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A Jackson area resident who barricaded herself in a closet as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested her father and brother two weeks ago was detained by ICE agents Wednesday morning after speaking at an immigrant rights news conference.
Daniela Vargas, 22, was detained for being a “visa overstay” and is being processed for removal with no bond, according to Abigail Peterson, Vargas’ immigration attorney with Jackson-based Elmore & Peterson law firm.
Vargas is being processed at a Department of Homeland Security bureau in Pearl, then will likely go to a detention location in Louisiana, though Peterson said she was not sure which one.
Thomas Byrd, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement Wednesday that Vargas is an “unlawfully present Argentinian citizen” and that her arrest was part of “routine targeted enforcement operations.”
“ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately,” Byrd said.
A federal immigration judge will determine Vargas’s custody status and decide whether she is eligible for immigration relief. Byrd said ICE will wait on the outcome of these proceedings before taking further action.
Vargas has been protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She disclosed her visa information in her first application for DACA in 2012, and a second application in 2014.
“At some point within 2012 is when United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and Department of Homeland Security had knowledge of it,” Peterson said.
Vargas filed for DACA for the third time in February. If approved, Vargas was due to receive her two-year work permit around July.
Byrd said ICE encountered Vargas at her residence Feb. 15 and did not arrest her because she said she was a DACA recipient. At a later date, ICE discovered Vargas does not currently have approved DACA status.
Peterson said the arrest is unusual because there have been specific exceptions carved out in executive orders and memos that seem to give leniency to DACA applicants.
“I’m surprised that this even happened under the Trump administration,” Peterson said.
She said Vargas’ DACA application had every indication that it would be successfully renewed again.
“There’s no criminal charges, no criminal convictions, no significant changes that would preclude a successful renewal,” Peterson said. “To my understanding, there is no good reason for law enforcement to go after her.”
In Vargas’ case, no bond means her attorneys would have to appeal to a higher authority, either through the New Orleans Field Office for ICE in Oakdale, La., or an immigration judge who could hear her case.
At this point, Vargas’ DACA application will continue to be processed by Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Peterson said her firm doesn’t have other cases where the person is in the spotlight so they are not dealing with similar arrests at this time.
“If people have filed and are pending renewal and their status expires, I don’t know if that makes them any kind of priority of removal,” Peterson said. “It just seems like a waste of resources. Immigration court is already overwhelmed. It’s already very expensive to house people in detention, and for what purpose? We fully expect her DACA to be approved.”
According to a Clarion-Ledger report, Vargas and her family came to the United States in 2001 from Cordova, Argentina, on a three-month visitor’s visa and never went back.
On Feb. 15, ICE agents arrested her father and brother as they were on their way to work. Vargas barricaded herself in a closet as agents broke into the house. Vargas told the Clarion-Ledger she was handcuffed while agents searched the house for “drugs and guns.”
The news conference on Wednesday brought together more than 10 nonprofits, lawyers, business owners and their allies to speak out against state and national policy directed against undocumented immigrants.
Participants brought up last week’s arrests of at least 55 people in central Mississippi eating establishments by ICE officials. The news conference also highlighted anti-sanctuary cities legislation Senate Bill 2710 and how it affects undocumented Mississippians who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
At the event, Vargas spoke about how her parents migrated to the United States when she was 7 and her upbringing.
“I put all my efforts into my education,” Vargas said. “I dream of being a university math professor. Now I’m not so sure my dream will continue to develop.”
Vargas stated why she feels the path to citizenship is necessary for those who are undocumented.
“Given the chance, DREAMers (a name for unauthorized immigrants who qualify for the deferred action initiative) can increase the U.S. economy by $329 million and jobs by 1.4 million,” Vargas said. “Today, my father and brother await deportation, while I continue to fight this battle every day to help contribute to this country.”