Detained After Speaking Out, 22-Year-Old ‘Dreamer’ Faces Immediate Deportation

‘The whole point is that I would do anything for this country,’ Daniela Vargas said from a detention center in Louisiana

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-3-2017

“I strongly feel that I belong here,” says 22-year-old Daniela Vargas. (Image: United We Dream)

Lawyers for a 22-year-old “Dreamer” named Daniela Vargas, whose parents brought her to the United States from Argentina when she was just seven years old, say she faces deportation without a hearing after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained her Wednesday morning.

Her arrest came just after she addressed an immigrant rights news conference in Jackson, Mississippi—and on the heels of remarks by President Donald Trump that supposedly indicated a softened stance on people like Vargas, undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

Vargas is currently being held without bond at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana, according to her attorneys, who filed a stay of removal Friday. The Clarion-Ledger reports that “[i]f the stay is denied, Vargas could be deported to Argentina in two to three weeks.”

CNN reported Friday morning: “Her attorneys are working to prepare a package with personal statements about Vargas from people who know her, in hopes of it landing in sympathetic hands that will grant her a trial instead of immediate deportation.”

Vargas released a statement through her lawyers on Thursday evening:

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 five 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.

Vargas had applied for renewal of her expired DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status before being detained on Wednesday. But Abby Peterson, one of her lawyers, told the Jackson Free Press that it “appears that immigration officers are not taking her application into consideration.”

The Free Press further reported:

Vargas is being processed as a “visa waiver overstay,” Peterson said, meaning that she does not get a hearing before a judge because her parents overstayed their visas back when they entered the country—when Vargas was seven years old.

How does a minor waive their rights? Well, probably their parents waive their rights for them, but now she’s a 22-year-old adult that wants to assert her rights, so can that waiver when she was seven years old carry over to now when she’s 22 years old?” Peterson told the Jackson Free Press. I think that there’s a strong legal argument to be made that no, the waiver that was given by her parents when she was seven does not carry over to now when she’s 22 years old.”

If Vargas is not considered as a “visa overstay,” then immigration officials would have to look at the whole picture, which as Peterson said, “she is about to be approved for DACA.”

Writing Thursday at The Nation, Julianne Hing put Vargas’ detention and potential deportation in the context of Trump’s immigration crackdown.

“When Obama was in the White House, the safest place for young undocumented immigrants like Vargas was in the public eye,” Hing wrote. “Declaring one’s immigration status provided a kind of political protection from being seized by immigration agents. The federal government was sensitive to being publicly shamed for pursuing the ‘wrong’ undocumented immigrants for removal.”

“What Vargas’s detention shows is that those days are over,” she continued. “The Trump administration is upending the unspoken norms of how the federal government will deal with undocumented immigrants. The once-safe places do not exist as such anymore. Those who were once the most sympathetic immigrants now join millions of other undocumented immigrants as the new targets.”

One rally was taking place Friday afternoon at the Mississippi state capitol building calling for Vargas’ release, while another was planned for later in the day outside the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.

A petition is currently circulating demanding the same.

“Our country must have immigration policies that are constitutional and remain true to our values,” U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement. “Ms. Vargas appears to have committed no crime and was only speaking out on behalf of her family, who is threatened by this President’s misguided immigration agenda. ICE’s assertion that her detention is ‘routine’ is absurd and seems anything but. Clearly, ICE resources used in this case would have been better utilized to find and detain dangerous criminals and get them off our streets.”

“As a DACA recipient she should be allowed to stay here,” Thompson said. “Those like Ms. Vargas just want a better life for themselves and their families and are true believers in the American dream—they should not be pushed further into the shadows.”

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