A Mexico City native who overstayed a visa issued in 1996, Maru Mora-Villalpando says she is being targeted because of her activism.
An immigration judge Thursday gave the government until early next month to respond to the allegations of an immigrant-rights advocate who says she’s been targeted for deportation because of her political activism.
Dozens of supporters greeted Maru Mora-Villalpando, 47, as she arrived outside a downtown Seattle building for her first deportation hearing.
A Mexico City native who overstayed a visa issued in 1996, Mora-Villalpando says she has had no convictions or contacts with police that, under President Barack Obama, normally triggered deportation proceedings. But President Donald Trump has said that no immigrants living illegally here are exempt from deportation, and in December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent Mora-Villalpando a notice to appear in immigration court.
An officer’s report in her case said she came to the agency’s attention after she discussed her unlawful status last year in Whatcom Watch, an environmental publication. The report also cited her “extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs.”
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She cited that statement in a motion filed Monday arguing that the proceedings should be dismissed as a violation of her free-speech rights. An attorney for the Justice Department, Brent Campbell, told U.S. Immigration Judge Brett Parchert that the government would oppose that motion, and Parchert gave him until April 9 to file a written response.
ICE has repeatedly denied targeting anyone for political reasons and called such allegations “irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate.”
Pro-immigration advocates around the country have cited other cases, including deportation proceedings against Eliseo Jurado, the husband of an immigrant activist in Boulder, Colorado, who sought sanctuary from deportation in a church, and Ravi Ragbir, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago who leads the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City.
Last month, United Nations human-rights experts called on the U.S. to protect Mora-Villalpando and other activists from deportation, saying advocates for migrants’ rights must not be silenced.
“We need to be dismantling ICE,” Mora-Villalpando told the crowd Thursday. “ICE has no oversight. ICE is not accountable to anybody.”
“It’s my right of being Mexican in the United States,” she also declared. “If there are people that don’t like it, that’s their problem, not mine.”
Among her supporters were Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, activist and former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver and Mora-Villalpando’s 20-year-old daughter, born in the U.S.
Mora-Villalpando, whose activism includes helping to organize hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center, a privately run immigration jail in Tacoma, remains out of custody. The next hearing in her case is set for May 22.