Fighting to keep 22-year-old Dreamer Daniela Vargas from deportation, her lawyers are in a race against time.
They prepared special documents Thursday night, hoping to stop the expedited deportation of Vargas, which could come as early as Friday.
Vargas came into the United States on a visa waiver program. Because of the stipulations of that program she could be deported without a hearing in front of a federal immigration judge.
Her attorneys hope a package with personal statements about Vargas from people who know her lands in sympathetic hands, and she is granted a trial instead of immediate deportation.
The attorneys also are seeking a stay of removal so Vargas can submit a renewal application for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
Arrested after news conference
On Wednesday, Vargas was arrested shortly after sharing her family’s story — including her father and brother’s arrest last month by ICE officers — during a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi.
Moments before her arrest by ICE, Vargas had advocated for young people who, like herself, were brought to the US illegally as children, then qualified for a temporary reprieve from deportation under DACA. Recipients often are called Dreamers, a reference to the Dream Act, which if approved by Congress would give DACA participants permanent legal status.
DACA status lapsed, family arrested
Vargas said she arrived in the United States with her family at age 7 as an undocumented immigrant from Argentina and later was granted DACA status, which lasts two years.
One of her attorneys, Abby Peterson, said Vargas’ DACA status expired in November. She could not immediately afford the minimum $495 renewal application fee, Peterson said, and put off the process until last month. The government recommends DACA recipients apply for a renewal between 150 and 120 days before their status expires.
Days after Vargas reapplied, her father and brother were taken into ICE custody at their home, on February 15.
Goico De la Cruz, a Methodist pastor and friend of the Vargas family, told CNN Friday that Daniella’s father has agreed to be deported to Argentina while her brother prefers to go to Mexico, the native country of his wife, who’s also undocumented. De la Cruz said he visited the family members at a detention center on Friday.
Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said he was among immigrant advocates at the scene.
“We stood vigil outside of the house for about five hours,” Chandler said. “ICE was trying to persuade Daniela to come out of the house. Of course, she refused. They went and got a search warrant. … Then they decided to break into the house and confront her.”
Going into hiding
“She was terrified, locked in a closet, ICE pounding on her door, asking what she was supposed to do,” a friend, Angela Stuesse, said. “And I was also terrified. And that went on for hours.”
Vargas convinced the agents she was “a DACA person,” Chandler said. “But they threatened her and said they’re going to come back and get her.”
Even so, Vargas, who aspires to be a university math teacher, wanted to speak out this week about recent ICE raids, Stuesse said.
Hope for reprieve
Vargas spoke to her attorneys from the ICE detention center in Jena, Louisiana. She shared with them her fears.
“I don’t understand why they don’t want me. I’m doing the best I can. I strongly feel that I belong here and I strongly feel that I should be given a chance to be here and do something good and work in this economy,” she said.
Vargas’ attorneys hoped to deliver their package to the detention center on Friday.
“Like so many immigrants, she doesn’t take this country for granted,” Peterson said. “She has pursued an education, she works hard, she pays her taxes. She is a very deserving individual.”