ICE frees Argentine woman facing deportation after protests

By Jeff Amy and Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 10, 2017 at 2:14 p.m.

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — An Argentine citizen who grew up in Mississippi and was detained after speaking out about President Donald Trump's policies was released Friday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Daniela Vargas' release from detention in Jena, Louisiana, doesn't end the 22-year-old's legal efforts to avoid deportation, her attorneys said.

"This does not in any way end the case," said Joshua Stehlik, a supervising attorney for the National Immigration Law Center. "We will still be pursuing the legal claims to challenge the order of removal."

ICE spokesman Thomas Byrd confirmed Vargas was released but said he didn't have any additional information.

Vargas' lawyers said her order of supervision requires her to check in with an ICE office in Mississippi next month. It wasn't immediately clear if there are other requirements, they said.

Her attorneys had petitioned ICE to release her about a week ago.

"This is an ICE decision to release her. This is not court-ordered," Stehlik said.

Also on Friday, a federal district court judge transferred her emergency request to delay her removal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, her lawyers said.

Meanwhile, her lawyers said she was returning to Mississippi, where she was arrested by ICE agents on March 1 after speaking at a press conference outside Jackson City Hall that was organized by a coalition of civil rights lawyers and other advocates for immigrants. One of her friends, Jordan Sanders, said federal agents in unmarked cars pulled them over five minutes after they left.

Attorney Abigail Peterson told reporters that Vargas is relieved to be out of custody.

"I think that she's doing pretty well given everything she's gone through," Peterson said.

Vargas' parents brought her from Argentina when she was 7 under a visa wavier program, which allows immigrants to enter the U.S. without a visa for 90 days but denies them a hearing in front of a judge if they overstay.

Her lawyers petitioned a federal court Monday urging the Department of Homeland Security to allow her to remain in the U.S. until they can make her case before a judge. For now, Vargas is being processed as a "visa wavier overstay," which could deny her a hearing and lead to her deportation to South America.

Vargas went to high school in Morton, Mississippi, attended a community college and then enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi, having twice obtained protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

"There has been such tremendous support for her from all of her friends (in Mississippi)," Peterson said. "This is where she grew up."

The DACA program — derided as "illegal amnesty" by critics — has protected about 750,000 immigrants since the Obama administration launched it in 2012. It allows young immigrants who arrived as children and are living in the U.S. illegally to stay and obtain work permits, good for two years at a time.

Vargas' latest permit expired in November, and she hadn't been able to pay the $495 renewal fee until February, when she reapplied, according to Peterson.

ICE agents arrested her father and brother at their home on Feb. 15 but told Vargas that they were giving her a "hall pass," her attorneys wrote in Monday's court petition.

Nathan Elmore, one of her lawyers, said she was given an opportunity to see her father and brother while she was detained. Her attorneys said they don't represent her relatives and couldn't comment on the status of their cases.

"This is just one step," Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Kristi Graunke said of Vargas' release. "We've got a long road ahead of us."


Kunzelman reported from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Associated Press reporter Sarah Smith in Jackson also contributed to this report.

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Jeff Amy
    Michael Kunzelman


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