JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI - 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 news 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 one of her attorneys, Nathan Elmore.
"A path for citizenship is necessary for DACA recipients but also for the other 11 million undocumented people with dreams," she said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which former President Barack Obama began and which Trump has suggested he'll continue.
Reading notes from index cards, she recounted watching ICE agents take away her father and brother, both Argentines like her who have been in the country illegally. "I was scared for my life," she said.
Brought to U.S. at 7
Vargas' latest DACA status had expired in November 2016, and she applied to renew it at 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, another of her attorneys.
Vargas was 7 when her parents brought her from Argentina. She graduated from 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."
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 whether this meant other immigrants with pending applications were at risk of detention.
Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, 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 Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat.
Vargas' lawyers expect she will be detained in Louisiana, where they will try to get her released on her own recognizance. They said they didn't know where her father and brother were being held but thought they had not yet been deported.
"I don't think anybody around her realized the risk that was involved," said Angela Stuesse, 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."