Undocumented immigrant organizer harassed by ICE for years wins permanent relief

Earlier this year a report from the University of Washington School of Law Immigration Clinic, Just Futures Law, and Mijente revealed “a sustained campaign of ICE surveillance and repression against advocacy groups and activists,” including Mora Villalpando. ICE officials in internal correspondence described her as an instigator for rightfully criticizing Washington state’s notorious Northwest Detention Center (NWDC). ICE said that throwing her “into proceedings might actually take away some of her ‘clout.’”

“Various ICE records—such as those obtained through FOIA, produced through active litigation and even forms entered into her immigration file—demonstrate that ICE’s decision to place Maru in removal proceedings was an act of retaliation against her role in organizing against the NWDC,” the report said“This explicit targeting of Maru was not an isolated case amongst those organizing to close the NWDC. Internal ICE records indicate that officials sought to install surveillance technology at NWDC to monitor and record the activities of the protestors at the NWDC.”

Ultimately, the advocacy of Mora Villalpando and advocates in the state won: A bill signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year prevents NWDC’s contract from being renewed. It was a bill championed by advocates.

“ICE did not detain Mora Villalpando while seeking to kick her out of the country, and she continued organizing protests and sending out news releases about conditions at the detention center,” The Seattle Times continued. “As she announced the news in her case Tuesday, she said a group she leads, La Resistencia, will hold a protest Thursday in front of ICE’s Seattle office to demand the agency exercise prosecutorial discretion in all deportation cases.”


The Biden administration on Thursday released a framework that purports to create new ICE priorities for who is detained and deported, but advocates expressed deep concern about what will actually play out on the ground among agents and their individual offices. “Given ICE’s abysmal record of detaining and deporting people with impunity, we are skeptical about how these enforcement priorities will be implemented,” Detention Watch Network said. 

The organization had expressed alarm over the massive increase in ICE detention—“Number of immigrants detained by ICE has increased 70 percent under Biden,” Detention Watch Network executive director Silky Shah wrote for Truthout—and was among the advocates participating in a “Communities Not Cages” national day of action that urged the president to stick by his campaign pledge promising a more humane immigration system.

“Now is the moment to intervene and reverse course, before Biden allows the immigration detention system to reach maximum capacity,” Shah wrote. “People navigating their immigration cases should be able to do so with their families and in community—not behind bars in immigration jails.” Indeed, lower detention numbers mandated by the courts amid the novel coronavirus pandemic showed it’s possible. “Now is the time to push Biden to turn things around and hold him to his word.”

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