Truth-Telling Prize Recipient, 2017

Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old honor student in Mississippi who has spoken out against the deportations of undocumented immigrants at great personal risk, is the winner of the 2017 Ridenhour Truth-Telling.

Vargas — who has been in the US since she was 7 years old — participated in a press conference after watching federal agents remove her brother and father from their small home in February. Immediately after speaking out, Vargas was herself detained for nine days in a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Louisiana. Though she was released, the Department of Homeland Security has not rescinded the deportation order against her.

Vargas’s lawyers are currently working to get the deportation order against her withdrawn, fearing it could be enforced at any point. Like Vargas, over one million undocumented immigrants are eligible for relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, created by President Barack Obama. But the future of the program is uncertain under President Donald Trump.

The Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize is an annual award given to individuals “who persevere in the act of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice, or illuminate a more just vision of society.”

The selection committee said:

When Vargas participated in a press conference addressing recent ICE enforcement actions, we were struck by her willingness to set aside the obvious threats to her own freedom and speak out on behalf of other DREAMers who came to this country as children and have since become fully-engaged members of their communities.

We are honored to present the award to this young woman, an aspiring math teacher who worked hard, pursued an education, and whose only so-called “crime” was staying in America with her family when she was 7 years old.

At a time when American values are under assault, the selection committee saw an urgency in recognizing the fierce resistance Vargas demonstrated by speaking truth to power.

Two weeks after ICE arrested her family members, Vargas took the microphone at a press conference in Jackson, Mississippi to call on the new White House to respect the rights of undocumented immigrants in the United States. “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,” she said.

Minutes later, as she rode away from the press conference in a friend’s car, ICE agents stopped and detained Vargas. According to a legal filing in her case, one of the immigration officials who she saw during the raid on her family home said, “Remember me? You know who we are. You know why we’re here.”

The decision by federal authorities to target an immigrant for deportation apparently because she chose to speak openly is an attack on the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.

But as Vargas reminds us, “I spoke up when given the opportunity because I believe deeply that immigrants in the United States are an asset to our country and deserve full citizenship. Our immigration system is tearing families apart and the immigrant community lives in fear. I want to help change that, so I felt I had to stand for what I believe and show who we are and why we matter.”

More 2017 Prize Winners

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