Legal groups petition court to stop deportation of Daniela Vargas

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Kendra Ablaza, Mississippi Today

Daniela Vargas, 22, speaks at a news conference for immigrant rights March 1 before United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested her.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Immigration Law Center have filed a legal petition in an attempt to stop the deportation of Daniela Vargas.

The 22-year-old Mississippi resident, who came to the United States from Argentina as a 7-year-old and was allowed to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was detained by immigration agents immediately after she spoke at an immigrants’ rights press conference March 1 in Jackson.

Claiming the government violated Vargas’ due process and First Amendment rights, both centers, Elmore & Peterson Law Firm in Jackson and the Law Office of William Most in New Orleans filed a habeas petition Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Alexandria Division.

At the news conference outside Jackson City Hall, Vargas spoke about her hopes that she and other undocumented residents could remain in and contribute to the United States. On her way home from the gathering, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested her for being a “visa overstay”.

Vargas is currently at LaSalle Detention Center, an ICE facility in Jena, La.

“Detaining Dany just minutes after she spoke publicly about immigrants’ rights appears to be nothing short of ICE retaliating against somebody who dared assert their First Amendment rights,” Naomi Tsu, deputy legal director for the SPLC, said in a statement.  “Dany, an aspiring math teacher and active community member, is not a threat to her community. Her detention only serves to chill free speech and stoke fear throughout immigrant communities.”

This habeas petition seeks Vargas’ immediate release and a chance to challenge the decision to deport her, says a statement from the nonprofit organizations.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also announced on Tuesday afternoon that Vargas has filed an emergency motion for stay of removal, which would temporarily stop her deportation. This is added to Vargas’ attorneys’ request submitted Friday that ICE officials release Vargas from detention and stay her removal, which is still pending.

Last week, Abigail Peterson, Vargas’ immigration attorney with Elmore & Peterson, said ICE officials told her Vargas would not get a court hearing before an immigration judge or bond because she entered the United States on a visa waiver program at age 7.

Those who use the program do not have a right to a hearing or to contest their removal unless they are seeking asylum, according to information from Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

Peterson questions whether Vargas’ waiver would apply in this circumstance because Vargas was brought to Mississippi from Argentina at a young age in 2001.

Vargas had been a DACA recipient from 2012 through 2016. Peterson said Vargas also disclosed her visa information in her previous applications for DACA in 2012 and 2014.

Vargas’ work authorization in the U.S. under DACA expired last November as she was saving for the $495 application filing fee to renew her status. Her latest DACA application, submitted around Feb. 10, is pending.

Vargas’ arrest made national headlines and during a legislative session in which Mississippi lawmakers have considered several bills designed to crackdown on the presence of undocumented immigrants. Most of the proposals were unsuccessful. However, a Senate bill barring sanctuary city policies passed out of a House committee late last month.

“ICE’s decision to pursue and apprehend Daniela following several news stories in which she spoke out about ICE enforcement evidences a clear abuse of discretion,” Peterson said. “We hope to soon secure the release of Daniela and remind everyone that ICE’s broadened enforcement authority will not curtail fundamental human rights.”