judge.
Elmore said his firm had not heard from Vargas since her arrest earlier on Wednesday, but he believed she had been transferred to Ice detention in Louisiana. He would not comment on whether the arrest was retaliation for Vargas’s conversations with the media.
Since Trump has assumed office, a handful of Daca recipients have been apprehended by Ice agents and remain in detention.
“Every day, as part of routine targeted enforcement operations, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Fugitive Operations teams arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws,” Byrd said in a statement. “Ice conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. Ice does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”