Moments after Daniela Vargas — a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant who was brought to the country as a child from Argentina — spoke out against the Trump administration’s deportation sweeps at a press conference on Wednesday, federal agents pulled her over and arrested her.
Four agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency Immigration pulled over Vargas’ car after she left the press conference in Jackson, Mississippi. Agents reportedly told Vargas, “You know who we are, you know what we’re here for.”
Vargas’s attorney Abby Peterson believes that the ICE agency specifically targeted Vargas after she spoke out about her fear of deportation.
“It could be retaliation,” Peterson said. “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 became known to the federal immigration agency last month after she hid in a closet while ICE agents arrested her undocumented brother and father. At the time, the agency temporarily arrested and released her because she said she was protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, a program that grants temporary deportation relief and work authorization to people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Vargas had been a DACA recipient, but her card expired last November. Because of the high cost associated with the process, she reapplied in February and her application is still pending.
Vargas does not have a criminal record, but she has minor traffic violations, including driving without insurance.
ICE Spokesperson Thomas Byrd said that Vargas’ detention was “part of routine targeted enforcement operations.”
“ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy,” Byrd said in an email statement. “ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”
The agency will wait for the outcome of Vargas’ adjudication process to see if she qualifies for immigration relief before they take further action on her case, an agency spokesperson said.
Vargas’ arrest came just hours before President Donald Trump took to the Joint Session on Congress and briefly called for bipartisan efforts to work on immigration reform. The Trump administration has expanded the type of criminal offenses punishable by deportation.
Vargas is among a handful of DACA recipients that ICE has arrested in recent days, sparking concerns from immigration advocates that the agency is being too aggressive going after people who have already been vetted and who are supposed to be shielded from immigration enforcement.
Daniel Ramirez was the first known DACA recipient arrested under the Trump administration, when ICE agents came to his house last month to look for his father. The agency claims that Ramirez is a “self-admitted gang member” and has pointed to several of his tattoos as evidence. But Ramirez’s lawyers say the government intentionally tampered with documents to make it look like Ramirez was in a gang. He has been detained since February 10.
Other DACA recipients recently arrested include Josue Romero, who was arrested on suspicion of pot possession and later released; Jesus Alonso Arreola Robles, who was accused of smuggling immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border and is still in detention; and Edwin Santiago Romero, who was held overnight by local police for traffic violations and was later released.