Despite dangling the possibility of immigration reform before the nation this week, the Trump administration continues to show exactly what its immigration intentions are where it matters most: in the streets. On Tuesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Jackson, Mississippi, pulled over and detained 22-year-old Daniela Vargas, who had just finished participating in a press conference where she spoke out about her family’s recent detention and her concern for her own safety. Her fears were particularly acute because her short-term deportation deferral had recently expired.
Vargas has joined a raft of other undocumented immigrants who would have been left alone by the Obama administration and now find themselves in the crosshairs of the federal government. Vargas, a recipient of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, had been explicitly granted a short-term protection from deportation. (She and others who qualify for DACA are known as DREAMers, for the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.) Vargas is not the first DREAMer to get picked up in the new Trump era—23-year-old DREAMer Daniel Ramirez Medina was detained in the Seattle area and remains in custody. A San Antonio 19-year-old DREAMer named Josue Romero was also detained last month, but was released on bond. But Vargas’s case is important for other reasons.
When Obama was in the White House, the safest place for young undocumented immigrants like Vargas was in the public eye. Declaring one’s immigration status provided a kind of political protection from being seized by immigration agents. The federal government was sensitive to being publicly shamed for pursuing the “wrong” undocumented immigrants for removal.
What Vargas’s detention shows is that those days are over. The Trump administration is upending the unspoken norms of how the federal government will deal with undocumented immigrants. The once-safe places do not exist as such anymore. Those who were once the most sympathetic immigrants now join millions of other undocumented immigrants as the new targets.
Depending on whom you talk to, “DREAMer” can be a demographic descriptor, a social identity, a political constituency, or all of the above. DREAMers themselves created the identity in the late 2000s in the run-up to what would eventually be the narrow defeat of the 2010 federal DREAM Act. Had it become law, the DREAM Act would have allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and who cleared a host of hurdles to pursue legal status and even citizenship. DACA, by contrast, granted only revocable protection from deportation.