It appears that an outspoken immigrant rights activist was targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at least in part because of her political advocacy, according to public records released by the federal agency on Monday (February 26).
The ICE document, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, says that Maru Mora-Villalpando first caught the attention of ICE after she talked about her undocumented status with a Seattle-area newspaper last year.
But ICE also noted Mora-Villalpando’s "extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy groups," according to the document.
"I’m being put in deportation proceedings because of my political stance, because of my media presence, because I’ve utilized my freedom of speech," Mora-Villalpando told reporters Monday during a conference call. "This is a pattern of behavior which ICE is developing now under this administration."
Mora-Villalpando, a native of Mexico, has organized several protests at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. After she led hunger strikes last year to protest conditions at the complex, Washington’s attorney general sued the private prison group that runs the center, GEO Group, for violating the state’s minimum wage law.
As Colorlines reported earlier this month, immigration proponents say the Trump administration has targeted several high-profile immigrant rights advocates across the country in a seemingly coordinated effort to silence critics of the nation’s immigration policies.
Besides Mora-Villalpando, ICE recently deported an immigrant rights advocate in New York and detained an activist in Denver. Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New York City-based New Sanctuary Coalition, faces deportation after being arrested on January 11 following a routine check-in with ICE.
In a written statement to Colorlines at the time, ICE denied that it targets immigrants for their advocacy.
"ICE does not target unlawfully present aliens for arrest based on advocacy positions they hold or in retaliation for critical comments they make," ICE public affairs officer Rachel Yong Yow told Colorlines. "Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate."
Devin Theriot-Orr, a Seattle-based attorney, recently filed a separate FOIA request seeking information about other cases in which immigrants have been targeted after making public statements about their status or engaging in activism.
"We’re trying to get everything we can possibly get relating to people who’ve had enforcement actions based on their public statements about their undocumented status, their involvement in political activity, or other types of advocacy programs," Theriot-Orr told KUOW.