Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old born in Argentina, was arrested by US immigration officials shortly after a news conference in which she spoke out about the recent arrest of her father and her brother, both of whom are now awaiting deportation.
Vargas, an undocumented migrant who arrived in the United States 15 years ago and has never been back to the country of her birth, is an example of the courage of the young “dreamers” – as recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established by former US president Barack Obama are known.
Like many of the around 750,000 beneficiaries of this program – which allows people who were brought into the US illegally as children to study and work, provided they meet certain requirements – she came out of the shadows to reveal her identity as a dreamer in a bid to draw attention to the cause of the country's 11 million undocumented migrants.
But Vargas was arrested after a news conference in Jackson (Mississippi) in which she talked about her desire to become a university math professor and pledged she would “continue to fight this battle as a dreamer to help contribute to this country.”
The arrest is another sign of the increased risk run by this group since Donald Trump arrived in the White House.
Vargas’s lawyer says she may have been followed by immigration officials
The president campaigned with a strong anti-immigration message and recently rolled out tough new deportation rules. Trump has said his priority is to deport undocumented migrants with a criminal record, but among the first people affected are Vargas and a mother from Arizona who was recently arrested in front of her children after living in the United States for 22 years.
Vargas was present when her father and brother were arrested on February 15, but escaped arrest because she was in the process of renewing her residency permit under the DACA program.
“I don’t know if this is immigration showing us that DACA applicants are fair game until their DACA is approved,” the young woman’s lawyer said after the arrest. “This seems to be the message we’re getting from this, which is surprising and not what I would’ve expected.”
Meanwhile US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement that Vargas had been arrested in a “targeted immigration enforcement action,” adding the agency “does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”
Vargas’s lawyer noted that her client was arrested when ICE pulled over the vehicle she had been traveling in, which suggested officers had followed her. Responding to the news, Democratic senator Dick Durbin described the suggestion that Vargas was followed as “disturbing,” adding he had requested further information on the case from the Department of Homeland Security.
English version by George Mills.