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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Frontline: City’s silence fails immigrant rights activist and community

Opinions of the editorial board

If you’ve been keeping up with local activism, Maru Mora-Villalpando is probably a familiar name by now.

Mora-Villalpando has been called a “modern day freedom fighter” for her years of activism in the Seattle and Bellingham area and is known nationally and internationally as an immigrant rights advocate.

She is outspoken about her undocumented status and has been fighting deportation since she was issued paperwork to begin the deportation process in December.

Mora-Villalpando is one of at least 16 undocumented leaders in the immigrant rights

Blue Group co-chair Jenifer Becerril-Pacheco, left, and historian Victoria Matey, right, at a demonstration at city hall last week. Protesters condemned city officials for their silence on ICE’s actions to deport Maru Mora-Villalpando. // Photo by Drew Stuart

movement who have been targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She believes she’s being targeted because of her activism. This sentiment is echoed by advocates about her and other activists, like Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil.

Western’s Blue Group, a group for undocumented students and their allies, has become a local leader in immigrant rights activism and is among the groups raising funds, circulating petitions and acting in solidarity with Mora-Villalpando.

To publicly come out as undocumented and advocate in solidarity with others strengthens the community. Members of Blue Group do so despite their unique position as undocumented students and the inherent risk that comes with activism.

The group organized a demonstration at Bellingham City Hall last week pressuring the Bellingham City Council to publicly support Mora-Villalpando and other community members at risk of deportation. They also condemned the council’s choice not to officially become a sanctuary city last year or adopt an ordinance advocates believed would provide the support our undocumented community needs.

The council voted to approve a less-effective ordinance instead, despite hours of testimony from community members advocating in favor of becoming a sanctuary city.

The AS Review reported that, while many people at the City Council meeting supported becoming a sanctuary city, council members seemed like they felt torn due to the number of phone calls and emails they received from community members who were opposed.

 

Without that solidarity, undocumented people fighting for visibility and support are left to stand alone.”

 

The City Council effectively adopted measures to make undocumented immigrants feel safer without using the official term “sanctuary city,” which is what the protesters at City Hall last week said they need.

The city essentially said “we support you” without letting undocumented people dictate their need for support. By avoiding the term, the city may have wiggled out of “getting political,” but they also failed our immigrant community. They failed to stand with them. Without that solidarity, undocumented people fighting for visibility and support are left to stand alone.

A year later, the city is again failing them by staying silent when our community members are at risk of being deported.

In targeting Mora-Villalpando, ICE is sending a clear message to undocumented people: stay silent and do not dissent, or you will be next. Members of the community have been quick to support and stand beside her in her fight, but the city’s silence again leaves the undocumented community lacking support.

If someone from the city or council were to come out in solidarity with Mora-Villalpando, it wouldn’t be the first time a city official advocated in support of immigrants at risk of deportation. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote a letter to ICE asking them to allow immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir to stay in the U.S. when he faced deportation in February. State Senator Maria Cantwell brought Mora-Villalpando as her guest to President Trump’s first State of the Union address one month after ICE began her deportation process.

Much of the Bellingham community prides itself on being inclusive and fairly progressive on topics like LGBTQ rights and environmental issues, but in failing our undocumented community, the city has failed to be truly inclusive.

Regardless of your political stance on immigration and undocumented people, the fight for immigrant rights spans a much larger issue.

The U.S. immigrant community, both documented and undocumented, have been marginalized, exploited, abused and dehumanized for more than 100 years. Talking about immigration today without including this context ignores the heart of the issue – people are being mistreated.

ICE tears families apart. They arrest parents dropping their kids off at school. They target people through the Department of Licensing. This creates a culture of fear that undocumented people must live in every day.

To live in fear of deportation means to live on edge, fearful that your family will be taken away, or feeling like you don’t belong in the place you call home, as many undocumented immigrants and their families say they feel. Being undocumented comes with a whole other world of barriers that most U.S. citizens don’t experience.

Supporting Mora-Villalpando and the rest of our undocumented immigrant community may seem political in this current climate, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to mean you agree with unauthorized immigration, it just means you agree that human beings should be treated with dignity and respect. It’s not about legality, it’s about providing support and visibility to a marginalized group who are being exploited. 

The City Council has an obligation to support Mora-Villalpando and the undocumented community in Whatcom County. For the city to withhold public support for a vulnerable community is to stay silent in the face of injustice and condone their systematic oppression.

 

The editorial board is composed of Taylor Nichols, Kira Erickson and Eric Trent

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