Commentary Immigration

Activist’s Detainment Reminds Us Immigration Is a Reproductive Justice Issue

Layidua Salazar

Hearing of Ale’s detention was devastating, but I am determined to continue fighting against a system that separates families and strips people of their humanity and dignity.

On Tuesday, March 6, Alejandra Pablos and I were texting about her scheduled check-in appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Tucson, Arizona. Ale—as her friends affectionately call her—is seeking political asylum to prevent deportation to Mexico, where she would likely face dangerous conditions. We talked about the possibility of a bond adjustment, which would allow her to pay more money and keep her freedom, and her stress about the appointment. I wished her luck and told her that I love her; this was the last I heard from her. On Wednesday afternoon, as I waited to hear about her appointment, I received a video of Ale pleading for support because she had been detained without the possibility of bail.

I felt angry. While I know that the current administration has targeted people who organize for immigrant justice, Ale’s detainment removed any sense of safety that I was holding on to. I spent the rest of the day sharing Mijente’s petition in support of Ale on social media, and crying.

Ale, who had been placed in deportation proceedings following several years-old charges (including Driving Under the Influence and possession of drug paraphernalia), is currently being punished with mandatory detention after showing up to a scheduled appointment with ICE and, as other activists have pointed out, after having the audacity to advocate for herself and her community. It’s unjust—and it’s not just Ale. Her detainment is a message this administration is sending to those who fight for their communities to have basic human rights. It’s also a stark reminder for so many of us who work at the intersection of immigrant and reproductive justice that the two issues are inextricably linked. Our abortion stories—which we’ve shared as part of We Testify, an abortion storyteller program of the National Network of Abortion Funds—bear that out.

I met Ale last year at a We Testify retreat. The program supports people who’ve had abortions to share their stories and how their identity complicates the standard narrative. Ale and I joined because we wanted to share our experiences as undocumented immigrants. Both of us made the decision to have our abortions largely based on our immigration status.

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Ale has talked about her decision to have an abortion and why she feels having a family under this administration would be unsafe. “When I first found out I was pregnant, I was conflicted,” she said earlier this year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. “For a minute or two I smiled at the idea of being a mother. I quickly had a reality check and knew I couldn’t start a family here, right now. I do not want to be a mother because families are under attack.”

She added that, “The same people who would force me to continue my pregnancy are the same people who would rip my baby from my arms and deport me because of my immigration status. I can’t ignore the irony of lawmakers whose only mission is to control a woman’s body, and refuse to support us in accessing childcare and livable wages for our families. The president is a known racist and encourages police to keep killing us instead of working towards a country that can begin transforming itself to be a place that truly is the best country in the world.”

In 2012, I applied for permanent resident status under a family petition with my then-husband. Our process was rejected, and we waited to hear from ICE about what our next steps would be. After months of waiting, I received a letter in early 2013 with a deportation date. I don’t think I was ready to process what the implications of that letter were. I told myself it was just part of the process. So, I emailed my lawyer to set an appointment, and went on with my day-to -day life. Two days later I went in for an annual doctor’s visit. I was sitting in the examination room waiting for the doctor when a nurse practitioner came in to inform me that they would be unable to perform my exam because I was pregnant. My documentation status and case never felt more real. I had to decide what I wanted for myself, my future, and my family. It immediately became clear that what I did not want was to have a child under that degree of uncertainty. I had an abortion two days later.

After my abortion I tried to focus on my immigration case. My husband and I had a year to compile letters and documents to prove we were a “real marriage.” The immigration process took a toll on us and our marriage. A month before my court date, I no longer knew where my marriage stood and decided to file an appeal to the deportation order by applying to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. My lawyer was able to get the immigration judge to administratively close my deportation case based on my eligibility for DACA and proof that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was processing my application. It took an additional year for my DACA application to be approved.

While DACA has given me reprieve from deportation, I am still in a state of uncertainty. The current administration has made several attempts to cancel the program; without DACA, my deportation case would likely be reopened.

People like Ale and myself have grown up in the United States. We have built homes and communities here; we are part of mixed-status families. Being deported would mean being taken to a country we do not know. It would mean losing everything, and it would mean separating our families.

A few weeks ago Ale and I were on a panel organized by Tina Vasquez, immigration reporter for Rewire.News, titled “We are Not Guaranteed Safety Here: How Immigration Status Impacts Sexual and Reproductive Health Decisions.” I was filled with hope listening to Ale. She dreams big and imagines a world where people do not have to make reproductive health decisions based on their legal status, or raise families under the threat of deportation or police brutality. For people like us living in this situation, fighting for reproductive justice is not just personal; it is central to our beliefs and to the self-determination of undocumented people.

Hearing of Ale’s detention was devastating, but I am determined to continue fighting against a system that separates families and strips people of their humanity and dignity. I am determined to continue fighting for Ale and others who risk everything to fight for justice.

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