Prominent immigration activist Maru Mora Villalpando has received an order to appear before immigration court, raising anxiety among her supporters that the government is retaliating against her.
She was joined by more than 100 supporters Tuesday morning who held a protest and press conference in downtown Seattle about the proceedings initiated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“To me, it was a clear sign that ICE wants me to stop my job,” Villalpando told the crowd. “It’s an intimidation tactic for the very successful movement that we have here in the Washington State against detentions and deportations.”
Villalpando is the spokesperson of NWDC Resistance, a local volunteer group that campaigns against deportations, forefront of many pro-immigrant demonstrations and protests against the Northwest Detention Center, the privately held facility where ICE detains people who are awaiting detention hearings. The Northwest Detention Center’s parent company, GEO Group, has been the subject of lawsuits and criticism regarding conditions at their immigration detention facilities.
Villalpando, who said that she was not informed of any date to come before immigration court, mused that she was not detained because ICE is afraid that she’ll organize from the inside.
“They want us to stop supporting people in detention center. They want us to stop highlighting all the human rights abuses that happen in the detention center. They don’t want to be exposed,” she said.
“Not for any other reason but for the fact that I won’t be quiet; I won’t be silent,” Villalpando said. “I am not going to stop.”
Villalpando, 47, said she received a notice on Dec. 20, 2017, that ICE was ordering her removal from the country because she had overstayed her non-immigrant B2 tourism visa. The order gave her notice to appear before federal immigration court to show she shouldn’t be removed, but it set no date.
Villalpando says that the notification seemed to come out of the blue, and she has had no immigration-related contact with the state since 1996, when she came to the U.S from Mexico nor had she had any encounter with law enforcement.
Villalpando serves as the spokesperson of NWDC Resistance, which is part of the national immigration rights group Not1more. The local group works with detainees supporting their hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma to improve conditions, including improving the food, the treatment of detainees, and the pay which is only $1 an hour for working detainees. They also call for the end of GEO Group’s contract with the federal government.
Villalpando’s daughter Josefina Mora, 20, told the crowd that she had nightmares since young age that her mother would be deported.
Several activists and her attorney also spoke to the crowd, including Nestora Salgado, the Renton activist who had been jailed for two years by Mexican authorities for her leadership in her hometown community police force.
Salgado, through an interpreter, told the crowd that Mexico is dangerous place for social leaders, especially for women and called for ICE to cancel the charge.
Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, director of UW Center For Human Rights, echoed concerns that the notice was a retaliation for her vocal stance and activities protesting ICE’s policies.
Godoy’s department has been collaborating with Villalpando on a human rights project for a year.
“[Villalpando] has been a very vocal and courageous critic of ICE,” Godoy told The Seattle Globalist. “And we see many people around the country in that situation starting to be caught up in ICE deportation effort.”