A young woman in the process of renewing her permission as a "Dreamer" to remain in the United States legally was arrested Wednesday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after speaking at a press conference where she urged President Donald Trump to protect people like her. Now two Democratic senators want answers.
Daniela Vargas, 22, was detained by ICE agents who pulled over a friend's car on a nearby freeway after she left a coalition of clergy members, civil rights lawyers and other advocates for immigrants at Jackson City Hall, according to the driver of the car.
"We left to get some lunch when two pulled up behind us," Jordan Sanders told Univision. "(The agents) rushed out, opened the door and said 'You know why we're here, you know who we are,' and put her in cuffs. Her mouth was open, gaping. It was really scary"
Vargas is the latest case of a Dreamer to be detained by ICE since President Donald Trump took office despite signs that the White House is considering maintaining the protection from deportation granted by President Barack Obama.
Under a program known as DACA, established by the Obama administration in 2012 , persons who entered the country as minors are protected from deportation and allowed to continue their education and legally apply for jobs. The program protects about 750,000 people known as "Dreamers," after a 2011 congressional bill titled the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
"A path for citizenship is necessary for DACA recipients but also for the other 11 million undocumented people with dreams," Vargas told Wednesday's press conference, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by Obama.
Reading notes from index cards, she recounted how two weeks ago ICE agents came to her family's house and took away her father Daniel Vargas and brother Alan, both Argentines like her who have been in the country illegally. "I was scared for my life," she said. She was briefly handcuffed but ICE agents decided not to detain her at the time.
Vargas' latest DACA status had expired in November 2016, and she applied to renew it mid-February, after she came up with the $495 application fee. She had been granted the two-year protection twice before, in December 2012 and in November 2014, said Abigail Peterson, one of her attorneys.
DACA renewals can take months and immigration officials recommend applying up to 150 days before it a permit expires. Once a permit expires any protection from deportation is lost.
Vargas was 7 when her parents brought her from Argentina. She graduated high school in 2013, attended community college and started at the University of Southern Mississippi, aspiring to be a math professor.
Detaining someone with a pending DACA application has been "very unusual," Peterson said.
"Why they would move forward the way they have is, honestly, mind-boggling," she said, noting that she had never been in trouble with the law.
ICE spokesman Thomas Byrd said in a statement that Vargas was taken into custody in a "targeted immigration enforcement action" after the agency verified that her DACA status had lapsed. A federal immigration judge will now "decide whether or not she is eligible for immigration relief," the statement said.
Asked for more details by The Associated Press, Byrd couldn't say whether agents knew she had reapplied or if this means other immigrants with pending applications are at risk of detention.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said he's seeking information about her case from the Department of Homeland Security. "Disturbing that ICE may have followed her from an immigration press conference," he tweeted.
"Talking publicly about fears of deportation is not a crime and should not get someone detained #ICEraids," tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California.
Vargas' lawyers expect she will be detained in Louisiana, where they will try to get her released on her own recognizance. They said they don't know where her father and brother are being held but believe they have not yet been deported.
"I don't think anybody around her realized the risk that was involved," said Angela Stuesse (STEE-see), a family friend and anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "She wanted to share what she had been through to help the community there."
"She's Mississippian by heart," Stuesse added. "She doesn't see a future for herself in Argentina."
Sanders said her friend was taking a semester off to work and save uop monmey for school. "She's just a normal person, just like the rest of us, working, going to school, wanting to get a career."
She added; "She's better than half the people I know who are citizens."
Melvin Felix contributed to this report