WASHINGTON ― A 22-year-old undocumented immigrant arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday after speaking to the media about her family’s detention is set to be deported without a court hearing, her attorney said on Thursday.
Daniela Vargas, who came to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 7 years old, previously had a work permit and deportation reprieve under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Her DACA status expired last November, and because she was saving money for the renewal — which costs $495 — her new application wasn’t received until Feb. 10.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for ICE said Vargas would go through court proceedings to determine whether she is eligible for some type of relief, adding that the agency would take no further action until those proceedings were completed.
But Abby Peterson, Vargas’ attorney, said ICE agents told her on Thursday that they would instead pursue immediate deportation without a court hearing or bond because Vargas entered the country through the visa waiver program, which allows certain foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for under 90 days without a visa. (Argentina was previously part of the program, although it no longer is.) Individuals who use the visa waiver program have no right to a hearing or to contest their removal unless they are seeking asylum.
Peterson argued that the facts of Vargas’ case should be considered, including that she received DACA relief and had reapplied to the program.
“She was 7 years old at the time [she came to the U.S.],” 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.”
An ICE spokesman said the agency has no additional comment on Vargas’ case and directed The Huffington Post to the statement it made on Wednesday.
“She was 7 years old at the time [she came to the U.S.]. She didn’t waive those rights, her parents waived those rights. And now she’s an adult trying to assert her own rights.”
Vargas’ father and brother were detained on their way to work on Feb. 15. After her father was apprehended in the driveway, Vargas hid in the house for hours until ICE agents came in with a warrant, wielding guns. Agents questioned Vargas about her DACA status — an ICE official claimed she said she had it — but let her go.
When HuffPost emailed with her on Tuesday, Vargas — who was planning to go back to school to study to be a math professor — said she was moving around because she was “afraid to stay in one spot and be taken back to Argentina.”
Vargas talked to news outlets about ICE picking up her brother and father, and on Wednesday, she appeared at a press conference about immigrants’ contributions to the community. She was pulled over and arrested by ICE after leaving the press conference that day.
Vargas’ plight has drawn the attention of numerous immigration advocates, inspiring several social media hashtags — including #FreeDaniela. United We Dream, an immigrant rights group, also started a petition asking DHS Secretary John Kelly to grant her protection from deportation, which had received more than 11,000 signatures by Thursday.
Several lawmakers have raised questions about Vargas’ detention. “ICE’s assertion that her detention is ‘routine’ is absurd and seems anything but,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement on Thursday. “Those like Ms. Vargas just want a better life for themselves and their families.”
Vargas is currently being held at an ICE detention facility in Louisiana. She asked Peterson to share her message that she wants a chance to contribute to the U.S.
“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,” Vargas said, according to Peterson, who recorded their conversation.
“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.”
Read Vargas’ full comments on her detention below:
I don’t understand why they don’t want me. I’m doing the best I can. I mean I can’t help that I was brought here but I don’t know anything else besides being here and I didn’t realize that until I was in a holding cell last night for 5 hours. I was brought here. I didn’t choose to be here. And when I was brought here, I had to learn a whole new country and leave behind the one that I did know. And I barely knew that one. I feel, 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. 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 that 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.