On the morning of Feb. 15, Daniela Vargas hid in her Mississippi home. She figured government agents were coming for her.
That morning, her father and brother had been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in their driveway before they could make their way to work. Vargas, originally from Argentina, waited.
Though agents didn't arrest Vargas that day, it happened hardly two weeks later. Now, detained in Louisiana, away from her Mississippi home and facing deportation, she released a statement that broke hearts around the internet.
"I don't understand why they don't want me," Vargas said. "I'm doing the best I can. I mean I can't help that I was brought here but I don't know anything else besides being here and I didn't realize that until I was in a holding cell last night for five hours."
Later, she added, "You know, there's a lot of stuff that I can do for this country that they're not allowing me to do. I've even tried to join the military, and I can't do that. But, I mean that's not the point, the whole point is that I would do anything for this country."
Vargas was arrested after speaking on behalf of immigrants. She talked to the press about the arrest of her father and her brother. On Wednesday, she spoke at a press conference about how immigrants have made her community a better place.
"Today, my father and brother await deportation, while I continue to fight this battle as a Dreamer to help contribute to this country, which I feel that is very much my country," Vargas recently told reporters.
ICE had been watching. Agents pulled over her car and arrested her after the press conference, then told her lawyer that Vargas would be processed as someone who had overstayed the 90 days allowed for anyone on the visa waiver program, which permits travelers to the United States to be in the country for around three months without obtaining a visa.
Vargas had legally arrived in the U.S. on a visa waiver program from Argentina when she was 7. Back then, when her parents brought her to the U.S., Argentinians were still able to apply for the program. She continued to live in the country beyond the 90 days that program allowed her to stay, but became exempt from deportation because of a work permit she obtained in 2012. She got the permit under a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA.
DACA gives undocumented immigrant children a way to maintain legal residence in the U.S., but Vargas's work permit expired in November. Renewal costs $495, and she reportedly saved up to submit a renewal application, which is now processing. But since it hasn't yet been approved, Vargas is currently in legal limbo.
Though a renewed work permit would grant a deportation exemption, ICE appears to be treating her as strictly someone who overstayed on a visa waiver program. Those who have overstayed under that program aren't legally entitled to a court appearance unless they came to the U.S. to apply for asylum. ICE's apparent focus on treating Vargas as such a person and excluding consideration of her pending DACA renewal has led to an outpouring of support for her and dismay with the government.
The world is attuned to Vargas's case, with many considering it a bellwether for how immigrants in the United States can expect to be treated under the new administration. Trump has promised to build a wall along the nation's southern border. He's threatened sanctuary cities that do not detain immigrants for federal agencies. He's issued a directive to hire 10,000 more ICE agents, and a company cofounded by his best friend in Silicon Valley – Peter Thiel – is working on a surveillance system that could facilitate a mass deportation operation. If Vargas is deported, it's not a stretch to say her case will send a deep chill into immigrant communities around the nation. Right now, she's detained in Louisiana.
We've reached out to ICE for comment.