Local immigrant rights activist continues the fight against ICE
Despite the postponement of her second court hearing, Maru Mora-Villalpando continued the rally against ICE along with fellow activists and supporters in Seattle. // Photo by Samuel Fletcher
Bellingham immigrant rights activist Maru Mora-Villalpando stood in front of Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Seattle along with fellow activists and supporters on Tuesday, May 22 to rally for the second court hearing of her deportation trial.
The problem: the hearing was postponed because of the judge’s undisclosed personal reasons, Mora-Villalpando said. Since January, the group of protesters rallied in front of the building at least once a month and vowed to continue doing so until ICE is dismantled.
Participants of the rally chanted, “Down, down with deportation. Up, up with liberation!”
“They’re just going around and doing the business that they do best, which is destroy families and hide from us,” Mora-Villalpando said. “ICE hides what they do. They do it behind doors. They do it behind the detention center, behind walls. And we will not stop until this is not only exposed, but it ends.”
Since Mora-Villalpando’s first hearing on March 15, the immigration court denied the motion to dismiss the case, Seattle Attorney Devin Theriot-Orr said.
The team wished to terminate the case based on the belief that Mora-Villalpando is being targeted because of her outspokenness and activism. This deliberate targeting would be a violation of her First Amendment rights.
The judge’s decision left Mora-Villalpando’s team to return to the drawing board for options, Theriot-Orr said.
Josefina Mora, Western junior and daughter of Mora-Villalpando, said even exemplary citizens are not free from injustice.
“[Mora-Villalpando] has her own business. She pays her taxes,” Mora said. “She is really involved in the community, does a lot of civic engagement. And a lot of people really admire her for her community work.
“I am a college student. I get all scholarships. I have a really high GPA, and yet that’s not enough because she is dissenting against the U.S. government.”
While Western has released a statement vowing to protect students against ICE, that is not enough to make students feel safe, Mora said.
The Department of Licensing has been giving photos and identification information to ICE for a long time without public awareness. Without a consequence in place for campus police going against the statement, Western could easily do the same without student knowledge, she said.
Western does not enforce immigration law nor give information to federal immigration authorities, Director of Communications and Marketing Paul Cocke said in an email, reiterating a recent statement by President Randhawa enforcing student safety. Also attached were Western’s policies against providing student immigration information.
Mora reflected on missing school for various community involvements with her mother and being sick from the stress of the constant worry for her family’s safety.
She said Western needs a protocol to protect students from ICE via University Police but also one to assist students who are missing class by going through this process.
“People are really nervous, and they don’t necessarily trust that they are safe on campus. And there are very few places where students of color feel safe,” Mora said.
On Feb. 23, Mora-Villalpando filed a lawsuit to the federal court challenging ICE’s refusal to respond to their request for her case documents under the Freedom of Information Act, Theriot-Orr said. Since then, they received a confirmation letter but have not received the documents.
The law requires them to do so within 25 business days, he said.
“We’re not going to let them scare us. We are not going to let them intimidate us. We are not victims,” Mora-Villalpando said. “We are going on the defensive. That’s what we’re doing here. So as ICE is taking me to court, I’m taking them to court as well.”
Throughout the lawsuit, Theriot-Orr said ICE will follow the law and release the documents which will likely reveal a lot of the lies against targeting activists like Mora-Villalpando.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 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 Carissa Cutrell said in an email. “Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate. [Mora-Villalpando] has been charged by ICE with being unlawfully present in the United States and her case is currently under legal review. The agency issued the [Notice to Appear] in accordance with federal immigration law.”
No comment was provided on Mora-Villalpando’s case documents.
Nikkita Oliver, a supporter of Mora-Villalpando, spoke to the crowd of over 50.
“We have to remember that these borders that have been created, they’re not real,” she said. “They’re fake. They’ve been created under capitalism to ensure that a few people, a few white, cisgender, Christian men who speak English, can all keep the wealth to themselves.”
Oliver told the crowd that they stood on Duwamish land. Settlers used genocide to erase their existence and then tried to capitalize on their culture, she said.
Deportation is just another offspring of capitalism, she added.
“Are there public officials here today? No. But I guarantee you if it was their family member going through with these proceedings they would be leveraging their social capital, their political capital to ensure that their family member is not moved,” Oliver said.
When it was Mora-Villalpando’s turn to speak, she did so in both English and Spanish.
The rally was not just about her and her family, but for all families who are being unfairly targeted by ICE, she said.
“I’m used to being the organizer and I’m used to being the one asking for the support of you all and to all people, and for this time to actually receive the support it feels quite overwhelming,” she said. “Muchas gracias from my daughter and I, our family, we thank you so much.”
As the leader of the Northwest Detention Center Resistance, her heart went out to the families of detainees, she said.
Right now the detention center in Tacoma is not giving their inmates toilet paper, she said. New inmates have received unwashed underwear.
Mora-Villalpando was excited to announce the success of the ICE on Trial campaign, which was a mock trial starting in Tacoma which exposed many systematic issues of various detention centers. The most recent trial, ending the campaign, was last week in Aurora, Colorado, she said.
Activist Ivy Nightscals considers the detention center to be a concentration camp. She said she has lost three friends with substance addiction problems who were put in jail and abused as opposed to receiving the help they needed.
“It is personal. And I think that this is medieval and cruel and it’s there to control us,” Nightscals said. “If we don’t have a lot of money, we are subject to the fact that we could become homeless and go to jail, and it’s there all the time.”
According to the rally’s event page on Facebook, typically three hearings take place before an order of removal or detainment is issued. Mora-Villalpando’s second hearing was moved to June 26.