Supporters of “Modern Day Freedom Fighter” Say #HandsOff Maru

by DJ Martinez

Supporters of Maru Mora-Villalpando showed up by the hundreds at the downtown Seattle offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Tuesday. They were there to express solidarity with the local activist as she faces deportation.

Mora-Villalpando, known in Washington and beyond as a modern day freedom fighter, heard a knock at the door of her residence on December 20. It was a postal worker delivering a notice to appear in immigration court, triggering the process toward potential deportation.

“To me, it was a clear sign that ICE wants me to stop my job. It’s an intimidation tactic,” said Mora-Villalpando. “They want us to stop supporting people in detention; they want us to stop highlighting all the human rights abuses that happen in the detention centers. They don’t want us to say the truth, which is that they are an agency that was made to destroy, not to build.”

Mora-Villalpando, born in Mexico, has been in the United States for over 25 years and has been working with the Northwest Detention Center Resistance (NWDCR), fighting against human rights violations and is a founding member of national Latinx organization, Mijente.

“And because of that, I got that letter. Not for any other reason, but for the fact that I won’t be quiet, I won’t be silenced, and I will continue working,” said Mora-Villalpando.

Mora-Villalpando is one of hundreds of thousands of people affected by The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), enacted by then president Bill Clinton in 1996. “There hasn’t been any chance for me to get any status. I am one of the victims of the 1996 law that came to pass, where they shut down the door on us and included the 10 year bar, which means if I go back to Mexico and try to come back, I will be barred for 10 years. So there have been no options for people like me,” she explained. “My only option could be when my daughter turns 21. That’s why I came out publicly, to say people like me, have no chance to get status in this country.”

Amongst those speaking at the conference was Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, director of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights. “It’s our honor at the UWCHR to stand with Maru Mora-Villalpando and all of those who are fighting these unjust actions by ICE and CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) in Washington State.”

Supporters hold signs of solidarity at Tuesday’s press conference. [Photo: DJ Martinez]
Professor Godoy then announced that UWCHR has filed two public records requests in Washington State, and one federal request under the Freedom of Information Act, for more information related to Mora-Villalpando’s case.

The Seattle Times reported last week that ICE had been in regular contact with the WA State Department of Licensing, requesting and receiving personal information on residents 20 to 30 times per month. Mora-Villalpando and others suspect that it was through this method that ICE was able to obtain her information, as is the case with others. Governor Jay Inslee announced Monday that he had ordered the Department of Licensing to stop releasing personal information of Washington residents to federal immigration authorities without a court order, as well as the resignation of Deputy Director Jeff DeVere.

Angélica Cházaro, immigration lawyer and member of NWDCR echoed this concern, and made sure to reiterate the importance of recognizing that Mora-Villalpando is being targeted because of her organizing work challenging immigration practices and against the Trump administration’s “racially-motivated deportation agenda.”

“ICE only knows about Maru because of her political activity, because of her tireless activism these past years. ICE has become Trump’s police force. In targeting Maru, they are making it clear that they exist to push forward Trump’s anti immigrant agenda,” said Cházaro, reminding everyone that this isn’t an isolated case. “Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil, New York immigration rights activists, are currently detained after being targeted by ICE. They’re facing imminent deportation in a detention center in Miami, Florida. We send our solidarity to them today.” Jean Montrevil was subsequently deported to Haiti later that day.

Renton resident and international human rights defender Nestora Salgado was also there to show solidarity at the press conference. She spoke through an interpreter on her experience as a political activist having been arrested and imprisoned for two years in Mexico after becoming a community police leader in her hometown. “I’m here to tell you why I can and must talk about this case, and to plead and tell you that we must defend Maru. I’m a defender of human rights who was imprisoned in Mexico because of my work. Maru cannot return to Mexico right now.”

She spoke on the psychological and physical consequences of returning to Mexico, and reminded everyone of the role the US has played in this war. “Psychologically, it is so difficult adapting to life back in Mexico once you’ve made a life here, and for Maru and her daughter who has grown up here, it would be incredibly difficult. But, I want to talk to you about something more grim, what I call ‘the tactics of war’ against the narco trafficking in Mexico, in which the US is deeply involved.

The US may not realize how deeply it is harming Mexico. We are not here on vacation. We are not here because we don’t want to be in our homelands. We are here because we have been displaced from our homes, and have no other choice. These are the consequences of the drug war, these are the consequences of Plan Mérida, which have scattered us and made us abandon our homes. Maru is here now, and she must be defended. We will be present every step of the way with her. If we have to go on hunger strike, we will go on hunger strike, and I will be the first to sign up. As a woman, as a mother, we will work to keep Maru here.”

After the press conference, those in attendance were encouraged to follow and join Mora-Villalpando and other organizers heading to the Northwest Detention Center, to continue with an action that had already been planned there on that day. “We won’t stop until the detention center shuts down. Until there’s not a single human being in that place in detention or being deported. We won’t stop until that happens in Washington State.” Mora-Villalpando made known.

As for next steps, folks are encouraged to sign this petition, demanding that ICE rescind the deportation order against Mora-Villalpando.

Featured image by DJ Martinez