Newly released public records suggest a prominent Northwest activist was targeted for deportation partly because she spoke out to the media. Lawyers say the documents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raise concerns about free speech.
The document in question, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, outlines why ICE served a deportation notice to Bellingham resident Maru Mora Villalpando in December.
The form, called an I-213, says Villapando overstayed her visa, that she has no criminal record, and that ICE learned about her through a newspaper article, in which Villalpando identified herself as undocumented.
Villalpando believes ICE’s motive is political.
“I think it’s very clear in the document that they labeled me as an anti-ICE protester,” Villalpando said during a press call Monday. “I think this is a clear attack on our organizing and our freedom of speech.”
The I-213 states Villalpando “has extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs.”
Villalpando leads a group called Northwest Detention Center Resistance, which frequently stages protests and demonstrations outside the Tacoma facility. She also serves as a spokeswoman for detainees who’ve launched sporadic hunger strikes inside the facility since 2014.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not target unlawfully present aliens for arrest based on advocacy positions they hold or in retaliation for critical comments they make,” said ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley in an emailed statement.
“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” Haley said.
But Seattle attorney Devin Theriot-Orr wants proof. Theriot-Orr has filed a broad FOIA request on behalf of Villalpando and immigrant rights’ group Mijente, to get a full account of ICE cases across the country similar to Villalpando’s.
“We’re trying to get everything we can possibly get relating to people who’ve had enforcement actions based on their public statements about their undocumented status, their involvement in political activity, or other types of advocacy programs,” Theriot-Orr said.
He said Villalpando’s case is unlikely to be an isolated incident, and he’s requested all ICE I-213 forms since 2010 that include keywords such as “immigration advocacy” or “anti-ICE protests.”
He said in these cases, people may be able to avoid deportation, if their free speech rights were violated.
“The thing that was really shocking to me about this was how blunt the administration is about its tactics,” Theriot-Orr said regarding ICE’s file about Villalpando. “This is not something where they’re trying to be subtle or trying to hide their motives at all.”