Nearly 20 supporters showed up to the Capitol Friday afternoon to leave hand-written messages for their legislators in support of releasing Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old Jackson area resident detained by federal immigration officers this week after speaking at an immigrant rights news conference.
The rally, which the nonprofit Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance led, aimed to raise awareness and show support for Vargas. Organizers asked her supporters to write messages expressing why they support Vargas’s release on sticky notes and leave those notes and fliers in the offices of state legislators, who had adjourned for the week.
“What we want to do is go in and take the fliers and sticky notes, put them on the door and … tell the legislators to look at the flier,” said L. Patricia Ice, the nonprofit’s legal project director.
The fliers were bright pink and read “Stop Daniela Vargas’s Deportation” in capital letters. Below that slogan were links to news articles about Vargas’s ICE arrest and background story.
Vargas’s arrest has made national headlines and comes amidst a legislative session when the Mississippi Legislature has considered several bills designed to crackdown on the presence of undocumented immigrants. Most of the proposals were unsuccessful. However, one exception is a Senate bill barring sanctuary city policies, which passed out of a House committee last week.
Senate Bill 2710 would prevent Mississippi counties, cities, colleges, state agencies and others from having or enabling policies designed to limit cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement.
Supporters of the bill have said that no government entitities or colleges in the state have adopted sanctuary resolutions or laws. The city of Jackson passed an anti-racial profiling ordinance in 2010, which immigration hardliners have characterized as a sanctuary law.
This year, the Legislature also reviewed The Mississippi First Higher Education Act, or HB 600, which would have barred colleges and universities from practicing affirmative action or becoming a “sanctuary” for undocumented students. The bill would have also denied undocumented students admission into any post-secondary school in the state and make them ineligible for grants, scholarships or financial aid. The bill died in committee at the end of January.
Vargas’s cause has prompted Twitter hashtags #FreeDany and #FreeDaniela and has caught the attention of Congress members around the country. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. showed their support for Vargas via social media.
“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,” said U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, which has oversight of federal immigration enforcement agencies, in a statement.
As of Friday, Vargas was not allowed a hearing before an immigration judge, according to Abigail Peterson, Vargas’ immigration attorney with the Jackson-based Elmore & Peterson law firm.
Vargas will not get a court hearing or bond because she entered the United States on a visa waiver program, Peterson said.
“The argument that we were trying to make for Daniela is that she was only seven when she came, so her parents may have signed away their right (to a court hearing before a federal immigration judge),” Ice told the crowd. “They should not have been able to sign away her right because she was a child. I don’t know if that argument is working.”
Vargas and her family came to the U.S. in 2001 from Cordova, Argentina on a three-month visitor’s visa and never went back.
Vargas was 7 years old when she came to the United States. She 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.
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, said Thomas Byrd, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
After Vargas spoke at an immigrant rights news conference outside Jackson City Hall on Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested her on her way home. Currently, Vargas is at LaSalle Detention Center, an ICE facility in Jena, La.
Pearl resident Jordan Sanders attended the rally because Vargas is a friend she has known for six months. The two met while working together at Freshii, a restaurant in Flowood, she said.
“We are hopefully trying to get her free because she has good behavior and this shouldn’t be happening to her,” Sanders, 21, said. “Good behavior shouldn’t be punished. We’re hopefully going to get some people to see that.”
Sanders said Vargas graduated ninth in her high school class and has no criminal record.
“I just don’t get why it’s happening to her,” Sanders said. “I think we need to get the bad people not the good people.”