Immigrant activist says deportation action is political

SEATTLE (AP) — An immigration judge Thursday gave the government until early next month to respond to the allegations of an immigrant-rights advocate who says she’s been targeted for deportation because of her political activism.

Dozens of supporters greeted Maru Mora-Villalpando, 47, as she arrived outside a downtown Seattle building for her first deportation hearing.

A Mexico City native who overstayed a visa issued in 1996, Mora-Villalpando says she has had no convictions or contacts with police that might normally trigger deportation proceedings. But in December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent her a notice to appear in immigration court.

An officer’s report in her case said she came to the agency’s attention because she discussed her unlawful status in a newspaper interview last year. The report also cited her “extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs.”

She cited that statement in a motion filed Monday arguing that the proceedings should be dismissed as a violation of her free-speech rights. An attorney for the Justice Department, Brent Campbell, told U.S. Immigration Judge Brett Parchert that the government would oppose that motion, and Parchert gave him until April 9 to file a written response.

ICE has repeatedly denied targeting anyone for political reasons and called such allegations “irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate.”

Pro-immigration advocates around the country have cited other cases, including deportation proceedings against Eliseo Jurado, the husband of an immigrant activist in Boulder, Colorado, who sought sanctuary from deportation in a church, and Ravi Ragbir, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago who leads the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City.

Last month, United Nations human rights experts called on the U.S. to protect Mora-Villalpando and other activists from deportation, saying advocates for migrants’ rights must not be silenced.

“We need to be dismantling ICE,” Mora-Villalpando told the crowd Thursday. “ICE has no oversight. ICE is not accountable to anybody.”

Mora-Villalpando, whose activism includes helping to organize hunger strikes at a privately run immigration jail in Tacoma, remains out of custody. The next hearing in her case is set for May 22.

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