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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Submission: A letter from the daughter of an undocumented immigrant targeted by ICE

This submission is from Western student Josefina Mora, whose mother, local immigration activist Maru Mora-Villalpando, is now facing deportation proceedings.

Growing up, I used to have nightmares that my mother would be taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I used to sit in my bed and cry nonstop because of the fear that I had that my mother could be taken from me at any second. Out of that fear, a ritual began where my mother and I would let each other know where we are at every moment of the day—it’s a ritual that continues today. A couple of times when my mother got caught up with her work and I hadn’t heard from her, I had to log into Find My iPhone and even post on Facebook to make sure she was safe. Throughout my day, I think about how she can be pulled over by law enforcement, or that officers could show up to our home or to her office. This is a reality that I’ve had to face from a young age, all because my mother lacks a piece of paper giving her permission to live and work on stolen land. Many look forward to their 21st birthdays to party and go out to bars, but I think more about how I am going to have to ask permission from an illegitimate government for my mother to stay in the country.

Josefina Mora and her mother, Maru Mora-Villalpando.
Josefina Mora and her mother, Maru Mora-Villalpando. // Photo courtesy of Josefina Mora

This is a reality that many families face, but not too often is it that their loved ones are targeted because of their political work. I was born and raised in Seattle, a home base for many political organizations and groups. My earliest memories were being at protests, workshops and meetings. In fact, one of the first memories I have of coming to Bellingham at a young age was when local groups organized against the presence of the Minutemen, a hateful border vigilante group trying to set up home base in Bellingham. I have felt very privileged to grow up around activism, but since my mom went public about her undocumented status, the fear of her being targeted had a strong presence in the back of my head. The first time she went public about her status was when she participated in one of the first civil disobedience actions in front of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC). Although we were prepared for the arrest and placement into detention, it did not come.

“This is a reality that I’ve had to face from a young age, all because my mother lacks a piece of paper giving her permission to live and work on stolen land.”

Josefina Mora, Western student

Many of you reading this may have read that I was arrested in 2016 for blocking Guide Meridian Road on the day that Trump came to speak at the Lynden Fairgrounds. That was not the first civil disobedience action I participated in. In fact, my mother and I participated together in a civil obedience action with over 30 other people to shut down the streets outside of the NWDC. Although there were no arrests in this action, I thought to myself, “Why should my mother put herself on the line for me, when that is what she has been doing for the past 15+ years?” This led me to participate in the 2016 action without her, which led to my arrest and conviction of disorderly conduct, a charge historically used against activists and queer people for their dissent. The arrest, conviction and sentence that my co-defendant and I received—80 hours of out-of-custody Sheriff’s work crew—should have been a warning of the crackdown against those that refuse to adhere to the status quo. If U.S. citizens are targeted, who is next?

Maru Mora-Villalpando with her daughter Josefina Mora as a baby. In December, Mora-Villalpando was given a Notice to Appear to immigration court.
Maru Mora-Villalpando with her daughter Josefina Mora. In December, Mora-Villalpando was given a Notice to Appear to immigration court. // Photo courtesy of Josefina Mora

As a Fairhaven student, as many fellow Fairhaven students and perhaps some main campus students will have learned in some courses that historically, the U.S. government has worked to oppress the loudest of voices. My mother has had an impact on almost everyone she meets, not only because of her personal story, but because she has been able to change people’s perception of the politics of being undocumented and detained. Although my mother is a “model” immigrant, she is being targeted for her work and her voice that refuses to be silenced. Here at Western, we must not forget those students that not only share stories similar to mine, but that they themselves might be picked up one day and removed from our community. Where are the protections that Western’s Blue Group proposed to the Bellingham City Council, that were so blatantly washed down and ignored to a piece of paper that offers no protections for undocumented families and students? How will they keep people like my mother and others from being detained when being pulled over, or calling the police to report a crime?

“Here at Western, we must not forget those students that not only share stories similar to mine, but that they themselves might be picked up one day and removed from our community.”

Josefina Mora, Western student

We received the Notice to Appear on December 20th, a few days before Christmas. After opening the letter, and reading the contents, I couldn’t stop crying, much like I did back when I was young and would wake up from my nightmares. However, this was not solely out of fear, but anger that an illegitimate government is working to erase someone that is not only the only family member I have in the United States, but an integral part of our movement and community here in Bellingham and beyond.

You may be feeling pity or sadness for me and my mother in reading this piece, but that’s not my intention. If you truly want to understand our struggle, you will feel the anger that I do. On New Years Eve, which I spent with my girlfriend in Seattle, I took the light rail along with hundreds of SeaHawk fans on their way to the game. One man on the train with us yelled, “When I say Sea, you say Hawks!” and people on the train began chanting. Hearing a full train chant with passion, garnished from head to toe in SeaHawks gear, I thought to myself, how many would respond with that same passion if I started chanting, “When I say ICE, you say Hands off Maru!”


  1. Your mother entered the U.S. illegally and was aware of the possible consequences. At any time she could of departed the U.S. to her home country and start the process to enter the U.S. legally. She has only herself to blame for putting herself in this situation as my wife and my grandparents did. This is a country of LEGAL immigrants.


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