Are immigrant activists being targeted for deportation? Alejandra Pablos, a well-known human rights activist, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on March 7 during a routine check-in at their Arizona offices. She is one of many activists who believe their political activities have put their immigration statuses in jeopardy.
Pablos, a field coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in Tucson, is now seeking asylum, citing fears of being persecuted in Mexico, Human Rights Watch reports. After a 2012 DUI conviction, Pablos served time in both prison and immigration detention centers and, following her release, was ordered to check in with ICE every three months; it was at one such meeting where she was recently detained.
In a Facebook video, Pablos told viewers that agents had illegally detained her and that she would soon be transported to a federal immigrant detention center in Eloy, Arizona, where she would then have to fight deportation efforts.
"I need you to fight for me," Pablos said. "As I'm fighting inside, you please fight outside."
Pablos, a legal permanent resident and green card holder, has been detained for 10 days now. Unfortunately, her story is becoming increasingly common. In January, immigrant rights leader Jean Montrevil was deported to Haiti despite having lived in the U.S. for three decades. Earlier this month, Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old Mississippi "Dreamer," was detained shortly after after speaking at a news conference about immigration rights — even though she was released, the deportation order against her stands, and she will have to check in with ICE in April.
Recently, alarm bells rang when Eva Chavez, a reproductive justice advocate who has worked with the Texas Latina Advocacy Network of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health for ten years, was detained by ICE in February. She was later released so that she could care for her special needs son. Ahead of her required check-in with ICE earlier this month, activists gathered in support of Chavez outside of the ICE office where her scheduled check-in was to take place, and she was not detained.
ICE officials have denied targeting immigrants based on political activity.
“U.S. 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,” said ICE’s Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Matthew Albence. “Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate.”
Still, the fear of retaliation is palpable in many immigrant activists. Ravi Ragbir, an activist from Trinidad and and Tobago, was taken into custody in January after checking in with immigration officials, prompting protests in the streets of New York City. Ragbir was released in February after a judge ruled that he hadn't been given enough time to say goodbye to his family.
Ragbir, a leader of a coalition of 150 pro-immigrant groups known as the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, has banded together with CASA de Maryland, Detention Watch Network, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the New York Immigration Coalition, to file a free speech lawsuit in U.S. federal district court alleging that ICE has been specifically targeting “the most vocal immigration activists” in order to “stifle dissent.”
“The Government’s targeting of activists on the basis of their core political speech is unfair, discriminatory, and un-American,” the suit reads. “And it violates the First Amendment.”
“I know how important it is to raise our voices against the injustices in the system,” said Ragbir. “This lawsuit is not just about me, it is about all of the members of our community who are speaking out in our struggle for immigrant rights.”
The fight for immigrants’ rights continues to be an uphill battle, with the Supreme Court ruling last month that immigrants can be detained indefinitely without periodic bail hearings. While the ruling was bad news for immigrants, it was cause for celebration for the private prison industry.
[Photo: Answer Coalition]