On May 22 in the afternoon a crowd gathered outside the Seattle Federal immigrations Court to voice their support for celebrated local activist Maru Mora-Villalpando in her struggle against threats of deportation leveled by ICE. Mora has been targeted for deportation as a result of her tireless advocacy on behalf of undocumented workers and their families, particularly those being held at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center. The second in a series of hearings was scheduled to be heard this day in a courtroom located several floors up in a private building. The courtroom was made inaccessible to the general public and the to chanting crowd below by privately contracted building security.
NWDC is a for-profit prison. It pays the people detained there less than $1 per day for a work day that stretches on for 10 hours or longer, in spite of the specific provision in Washington state minimum wage law stipulating that incarcerated workers also qualify for the state minimum wage. This injustice is added on top of the day-to-day hardships that undocumented immigrants detained at NW DC have to endure, such as inadequate access to sanitation and clean water.
The case being brought against Mora is based specifically on her work as an activist, according to immigration attorney Devin Theriot-Orr. This is attested by documents produced by ICE itself, including the form I203 document filed by ICE when the case was first opened. Since these activities are all ostensibly considered protected speech under the first amendment, the defense appealed to the judge to dismiss the case. That appeal was denied.
The effort to single out activists willing to speak on behalf of undocumented workers and their families is not limited to Maru Mora-Villalpando’s case alone. Other similar instances of activists targeted for their work on behalf of undocumented immigrants have been seen across the country, not only under the Trump Administration, but stretching back into the Obama years as well. A lawsuit has been filed by Mora’s defense seeking to open up internal ICE documents through the Freedom of Information Act in order to show that targeting activists for deportation is a widespread pattern and an intentional strategy on the part of ICE to destabilize and undermine the resistance to their raids and deportations.
The next hearing in this ongoing battle with ICE and the courts is scheduled to be held on June 26. It is not expected to be the last.