Seattle stands with Maru

Brian Huseby reports on the latest developments in a campaign to defend longtime immigrant rights activist Maru Mora-Villapando from the deportation machine.

Immigrant rights activist Maru Mora-Villalpando rallies with supporters in Seattle (NWDC Resistance | Facebook)Immigrant rights activist Maru Mora-Villalpando rallies with supporters in Seattle (NWDC Resistance | Facebook)

FOR YEARS, Maru Mora-Villalpando has been fighting to defend the rights of immigrants in the Pacific Northwest. Over the course of two decades of activism, she has gained a national profile in the immigrant rights movement.

Now she's engaged in an urgent struggle to stop a new threat: her own deportation.

More than 100 activists and community members carrying signs reading "Hands off Maru" and "Defend the defender" arrived at the Seattle Immigration Court for Mora-Villalpando's March 15 hearing. Among the crowd was Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who attended the rally outside the courtroom as an expression of support and solidarity.

Throughout her activities, Mora-Villalpando has never hid nor denied her undocumented status. But no action was taken against her until she suddenly received a letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the end of December 2017 ordering her to report to immigration court in order to schedule a deportation hearing. When she reported on January 16, the deportation proceeding was scheduled for March 15.

Characteristically, when Mora-Villalpando emerged from her January appointment, she invited supporters waiting for her outside to join her at an impromptu protest at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), where she has organized countless rallies and vigils. In 2014, immigrants detained at NWDC held a series of hunger strikes to protest inhumane conditions at the facility.

At her March 15 hearing, Mora-Villalpando's lawyer submitted a brief and argued that ICE was violating Mora-Villalpando's First Amendment right to free speech by targeting her for her advocacy in opposition to NWDC and to ICE in general.

According to an ICE agent's report, Mora-Villalpando came to the attention of immigration authorities after she discussed being undocumented in a June 2017 interview. The agent also noted her "extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs."

All nine members of the Seattle City Council issued a joint statement in January condemning ICE's targeting of Mora-Villalpando and highlighting the violation of her constitutional rights:

The U.S. Constitution guarantees rights for everyone, regardless of status, and this includes the First Amendment, which protects free speech, the right to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It is disappointing we must remind our federal government of this inalienable right. Targeting Mora-Villalpando shows a disregard for human rights and exacerbates broken trust between immigrant communities and our federal government.

We demand Seattle ICE immediately stop targeting activists and community leaders. We will not be intimidated, and we stand in solidarity with Mora-Villalpando and the thousands of immigrant and refugee activists, DREAMers, community leaders and others who bravely stand, undocumented and unafraid, for justice.

ICE has until April 9 to answer the brief filed by Mora-Villalpando's attorney. If the judge has not issued a ruling by May 22, there will be a further hearing on that date to continue the deliberations in her case.

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PROMINENT AMONG the Trump administration's stepped-up deportation efforts are the cases of high-profile immigrant rights leaders. This has happened to Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil in New York City and Siham Byah in Boston, among others.

ICE has turned to other nasty tactics in this time of Trump, such as stationing agents in courthouses to arrest immigrants attending to court business and arresting parents taking their children to school.

Mora-Villalpando was born 47 years ago, the youngest of nine children, in the northern part of Mexico City. In 1992, she fled to the United States on a tourist visa, fearing violence from the political climate in Mexico at that time. "I just figured I don't want to die, so I decided to come here," she said. She then stayed after her visa expired.

Mora-Villalpando studied English in the U.S., but was unable to get a degree due to nontransferable credits from Mexico and the high price of college tuition.

In 1997, Mora-Villalpando gave birth to a daughter, Josephina Mora. That is when Mora-Villalpando says she found her primary purpose in life was fighting for justice. She spoke out at many forums on immigrant rights issues and even traveled to Burlington, Washington, in July 2016 to support a strike by strawberry workers who were mostly undocumented immigrants.

But most of Mora-Villalpando's work has been organizing and leading a myriad of protests at the NWDC in Tacoma, Washington, the largest immigrant detention center on the West Coast. These protests included holding a hunger strike while living in tents outside the NWDC to support a hunger strike that was taking place on the inside.

Mora-Villalpando is currently the leader of NWDC Resistance, which is an organization formed to try to shut down the detention center.

Given Mora-Villalpando's record of activism, it's obvious why the Trump administration wants to deport her. That Mora-Villalpando remains free while the government and her attorney prepare for the May 22 deadline gives our movement a brief window to step our defense campaign.

Our message to ICE should be loud and clear: Hands off Maru!