On Friday afternoon, twenty-two-year-old Daniela Vargas was released from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Louisiana after her case made headlines across the nation.
Her release came after Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi appealed to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in a letter published Thursday.
"I urge you ... to ensure the Department of Homeland Security exercises available discretion and looks upon her case favorably," Thompson wrote.
"Young people like Daniela are an important part of communities all over this country, and deserve a chance to pursue their American dream."
Vargas falls under protections for immigrants who were brought to the US by their parents when they were young children. She and her family moved to the US from Argentina with a three-month visitor's visa in 2001. Shortly after speaking at an immigration press conference in front of Jackson City Hall in Mississippi last week, Vargas was detained by ICE officials as she and a friend were leaving.
ICE spokesman Thomas Byrd confirmed Vargas’ release in statement released Friday, but declined to comment further. The immigration agency, which operates within the Department of Homeland Security, had said it would handle some issues on a case-by-case basis.
"I think it’s really ICE exercising their discretion," said Nathan Elmore, an attorney representing Vargas, in Mississippi Today. "We made a formal request that they do that this past Friday … I don’t know that (the ICE agent overseeing Vargas’ case) made the final decision, but I think that was probably the vehicle that moved it along."
Following her detention, congressional leaders and civil-rights activists put a spotlight on Vargas' case.
"Talking publicly about fears of deportation is not a crime and should not get someone detained," Sen. Kamala Harris of California tweeted, in reference to Vargas' detention.
The circumstances surrounding Vargas' release don't appear to be isolated after the Trump administration proposed taking the shackles off of an agency that was alleged to have been "hobbled" under the Obama administration.
"I think their morale has suffered because of the job they were hired to do, and then in their sense, they're ... kind of hobbled or, you know, hands tied behind their back, that kind of thing," Kelly said to the House Homeland Security Committee in an Associated Press report last month. "And now, they feel more positive about things. I bet if you watch the morale issue, you'll ... be surprised going forward."
The New York Times' Monica Davey chronicled the journey of Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco, a father of three, who immigrated to West Franfort, a mining town of about 8,000 people. After opening a Mexican restaurant, Pacheco became a local hero for his charitable acts, such as providing meals for firefighters on the job, during his stay since the late 1990s.
"You will not find a single person that has anything bad to say about him," said Audrey Loftus, a bartender at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
Following The Times' report, a wave of support began pouring in and Carlos was released on a $3,000 bond.
"I feel Carlos is a man of character," West Frankfort Mayor Tom Jordan wrote, according to CNN. "I do not feel that Carlos is a flight risk. He is married and loves his children. He is a loyal member of this community. He owns property here. He is a committed father and would never leave his family to fend for themselves."
"You don't typically see this kind of documentation," said Judge Justin W. Howard.
Although the release of undocumented immigrants like Vargas and Carlos may indicate a softening of DHS policy, the fight for their unabated freedom is far from over. Mississippi Today reported that Vargas, for instance, was released under an order of supervision that merely releases her, for the time being, from ICE's custody but not from her outstanding order of removal from the US.
"Because that removal order is still there, (ICE) could enforce it at any point for whatever reason," said attorney Abigail Peterson.
Carlos, on the other hand, awaits an immigration court date that could take years, due to the immigration court's backlog. In the meantime, he remains legally unable to work, which according to CNN is standard for undocumented immigrants awaiting a court date.
Given the number of arrests made over the last several weeks, it seems unlikely for the same amount of public outcry in Vargas and Carlos' case can be endowed to other undocumented immigrants who seem to be productive members of their respective community.
In the meantime, attorneys, like the ones that represent Vargas, seem to be undeterred in their fight for their client's rights.
"We will continue to fight any removal order that is being lodged against Daniela in this case," said Southern Poverty Law Center’s senior supervising attorney Kristi Graunke.
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