Editor’s note: Daniela Vargas’s attorneys, with Elmore & Peterson Law Firm, said on March 3 they filed a stay of removal with ICE in Oakdale, La. on behalf of Vargas. In a statement, her lawyers say: “A request was filed concurrently with the Department of Homeland Security to exercise its discretion to place Miss Vargas in proceedings before an immigration judge. We expect a decision to be made within the next week.”
Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old Jackson area resident who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after speaking at a news conference this week, will not get a hearing before an immigration judge, her lawyer said.
Currently, Vargas is at LaSalle Detention Center, an ICE facility in Jena, La. Vargas was detained for being a “visa overstay” and is being processed for deportation with no bond.
Abigail Peterson, Vargas’ immigration attorney with the Jackson-based Elmore & Peterson law firm, said ICE officials told her on Thursday that Vargas will not get a court hearing or bond because she entered the United States on a visa waiver program.
The visa waiver program allows certain international visitors to enter the U.S. for less than 90 days without a visa. 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.
Vargas and her family came to the U.S. in 2001 from Cordova, Argentina, on this visitor’s visa and never went back.
Peterson said part of the issue is that Vargas was 7 years old when she came to the United States. She added that the case raises serious legal issues, including whether Vargas’s waiver would apply in this circumstance; whether the waiver was even signed; and whether the waiver could be waived on behalf of a minor, Peterson said.
“All of those issues are relevant to this case, which further underlines the necessity of having an immigration judge look at this case and not just having ICE making their own assumptions about whether or not this should apply,” Peterson said.
Thomas Byrd, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement Wednesday that a federal immigration judge would determine Vargas’s custody status and decide whether she is eligible for immigration relief.
Byrd said ICE would wait on the outcome of these proceedings before taking further action.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state’s lone Democrat in Congress, released a statement Thursday about Vargas’ detainment.
“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,” Thompson said.
“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,” Thompson said. “As a DACA recipient she should be allowed to stay here. 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.”
Vargas was previously protected from deportation by 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, Peterson said.
Her DACA status expired in November, and her most recent application was received Feb. 10.
Peterson said United States Citizenship and Immigration could deliver a response to Vargas’s DACA application around July. This would grant her a two-year work permit.
“She will have to take fingerprints sometime before then, which would require the cooperation of ICE,” Peterson said.
On Feb. 15, Vargas barricaded herself in a closet as ICE agents arrested her father and brother.
ICE 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, Byrd said.
Peterson said she spoke with Vargas Thursday.
“She’s frustrated and she’s worried and scared,” Peterson said. “All that said, she has maintained her strength in terms of the desire to fight to stay here, and asserts this is her home, and she wants to continue to live here. She’s wants to be given the opportunity to show her talents to this country.”