Maru is free to fight another day

July 3, 2018

Steve Leigh reports from Seattle on a victory for undocumented activist Maru Mora Villalpando and the next steps in the immigrant rights struggle.

SEATTLE IMMIGRANT rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando and her supporters celebrated on June 26 after she won a reprieve from the immediate threat of deportation.

As more than 200 protesters gathered in front of the Seattle Immigration Court to support Maru and oppose Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a judge issued a stay of removal, paving the way for Maru to apply for permanent residency. Though she still faces the threat, and the judge scheduled her next possible deportation for January 2019, her supporters are hopeful.

Maru is a co-founder of the Latinx organization Mijente and a community organizer with Northwest Detention Center Resistance, a grassroots volunteer group working to shut down the privately run Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington, 30 miles south of Seattle.

Maru was targeted for deportation in December 2017 due to her work exposing the inhumane conditions at NWDC — the largest immigrant holding facility on the West Coast — and supporting the organizing of detainees there.

Every time Maru has come before an immigration judge, large numbers of supporters have gathered.

Maru Mora-Villalpando greets supporters after winning a stay of removal
Maru Mora-Villalpando greets supporters after winning a stay of removal (NWDC Resistance/Resistencia al NWDC)

June 26 was the largest demonstration for Maru yet, with supporters taking up the whole sidewalk and part of the street in front of the ICE office. Chanting “ICE, hands off Maru!” “Chinga La Migra,” “Defend the defender” and “ Abolish ICE,” demonstrators made it known that there would be a price to pay for deporting Maru.

This demonstration was backed up by a petition signed by hundreds of people in support of Maru.

This victory is also the result of mass organizing all over the U.S., from the demonstrations on the border to the shutdown of the ICE office in Portland, Oregon, to the occupation of the lawn in front of the NWDC in Tacoma. Activists all over have taken up the campaign to abolish ICE.

During the demonstration, organizers with the Northwest Detention Center Resistance conducted a “People’s Tribunal” against ICE on the sidewalk in front of its office. The tribunal went through the U.S. government’s anti-immigrant history under ICE and previous agencies. A leaflet explained:

The U.S. government spends more money on immigration enforcement than on all the other federal law enforcement agencies combined. Trump’s cops...are taking their marching orders from a president with a Racism First agenda. Trump’s cops have no place in our city, and we are taking to the streets today because we want them gone.

Organizers also denounced city, county and state government cooperation with ICE:

Our local authorities claim to be anti-ICE, but their actions tell a different story. Until they were exposed, the Washington Department of Licensing released the information of hundreds of Washington residents to ICE agents, so they could track down and deport our neighbors. The Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s office partner actively with ICE on several joint task forces.

This is happening even though Seattle is supposedly a “sanctuary city” and King County a “sanctuary county.”

Another target of the demonstration was the owner of the building, Martin Selig Real Estate, which protest organizers describe as a “billion dollar-company...which profits from renting several floors of 1000 2nd Avenue to the very people terrorizing our communities.”

After the rally in front of the ICE office, demonstrators marched to the headquarters of Martin Selig Real Estate and submitted petitions with hundreds of names demanding the eviction of ICE and the field office of Customs and Border Protection from Selig’s building.

Protesters later joined forces with a demonstration denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Trump’s Muslim ban.

THAT EVENING, Maru appeared on a panel with several other immigrant rights activists sponsored by Northwest Detention Center Resistance and the Seattle branch of the International Socialist Organization, titled “No Detentions, No Deportations: Fight Back Against the War on Immigrants.”

About 100 people crowded into the room to hear the activists and discuss ways to continue the fightback for immigrant rights.

An obviously relieved Maru thanked everyone for their support: “You could feel the love!” She noted that the ruling “allows me the possibility of staying with my daughter. In August, when she turns 21, she is going to be filing a petition for me to stay in the country, getting a visa and permanent residency.”

For Maru, solidarity is always central — and she quickly pivoted off her own case and discussed the broader issues around the war on immigrants. She noted that when she was facing the judge, 11 other families were also facing deportation.

“Not everyone has good news,” Maru said. “I saw all of those people with sad faces. Some of the children were as young as 3 years old. I felt kind of guilty. I wanted to tell them that they are not alone, and we are fighting for everyone. We need to get everybody out — children, but not just the children, adults too.”

She stressed the need for mass organizing, talking about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), crediting hunger strikers at the NWDC with pushing President Barack Obama to issue DACA in 2014.

She said that she was angry that DACA did not include everyone and called for solidarity with other victims of racism in the U.S., noting that the detention system is “just an extension of the prison system” that victimizes Black and Native people too.

At the end of her remarks, Maru urged everyone to get involved, with the most important thing being to “show up.” The discussion following took up this challenge — as people signed up for national days of action the following weekend at the SeaTac and Northwest Detention Centers.

The evening ended with a collection for another one of the panelists, ShaCorrie Wimbley Tunkara, a mother of two who is facing the threat of deportation. She is fighting for her family to stay together and trying to secure proper medical care for her husband Saja, who is battling cancer while being detained at NWDC.

Maru’s victory is important and encouraging, but as Maru noted, the fight for immigrant rights will continue until no one is detained or deported.

Further Reading

From the archives