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caption: Immigrant rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando speaks to supporters after an initial court hearing on her deportation case. 
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Immigrant rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando speaks to supporters after an initial court hearing on her deportation case.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

Immigrant activist heads to court, fighting her own deportation

Prominent immigrant rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando has asked a Seattle immigration judge to throw out her deportation case.

Villalpando’s lawyers claim the Bellingham resident was unlawfully targeted because of her political activity and protests against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A crowd of supporters filled half a city block in downtown Seattle on Thursday morning, chanting "Hands off Maru!" as Villalpando made her way into the courthouse.

Villalpando entered the U.S. more than 25 years ago on a tourist visa and overstayed. She has no criminal record. Over the years, she's become a well-known immigrant rights advocate as leader of a group called Northwest Detention Center Resistance, which has raised concerns about human rights issues inside the Tacoma immigration jail.

Elizabeth Simpson, senior staff attorney with the National Immigration Project, is assisting in Villalpando’s case as well and similar cases around the country.

“Unfortunately Maru’s case is not unique,” Simpson said outside the courthouse. “The Trump administration has been targeting a lot activists for deportation in retaliation for their first amendment rights. It really is a very dangerous climate for activists.”

Simpson said ICE documents show the agency targeted Villalpando because she spoke to the media and because of her activism, which Simpson describes as an unlawful threat to free speech.

ICE officials insist the agency does not retaliate against activists or people who speak to media.

Once inside Judge Brett Parchert’s courtroom, Villalpando turned from her front-row seat to take in the scene and the other families facing deportation.

She nodded her head around, counting the children present. The number was around eight. A mother from El Salvador with her teenage son. Another mom from Guatemala with three young children – the younger two in matching puffy vests, the oldest daughter’s long hair pulled back with a baby blue headband. The youngest boy sat on his mom’s lap as she talked to the judge.

Villalpando’s 20-year-old daughter, Josefina, sat at her side, holding her hand.

An attorney for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security objected to Villalpando’s motion to have her case dismissed. Parchert gave the agency an April 9 deadline to provide a written response.

Then he set a hearing for May 22 to decide if Villalpando’s case will be canceled.

Once back outside, Villalpando took up her megaphone and pressed on.

“It really breaks my heart to see all those families upstairs,” Villalpando told the crowd. “Please keep fighting. There’s no way we can stop.”