Dreamer Released From Immigration Jail — for Now

ALEXANDRIA, La. (CN) – Daniela Vargas, the Mississippi woman who was arrested on March 1 after publicly denouncing the arrests of her father and brother was released from immigration jail to her attorneys Friday. Her brother and father remain incarcerated.

Vargas described her family’s ordeal at a March 1 news conference at City Hall in Jackson, Mississippi. After immigration officials arrested her brother and father at their home, they came back for her, kicking down her front door and finding her hiding in the closet. After she spoke, Vargas, 22, was pulled over in her friend’s car as they drove away from the news conference and placed under arrest.

She was released Friday to her attorneys.

“This is really a community victory today,” Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement after Vargas was released.

Vargas’ release did not appear to be directly related to a Federal Court decision reached Friday to transfer her habeas case from the Middle District of Louisiana to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but was in response to her attorney’s petition to the ICE detention facility, perhaps boosted by popular outcry and protest of her detention.

Nathan Elmore, one of Vargas’ attorneys at Elmore & Peterson in Jackson, drove to LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, two days after Vargas was arrested, to talk to Vargas about her case. Vargas met him in confinement, wearing a prison jumpsuit, Elmore said Friday. They spoke about getting her out of jail as quickly as they could.

Elmore then drove roughly an hour and a half to the Oakdale Detention Center to file paperwork on Vargas’ behalf, challenging her detention.

Mirroring arguments in the habeas case, Elmore argued that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detained Vargas in retaliation for her First Amendment-protected speech.

“Eventually, it appears that the petition and the logical, sensible arguments we laid out in our request … has been heard,” Elmore said.

Abigail Peterson, also with Elmore & Peterson, said she received a cell phone call from Vargas on Friday morning. She said Vargas was given very little time to pack her things and leave.

“She was given five minutes to get out and she took it,” Peterson said.

But Vargas is not in the clear yet.

“I do want to point out that she was released on an order of supervision, so there is an outstanding removal order in her case,” Peterson said. “They could enforce it at any point.”

Peterson said that having an outstanding removal order, even for a person protected by DACA, does not mean they are actually protected. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama-era program that protects some people who were brought to the United States as children and lived here with a clean record. People who qualify for DACA also are called Dreamers.

Kristi Graunke from the Southern Poverty Law Center said Vargas’ habeas case was transferred to the Fifth Circuit on Friday.

“We’re still looking into the court’s decision and preparing our options,” Graunke said.

The legal team declined to comment on the detentions of Vargas’ brother and father, who remain in ICE jail.

Vargas came to the United States with her parents from Argentina when she was 7 under a visa waiver program, which allows people from certain countries into the United States for 90 days without a visa, according to her habeas petition, March 6 in the Western District of Louisiana.

Vargas and her family settled in Morton, Mississippi, where she graduated from Morton High School with honors and went on to study math at the University of Southern Mississippi. Vargas is one of an estimated 750,000 Dreamers, who have received two-year renewable federal work permits and authorized status under DACA.

Vargas said in her habeas petition that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided her house on Feb. 15 and arrested her father and brother. When she told them she had DACA protection, they left, but, fearing they would return, she locked the door and hid in a closet.

They did return, and with a search warrant. Vargas said they kicked in her front door and found her hiding in the closet. One agent pointed a gun at her as she came out of the closet. She was not arrested, but the agents told her they knew her DACA status had expired in November 2016 and that they were giving her a “hall pass,” according to Vargas’ complaint.

Around the time Vargas’ brother and father were arrested, ICE raided several Chinese restaurants in Jackson and arrested 55 more immigrants.

In a statement after Vargas’ arrest, ICE called the Mississippi raids “part of routine targeted enforcement operations,” and said that “ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”

But Michelle Lapoint with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Atlanta, also one of Vargas’ attorneys, took issue with that statement in an interview with Courthouse News.

“ICE says it’s doing targeted raids,” Lapoint said. “That doesn’t sound very targeted to me. I think they do sweeps and they raid somewhere looking for a particular person, and if they don’t find them they arrest others as collateral targets.”

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