Twenty-two-year-old "Dreamer" Daniela Vargas, whose family came to the United States from Argentina when she was seven years old, was detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Wednesday morning, shortly after speaking out publicly about the rights of undocumented immigrants.
According to Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger, Vargas was among the speakers at a press conference in Jackson, Mississippi, hosted by local immigration attorneys, churches, and the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance to bring attention to families impacted by deportation. She told attendees that she wanted to complete her college education and become a math teacher, and relayed her own harrowing recent experience during an ICE home raid, during which she hid in a closet as agents took away her father and brother. She went "underground" after that, and came out of hiding to speak on Wednesday.
"Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers are living with the fear of uncertainty that they will be separated from loved ones or that they will be forced into the margins of society."
—Eddie Carmona, PICO National Network
"Today, my father and brother await deportation while I continue to fight this battle as a Dreamer to help contribute to this country, which I feel is very much my country," Vargas said at the press conference before she was arrested herself.
"As a friend drove Vargas away from the news conference, their vehicle was pulled over by ICE agents," the newspaper reports, citing Vargas' attorney, Abby Peterson. "Agents reportedly told Vargas, 'You know who we are, you know what we're here for'."
"Vargas was immediately detained and taken into custody," the Clarion-Ledger adds. "Her friend was released."
According to news outlets, Vargas' Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status is expired but her $495 renewal application is pending. DACA recipients, also known as "Dreamers," are undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as a young children who are given permission to live and work legally in the country. Other than minor traffic offenses, Vargas has no record. She is currently being held in ICE detention without bond.
"It could be retaliation," Peterson told the Huffington Post of Vargas' detention. "They had been reading about her in the news, they had seen her at this press conference... [maybe] they didn't want to hear it anymore. Maybe I'm mistaken on that, but common sense would certainly imply that's what happened."
Vargas is not the first Dreamer to be affected by President Donald Trump's harsh crackdown on immigrants. ICE officials arrested 23-year-old Daniel Ramirez Medina in Seattle last month, prompting widespread outcry from immigrant and civil rights groups. NBC News reports that a federal judge "has denied a request that Ramirez, 23, be released, and last week said he would not hold an immediate hearing to consider releasing him."
Vargas' and Ramirez's stories are just two that reflect the shift in priorities under the Trump administration, under which all undocumented immigrants appear vulnerable—not just "gang members, drug dealers, and criminals," as Trump indicated in his speech to Congress Tuesday night.
In response, faith leaders nationwide have launched a concerted response "to protect and resist," as Eddie Carmona, campaign director for PICO National Network's LA RED initiative, said on a press call Thursday.
From an "underground network" of safe houses; to know-your-rights trainings facilitated by sanctuary congregations; to rapid response teams that show up to ICE raids, the faith community is pursuing multiple strategies to end what the PICO National Network has called "the terrorization of immigrant communities."
Speaking of his community's embrace of safe houses, Rev. Zachary Hoover of L.A. Voice said Wednesday that while his congregants are "clear-eyed about the risk, I think we're really clear as well [about] the question that we expect to face when we arrive at the end of our life: How did you serve your neighbor?"
Added Carmona: "After just a month in office, President Trump's administration has already had a devastating impact on families. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers are living with the fear of uncertainty that they will be separated from loved ones or that they will be forced into the margins of society. People of faith are responding by creating a shield of protection for community members."