An undocumented immigrant rights organiser has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in what activists say is the latest example of the Trump administration targeting vocal members of the immigrant rights movement.
Alejandra Pablos, 32, was detained early Thursday morning during a routine check-in with ICE officials, just months after she was arrested by immigration officials at what has been described as a peaceful immigration protest outside of an ICE field office in Virginia.
Ms Pablos, in a video recorded before her detention and posted on Facebook, said that arrests like hers are an effort to silence immigration activists and disassemble the larger pro-immigrant movement. At least four other prominent immigration activists have been detained and threatened with deportation since President Donald Trump took office.
“They are trying to tear our movement and our community apart, and I’m not going to let that happen,” Ms Pablos said in the video, which she pre-recorded suspecting she might be detained. “They are retaliating against all activists and organisers. I need you to fight for me on the outside as I am fighting inside.”
The woman, who says that she would be in danger if deported to Mexico, is currently seeking asylum and previously served two years in US detention facilities. That detention began in 2011 after she was charged with driving under the influence and for being in possession of marijuana, Tania Unzueta, a fellow undocumented organiser with the group Mijente in Tucson who is familiar with her case, told The Independent.
Ms Pablos was released following that detention on parole after serving two years at a detention centre in Eloy, Arizona, and was instructed to regularly check in with immigration officials.
But Ms Unzueta says that the most recent detention is connected to her arrest at the January, and not because of her run-in with the law seven years ago.
“To put it bluntly, I think it is an intimidation tactic for people who are speaking out on immigration,” Ms Unzuenta said, saying that an ICE agent in Virginia had notified their colleagues in Arizona about Ms Pablos.
Immigration rights groups sued ICE last month after a different immigration activist, Ravi Ragbir, was detained and threatened with deportation proceedings. The lawsuit, which has gotten Mr Ragbir a stay on his deportation order, argued that his detention was the result of his activism and not solely related to his immigration status.
“ICE’s targeting of immigrant-rights activists based on their protected speech and political advocacy plainly violates the First Amendment. We intend to put an end to this vindictive practice,” Sally Pei, an attorney working on that case, said in a statement released the time.
When contacted for comment, ICE spokesperson Lauren Mack rejected the notion that immigrants are being targeted for their political activism, and pointed out that the agency has a directive to target “criminal aliens” in the US. In the fiscal year of 2017, Ms Mack said, 73.7 per cent of the undocumented immigrants detained fell into that category, they noted — a category that Ms Pablos would fall under for her previous convictions.
“US 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,” Ms Mack said in a statement representing the agency. “Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate. ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”
Immigration advocates, including Ms Unzuenta, disagree. When asked about the stated goal of ICE to arrest “criminal aliens”, advocates often reference cases in which ICE agents arrested immigrants who had been critical of the agency even though they did not have a criminal history.
Ms Unzuenta noted the case of Maru Mora-Villalpando, 47, who is an outspoken activist in the Seattle area who has lived in the United States for more than 25 years, and who has an American daughter.
Ms Mora-Villalpando was served a notice to appear before an immigration judge in December after an ICE agent showed up at her front door. Ms Mora-Villalpando does not have a criminal background, but did overstay her visa, which is a civil — not criminal — violation.
“She had never been in deportation proceedings before, she had never been in contact with police,” Ms Unzuenta, who is organising around the case as well, said. “They found her story in a newspaper where they said she was undocumented. I think her case is one where it’s really clear that there is no other excuse for ICE to target her except for her public speaking.”