A crowd forms outside of the Seattle Immigration Court for Maru Mora Villalpando’s second deportation hearing. Photo by Melissa Hellmann

A crowd forms outside of the Seattle Immigration Court for Maru Mora Villalpando’s second deportation hearing. Photo by Melissa Hellmann

Immigrant Rights Activist Avoids Deportation And Moves Towards Citizenship

A judge approved of Maru Mora Villalpando’s plan to begin the green card process.

Undocumented immigrant activist Maru Mora Villalpando was granted a stay of removal on Tuesday in Seattle Immigration Court, allowing her to begin the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident.

U.S. Immigration Judge Brett M. Parchert scheduled Mora Villalpando’s next deportation hearing in January 2019, her attorney Devin T. Theriot-Orr announced before a large crowd outside of the court on Tuesday. At her second deportation hearing earlier in the afternoon, Mora-Villalpando’s legal counsel informed the judge that she intended on filing a petition for relief from removal proceedings with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) once her U.S. citizen daughter turns 21 years old in August, as per federal law. Once USCIS adjudicates the relief petition, then Mora-Villalpando will apply for her green card. The process of applying for a green card could take a year, according to Theriot-Orr.

“The judge will likely grant another continuance once we file the case. He just wants to have proof that it’s actually been filed, so that we’re not joshing around with him or anything,” Theriot-Orr told Seattle Weekly after the hearing.

An outspoken undocumented immigrant originally from Mexico, Mora-Villalpando entered deportation proceedings in late December, when she received a notice to appear in immigration court. She and her legal counsel believe that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeted her because of her efforts to organize detainees at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center. Form I-213—a document that initiates removal proceedings— seemed to support her claims, since it indicated ICE acted in response to a June 2017 Whatcom Watch Online interview that identified Mora-Villalpando’s undocumented status. The form warned that “it should also be noted that she has extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs.”

After she received the news from the judge, Mora-Villalpando told the crowd: “I just want to say that I’m really really happy … because of the possibility of staying here with my daughter.” As her voice cracked with emotion, she explained that she counted 11 families who were also facing deportation proceedings in the towering building behind her. “One child was crying and crying … and had to be taken outside of the court room. Nobody should be there.”

Mora-Villalpando’s deportation proceeding saga began late last year with an initial hearing on March 15. Following Tuesday’s hearing, she was met with cheers from hundreds of supporters who spilled off the sidewalk and into the bike lane. An array of handmade signs, including one that read, “No one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” obscured the entrance to the downtown Seattle Immigration Court. Several advocates waved baby clothes on hangers that included signs reading, “Where are the kids?” in reference to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance policy” that separated thousands of immigrant children from their parents.

During her speech, Maru implored her supporters to speak out for others facing deportation, and to work to close detention facilities.

The news of Mora-Villalpando’s stay of removal comes one day after Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington on behalf of three immigrant mothers detained in Washington state who are separated from their children as a result of the “zero tolerance” policy. NWIRP’s litigation challenged the family separation policy, and the practice of holding detainees in custody for over a month without screening them for asylum.

The whereabouts of most of the children separated from their children remains unknown, although federal records recently acquired by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting show that over 50 unaccompanied minors are currently being held in shelters in Seattle, Renton and Fife.

Mora-Villalpando asked the crowd to retain hope amid the flurry of national policies with wide-reaching impacts. “We will win,” she chanted at the demonstration’s conclusion.

mhellmann@seattleweekly.com

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