United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Friday released Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old Mississippi resident who was detained by immigration agents immediately after she spoke at an immigrants’ rights press conference in Jackson.
Vargas was detained at LaSalle Detention Center, an ICE facility in Jena, La. She was released around noon and is traveling back to the Jackson area with a friend, according to Elmore & Peterson, a Jackson-based law firm representing Vargas.
Attorney Nathan Elmore said it was not immediately clear why Vargas was released.
“I think it’s really ICE exercising their discretion,” Elmore said. “We made a formal request that they do that this past Friday. … I don’t know that (the ICE agent overseeing Vargas’ case) made the final decision, but I think that was probably the vehicle that moved it along.”
ICE spokesman Thomas Byrd confirmed Vargas’ release but declined to comment further on Vargas’ case.
The law firm said in a statement that it expects Vargas “to return to her friends and community in Mississippi shortly to resume her daily life and pursue her dreams.”
However, Vargas’ journey does not end here. ICE released Vargas under an order of supervision, which means she has been released from ICE’s custody for the time being but not from her outstanding order of removal, her attorneys said during a news conference call Friday afternoon.
“That’s one thing that the legal team is working on is to get that withdrawn for various reasons,” said Abigail Peterson, one of Vargas’ immigration attorneys with Elmore & Peterson. “Because that removal order is still there, (ICE) could enforce it at any point for whatever reason.”
Vargas must also report to an ICE office in Pearl on the first week of next month, though her attorneys have said they are not sure if there are other conditions at this time.
After coming the United States from Argentina as a 7-year-old in 2001, Vargas and was allowed to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from 2012 through 2016.
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.
If approved, Vargas’ DACA case would not do much to protect her, Peterson said. The law firm submitted a request last week that ICE officials release Vargas from detention and stay her removal, which would temporarily stop her deportation, but it has not been granted as of yet, she said.
“Until that’s granted, I’m not going to feel as secure as I would like to about her release, which is great thing, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Peterson said.
At a March 1 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, ICE agents arrested her for being a “visa overstay”.
Last week, 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.
This is being challenged by legal groups. Earlier this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Immigration Law Center filed a legal petition that sought Vargas’ immediate release and a chance to challenge the decision to deport her, claiming the government violated Vargas’ due process and First Amendment rights.
Both centers, Elmore & Peterson Law Firm 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.
Southern Poverty Law Center’s senior supervising attorney Kristi Graunke said the petition is now being transferred to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. It is now being treated as a petition for review of a removal order.
“We will continue to fight any removal order that is being lodged against Daniela in this case,” Graunke said. “We’re still reviewing the court’s decision and weighing our options, but we expect that we will need to be preparing legal filings and moving forward with the case in the next few months or weeks.”
Vargas’ arrest made national headlines earlier this month 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, the only remaining bill addressing illegal immigration is Senate Bill 2710, which bars sanctuary city policies. The bill passed out of the Mississippi House of Representatives this week.