Following arrests and the commencement of deportation proceedings for individuals who spoke out against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), multiple immigrant rights activist groups sued the federal agency for violating the First Amendment rights of activists.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the federal law enforcement agency that oversees and enforces U.S. immigration laws, including criminal investigations into foreign nationals living in the United States. The most well-known division of ICE is the Enforcement and Removal Operations office, which investigates, detains, and often deports unauthorized immigrants. Under the administration of former President Barack Obama, ICE primarily targeted undocumented immigrants who had committed serious crimes, according to the New York Times; under President Donald Trump, the agency has taken a broader approach, targeting all unauthorized immigrants.
Critics of ICE often comment on its “aggressive enforcement of immigration laws,” according to the New York Times. For example, ICE has been criticized for conducting raids for undocumented immigrants in their workplaces, in addition to tracking down people at their residences.
Baltazar “Rosas” Aburto Gutierrez, who is undocumented, believes ICE retaliated against him because he spoke out publicly against his girlfriend’s arrest and deportation.
Maru Mora-Villalpando is an outspoken immigrant rights activist in Bellingham, Washington, who has called for an end to the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, according to the Seattle Times. Mora-Villalpando, herself undocumented, is also a leader of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) Resistance, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against ICE. She believes the agency retaliated against her for her outspoken advocacy.
In December 2017, Aburto Gutierrez, who was living in southwest Washington state at the time, was detained by ICE after detailing to the Seattle Times his girlfriend’s arrest by the agency a few months earlier. Months later, Aburto Gutierrez himself was arrested by ICE agents, who cited his name’s appearance in the newspaper as a motivating factor.
Aburto Gutierrez subsequently concluded that ICE arrested him because he spoke out against his girlfriend’s deportation. An ICE spokesperson rejected that characterization, saying concern over Aburto Gutierrez’s immigration status, not his interviews, had led ICE to investigate. Washington Governor Jay Inslee called then-acting ICE director Thomas Homan to complain about the incident’s “chilling effect” on free speech.
In a similar case, Mora-Villalpando — a 25-year resident of the United States who is the mother of a 20-year old U.S.-born daughter — received a letter from ICE ordering her to appear in immigration court in December 2017.
She originally came to the attention of ICE when she openly admitted her undocumented status in a local newspaper profile, the Seattle Times reported.
Mora-Villalpando, who also lives in Washington state, called the order “an intimidation tactic.” Deportation proceedings were started against her in early 2018, but she was granted a stay of removal in June of that year. The decision also allowed her to apply for permanent residence through her daughter, who is a U.S. citizen.
Immigrant rights groups sue ICE, alleging deportation as scare tactic
On October 23, 2018, multiple immigration rights activist groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Western Washington, claiming ICE was targeting immigrants without documentation who spoke out against the government. The plaintiffs include NWDC Resistance and the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites, both Washington state organizations, as well as the Detention Watch Network, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The suit claims this brand of selective detention and deportation began with the administration of President Donald Trump and says the “sharp spike in immigration-enforcement targeting the most vocal immigration activists is intended to stifle dissent.”
The suit cited more than 10 cases nationwide, including those involving Mora-Villalpando and Aburto Gutierrez, whose cases are a microcosm of a larger trend across the country.
The Seattle case mirrors a First Amendment suit filed against ICE in New York on behalf of well-known immigration rights activist Ravi Ragbir, who has evaded deportation for more than a decade despite his outspoken advocacy. Lawyers representing Ragbir also claim ICE is targeting him because of his activism; Ragbir’s wife made similar claims in a January 2018 New York Times op-ed.
“In the past week alone we have learned of three other leaders who have been deported, detained or placed into deportation proceedings,” she wrote. “Each of these leaders has been outspoken about his or her own immigration case and has worked toward a more just system for all.”
Jean Montrevil, a co-founder of the New York-based immigrants’ rights advocacy group New Sanctuary, was also detained in January 2018. “ Montrevil had been due for a mandatory check-in in the coming days, but ice agents picked him up where there would be few witnesses, and no supporters standing with him,” according to The New Yorker.
Also in January 2018, ICE detained Eliseo Jurado — the husband of immigration activist Ingrid Encalada Latorre, who has taken sanctuary in a Boulder church since January 2018 — as he was grocery shopping. Encalada Latorre argued Jurado’s detention was a deliberate attack on her, according to the Denver Post.
Such cases touch on the intersection of Free Speech and immigration rights, and how the Trump administration is handling the matter.
Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20
Uploaded February 21, 2019