Reproductive justice activist Alejandra Pablos has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in what immigrant rights advocates are calling an act of “retaliation” for protesting in Virginia earlier this year. She is currently in custody for an indefinite period of time at the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona.
Pablos works as the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network field coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) and is a member of We Testify, an abortion storytelling leadership program of the National Network of Abortion Funds, and Mijente, a social justice organizing network. She was put in deportation proceedings, losing her legal permanent resident status, more than two years ago following a drug-related arrest and a Driving Under the Influence charge.
Elsewhere, other activists have called attention to apparent retaliation against protesters, most notably in Washington state. “Alejandra isn’t the only one. Detainment is also evidence of ICE’s pattern of singling out immigrant leaders for being outspoken and fearless community mobilizers. In recent months, ICE detained prominent immigrant activist Maru Mora-Villalpando for her ‘extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs.’ Among other immigration activists, ICE has also detained Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, and Eliseo Jurado, husband of a Peruvian woman taking sanctuary at a Colorado church,” NLIRH said in a statement to Rewire.News after publication.
Mijente noted in a petition on Wednesday, the same day that Pablos was taken into custody, that she had led “chants [in early January] at a peaceful protest in Virginia [against deportations] outside of the Department of Homeland Security,” where local agents took her into custody. “It appears that after the protest in Virginia, one of the ICE agents called her deportation officer in Tucson, Arizona, and sought to get her detained in retaliation for her protest.” She is actively fighting the charges of suspicion of trespassing and obstruction of justice from this arrest; her court date was scheduled for April.
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“It appears that after the protest in Virginia, one of the ICE agents called her deportation officer in Tucson, Arizona, and sought to get her detained in retaliation for her protest,” Mijente explained in its petition.
She was taken into custody Wednesday morning at what seems to have been a regularly scheduled check-in with ICE in Tucson, Arizona. After already spending two years at Eloy and being placed in deportation proceedings, Pablos is now seeking asylum status “based on dangers she would face as a political organizer in Mexico,” noted Mijente.
The organization’s petition continued, “She will not have a chance to be released or to pay a bond until she sees an immigration judge at an indeterminate time.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last Tuesday that immigrants held in detention are not entitled to bond hearings under the law—meaning they can be held, as Rewire.News’ Senior Legal Analyst Imani Gandy explained, “often in prison-like conditions and for years on end—while waiting for a decision about whether they will be permitted to remain in the United States or whether they will be deported.”
In a Facebook video, recorded by another organizer shortly before her check-in to be used in the event that she was taken into custody, Pablos explained, “I went in today thinking that they were going to readjust my bond. I was recently detained in Virginia at a DHS protest and now I’m being detained illegally and I’m going to Eloy Detention Center where I was already there for two years. ICE lied to me. I went in there in good faith. I’m doing everything that I can. It’s been a long time that I’ve been going through this case and they’re trying to really separate me and tear our movement apart and tear our community apart, and I’m not letting that happen.”
Pablos reportedly moved from Arizona to Washington, D.C., in 2016.
“Our hermana en la lucha and poderosa Alejandra was detained in Arizona earlier this morning by ICE. Alejandra is a powerful immigrant and reproductive justice organizer who has done incredible work for the Latinx community in Arizona and Virginia. Right now, we are asking you to join us in supporting Alejandra so that we can bring her home, said Margie Del Castillo, director of field and advocacy at the NLIRH, in the statement. “NLIRH will continue to fight for so that our community can live with dignity and without fear of deportation.”
As Rewire.News Immigration Reporter Tina Vasquez has reported, so-called silent raids, which involve ICE detaining people during their regularly scheduled immigration check-ins, have become increasingly common in the last year. The immigration reform group America’s Voice noted in a 2017 press statement, “A key way the Trump Administration is running up its deportation numbers involves going after the undocumented immigrants who are easiest to find—those who have been checking in with ICE regularly for years under an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.” The group’s executive director Frank Sharry added, “With few exceptions, ICE ‘check-ins’ are becoming ‘turn yourself in for deportation’ events. The Trump Administration doesn’t need to rely on raids when these ‘silent raids’ advance their goals of sowing fear among immigrants and deporting whoever they can get their hands on.”
In response to questions about Pablos’ case and the apparent pattern of retaliation against activists, an ICE spokesperson said in a general statement after publication that the agency does not target undocumented people “for arrest based on advocacy positions they hold or in retaliation for critical comments they make.” Matthew Albence, executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations, added that, “as ICE leadership has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of [unauthorized migrants] from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and—if found removable by final order—removal from the United States.”
In Pablos’ case, activists have launched a petition on her behalf to support her release from ICE custody, heeding her call in the Facebook video: “I need you to stand up for me. I need you to fight for me,” she said. “Call ICE, write letters of support, do whatever we can.”
This is a developing story. Rewire.News will continue to report as more information emerges. This piece has been updated with statements from NLIRH and ICE, along with additional information about her case.