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Denying Sanctuary Spreads Fear

About 50 community members, pastors and advocates gathered at Fondren Presbyterian Church to hold a vigil and pray for Daniela Vargas' release from ICE's custody.

About 50 community members, pastors and advocates gathered at Fondren Presbyterian Church to hold a vigil and pray for Daniela Vargas' release from ICE's custody. Photo by Arielle Dreher.

In the midst of a souring national climate toward immigration—thanks in large part to President Donald Trump's executive order, which authorizes more detention facilities to hold detained immigrants, among other costly revamping measures—Mississippi's leaders have stubbornly aligned themselves with Trump's fear-mongering, one-dimensional view on immigration.

In the middle of this climate, one Jackson woman, Daniela Vargas, made national news when ICE detained her after she spoke out at a press conference in the capital city. Less than a week later, the House voted to pass a bill that prohibits cities and college campuses from enacting "sanctuary city" ordinances or policies, a not-subtle slap at Jackson.

Vargas, originally from Argentina, was brought to Mississippi in 2001 when she was seven years old. She is more of a Mississippian in terms of years lived in a place than an Argentinian. She graduated from Morton High School and has taken classes at the University of Southern Mississippi, under the protections of Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA.

All that changed when ICE officials detained her after she spoke out last week, and Vargas' story has sewn fear across the state and the country, causing families to create action plans in case of deportation and separation. Vargas had applied for DACA two weeks before her arrest, and the odds of her receiving that status are high, her attorneys say, because she had received DACA status twice before.

Vargas is currently in a detention facility, but there are many more DACA recipients who are technically undocumented but are eligible to attend school, work, and yes, pay taxes, in the state and on college campuses. Senate Bill 2710 will affect those DACA students. The bill prevents universities or colleges from adopting any policy that "grants to any person the right to lawful presence or status within the state, a county or municipality, or the campus of a university, college, community college or junior college in violation of state or federal law."

DACA students have protection from deportation, but Vargas' story is a cautionary tale to other students who are in the application process. In this Trump era, not having your papers in hand could mean arrest. Passing Senate Bill 2710 sends a message to these students: They are not welcome—and even if their university want to protect them (none have such policies now), they legally cannot.

Gov. Phil Bryant appeared on "Fox & Friends" on Monday morning, perpetuating the fear-mongering of President Trump. He spoke in favor of SB 2710 and indicated that it will pass and that he will sign it. He also said he will look in the state's detention facilities to find undocumented immigrants.

In a state with a checkered history of civil rights, lawmakers need to think a lot harder about passing SB 2710. It smells of racial profiling and caves to the inflammatory rhetoric of our new president, and yet again, would put the state on the map as being 50th at least in the eyes of those undocumented students and young people who live here and call themselves Mississippians. It is wrong.


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