A sea of handmade banners bearing phrases such as “Hands off Maru!” and “Defend the Defenders” obscured the entrance to the Seattle Immigration Court Tuesday afternoon. About 80 people gathered around the palatial columns in support of Maru Mora-Villalpando, an outspoken undocumented immigrant rights activist who entered deportation proceedings last December. They’ll have to wait longer, as her second deportation hearing — scheduled for May 22 — was postponed to June 26.
“I’m not going to lie — I also feel sometimes weakened,” Villalpando addressed the crowd as she clutched a microphone in her right hand, and a pink flower in the left.
Mora-Villalpando told her supporters that she was infuriated when U.S. Immigration Judge Brett M. Parchert denied her motion to terminate the deportation proceedings a couple of weeks ago. In the motion filed in March, Mora-Villalpando argued that ICE violated her First Amendment rights, sending her a notice to appear in immigration court last winter as a retalitory act in response to her organizing efforts supporting immigrant detainees.
The judge also rejected her request that ICE testify at an evidentiary hearing about the procedures that they’ve used to round up Mora-Villalpando and other political activists. “We want to have ICE responding to us, and we’ll just have to come up with new ways of fighting my case. But at least it’s clear where the judge stands. He agrees with ICE—he doesn’t agree with us,” Mora-Villalpando told Seattle Weekly after Tuesday’s rally.
She and her attorney, Devin T. Theriot-Orr, recently filed a lawsuit against ICE in the District Court of Washington for violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by failing to respond to a request for public documents that allegedly show the organization’s biases when initiating the removal proceeding. By law, ICE has 20 business days — along with a possible 10-day extension — to respond to FOIA requests, but the request filed in February went unaddressed.
Form I-213—a document that initiates removal proceedings—showed that Mora-Villalpando came to authorities’ attention when she discussed her undocumented status in a June 2017 Whatcom Watch Online article. The form also noted her “extensive involvement in anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs.”
Mora-Villalpando and her legal team suspect that her case is indicative of a widespread practice in which organizers are targeted for their political leanings. The FOIA request also asked for records that showed enforcement actions against other activists involved in anti-ICE activities or political organizing. ICE’s response to the lawsuit is due in early July.
“We think the documents in Maru’s case … really speak to themselves in terms of the political nature of the reasoning behind them initiating removal proceedings against her, and we are quite certain that Maru is not the only one,” Theriot-Orr told Seattle Weekly. “They picked a fight with the wrong person, and Maru’s not going to just roll over and let them do what they will.”
At Tuesday’s demonstration, Mora-Villalpando also sought to highlight the other people facing deportation who don’t have hundreds of supporters to rally behind them. According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, nearly 60 percent of the 388 people who received a ruling in deportation proceedings at Seattle Immigration Court from October to December 2017 were ordered to be deported.
Mora-Villalpando recounted the recent calls she’s received from detainees at the Northwest Detention Center that have reminded her she’s not alone. “When I started thinking about that, then I realized I should not feel weak,” she said. “I should continue fighting; I should feel the strength, because if they make it I should make it.”