Maru Mora-Villalpando chanting at a farmworker march last February. // Photo courtesy of Josefina Mora
By Emily Stout
Local immigration activist Maru Mora-Villalpando said she will continue to organize, despite being faced with deportation proceedings that supporters believe is retaliation for her social justice work.
“My community and I will continue to fight and will remember who stood by our side–that is the side of justice–and who did not. We will forgive but we won’t forget,” Mora-Villalpando said in an email.
Mora-Villalpando received a Notice to Appear, which initiates deportation proceedings, from the Seattle Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in December.
Mora-Villalpando is the policy advocate and media coordinator for Community to Community Development in Bellingham. She is also the leader of Northwest Detention Center Resistance, which fights deportations at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma and founder of Latino Advocacy, which provides consulting for nonprofits on racial justice.
Mora-Villalpando’s daughter, Josefina Mora, is a junior at Western. She was born in Seattle and has dual American-Mexican citizenship. She says that if her mom does get deported to Mexico, she will follow her there.
“I’ve always had a fear that my mom may get deported,” she said.
Josefina can petition for her mother to stay in the country after her 21st birthday in August. They are hopeful she may be granted citizenship because Mora-Villalpando has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years and she owns her own small business.
Mora-Villalpando was at her Bellingham home on Dec. 20 with Josefina when the notice was delivered to their door.
Josefina said the notice came as a surprise to both of them.
“When I opened it, I was immediately taken aback,” she said.
The notice requires Mora-Villalpando to attend an initial immigration hearing on an unspecified date. Josefina said the immigration process is backed up and it can sometimes take months or years to get a scheduled hearing. But her mother’s case is already being looked at by ICE attorneys, she said.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to push it out a lot faster, to deport her more quickly,” Josefina said.
At a press conference in Seattle on Jan. 16, supporters said they suspected ICE was targeting Mora-Villalpando, and that they see this as a national trend of retaliation against activists.
ICE has not yet responded to specific questions, but ICE public affairs officer and spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe issued a statement confirming that Mora-Villalpando is being charged with unlawful presence and her case is under legal review.
“All those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States,” Pitts O’Keefe said in an email.
Matthew Albence, ICE executive associate director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, told The Washington Post that ICE does not target people “based on advocacy positions they hold or in retaliation for critical comments they make.”
“My community and I will continue to fight and will remember who stood by our side–that is the side of justice–and who did not. We will forgive but we won’t forget,”
MARU MORA-VILLALPANDO, IMMIGRATION ACTIVIST
However, Mora-Villalpando thinks otherwise.
“ICE only knows about me because of my political work,” Mora-Villalpando wrote in the press release. “I have spoken out to defend immigrants in detention and shared my story as an undocumented mother. I have sat in meetings with immigration officials and challenged their practices. They are an agency whose actions have already been devastating to my community. But with the letter they delivered to my house, they are showing themselves to be an agency that silences any opposition to their practices.”
Angela Fillingim, a sociology professor who specializes in immigration policy at Western, said there has been a major shift in deportation tactics in the last year. Under the Trump administration, the threat of deportation has been broadened to anyone without citizenship instead of just those with a criminal record, Fillingim said.
Josefina said her mother has had no prior arrests and no former deportation orders.
“The only thing that she has done is be public about her status,” Josefina said.
Alejandra Gonza, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at University of Washington, said undocumented leaders suddenly being put through deportation proceedings isn’t just happening in the Pacific Northwest.
“We don’t see this as an isolated thing,” she said.
Other outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, have reported undocumented leaders from across the nation being detained or deported by ICE for what supporters believe to be retaliation for their activism.
Angelina Godoy, director of the Center for Human Rights at University of Washington, has issued a Freedom of Information Act request and two requests for public records through Washington state on Mora-Villalpando’s behalf. This could shed light on the process and the reasoning behind the notice, Godoy said.
The requests are a part of the center’s exploration into the Washington State Department of Licensing giving personal information of immigrants to the authorities, as reported by The Seattle Times. Mora-Villalpando suspects ICE received her information from the Department of Licensing.
Northwest Detention Center Resistance and Mijente have organized a petition asking that Mora-Villalpando’s notice to appear be withdrawn.
The petition is circulating online and has been shared by Western student groups, such as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, Bellingham Tenants Union, Blue Group and Students for Anti-Racist Action.
The Blue Group, a student club for undocumented students and their allies, will host a fundraiser at 11 a.m this Wednesday and Thursday on Vendors Row at the Viking Union for Mora-Villalpando’s defense fund.
Josefina said that she is thankful for the support that her community has shown and expressed solidarity to others.
“We aren’t the only ones that have been going through this in Washington and in Bellingham,” she said.