UPDATE, December 11, 6:00 p.m.: On Tuesday, the social justice organizing network Mijente announced that a federal immigration court ordered Alejandra Pablos to be deported. In a statement, Pablos said this is not the end of her fight. “We will appeal this decision and urge Arizona Governor Ducey to issue a pardon for the arrests that led to my detention in the first place. Getting a pardon from the Governor would significantly increase my chances to be able to continue to fight to stop my deportation and allow me to stay home with my family and community,” she said.
An undocumented reproductive justice and immigrant rights activist targeted by federal immigration agencies for her humanitarian work is set to attend court Tuesday, where she’s seeking political asylum.
Alejandra Pablos’ hearing comes after years in immigration limbo. Her case is all the more complicated because of her criminal history. Five years ago, Pablos was placed in deportation proceedings after a drug-related arrest and DUI charge in Arizona, a state known for passing anti-immigrant laws and doling out harsher sentences for immigrants. Pablos was a legal permanent resident at the time, but the arrest and subsequent charge stripped her of her status and landed her in Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center, notorious for in-custody deaths and human rights abuses. Her two years at Eloy politicized her, she said, and upon her release she committed herself to fighting for reproductive justice and immigrant rights.
Pablos told Rewire.News that she had defied deportation for eight years, but her political asylum hearing was the end of the line for her. There are no more pathways for her to remain in the United States, unless Republican Arizona Gov. Douglas Ducey grants her a pardon.
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“Everything is complicated by my previous record, I’ve been criminalized again and again. Some of us it seems like don’t have the privilege to move on, to show we’ve changed, to be given a second chance. Nothing about my past defines me, and I want to look the government in the eyes and tell them I deserve to be here,” Pablos said.
Tuesday’s hearing could end for Pablos in one of three ways: She could be granted asylum; she could be denied asylum and possibility detained; or the court may take time to consider her case, leaving her in limbo once again. The organizer said that if her asylum is denied, she will appeal the decision, even if she is detained.
The organizer is seeking political asylum because, she says, who she is, what she stands for, and the work she does puts her in danger if she were to be deported to Mexico, a country she has not been to since her family immigrated to the United States when she was a baby.
“I have no family in Mexico and I’m an abortion advocate. In Mexico, abortion is illegal in many states and women who are advocates are subjected to violence and sometimes death,” Pablos said. “People who have lived most of their lives in the U.S. are especially at risk because they have no support system there and can’t transfer any of the skills they have developed here in the U.S. That’s how deportation works, they force you to start over from nothing in a country you do not know.”
In the years since her initial arrest in Arizona, Pablos has become a prominent member of We Testify, an abortion storytelling leadership program of the National Network of Abortion Funds. She has worked closely with the social justice organizing network Mijente, crisscrossing the United States as part of their “Chinga La Migra” tour.
In January, when she was the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network field coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), Pablos was arrested while peacefully protesting deportations outside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Virginia. This, advocates say, put her on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) radar. In March, during a check-in with ICE, Pablos was detained. Her supporters said her detainment was a reproductive justice issue, calling it an act of “retaliation” by the federal immigration agency. Pablos was released after 43 days in detention and making an $8,000 bond. The charges stemming from the protest were eventually dropped, but the detainment derailed her life and stripped her of her ability to work in the United States, which is how she lost her job with NLIRH.
On Friday, Pablos told Rewire.News she was preparing for her hearing. Hearings for political asylum can be brutal, she said, forcing people to relive the most traumatic moments of their lives in front of a courtroom. While she will have a large number of supporters in the room, including her mother and chosen family, she said she was still nervous. The activist’s case may have larger implications for others doing similar work, especially under the Trump administration, which has taken unprecedented steps to criminalize the right to claim asylum.
Pablos is one of many activists targeted by ICE under the Trump administration. In January, the co-founders of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, Jean Montrevil and Ravi Ragbir, were detained in the same week in what advocates say was a targeted attack that included government surveillance. Ragbir’s deportation has been stayed, while Montrevil was deported to Haiti. In Memphis, immigration reporter Manuel Duran was arrested in April with eight others following a protest. The eight activists were released on bail while Duran was transferred to ICE custody and remains detained.
“Human rights defenders experience the same kind of targeting [by the government] that journalists do. I am a very public activist and reproductive justice advocate that has spoken out on many issues in national and international media,” the activist said. “For so many of us doing this kind of political work, the real lucha is pushing for permanent protection when the government doesn’t want to provide us with it. It’s about shifting the narrative to protect freedom fighters. So, how do we defend people who are advocates, especially women? These attacks on activists are really attacks on working people and women, and that is why my story is not just mine; it’s all of ours.”
Supporters from the reproductive justice and immigrant rights worlds have rallied around Pablos, helping to support a website highlighting her case, gathering over 200 letters of support and more than 24,000 signatures on a petition calling for her release when she was detained in March. Some of her closest supporters will be in the courtroom with her on Tuesday. While being subjected to immigration enforcement and criminalization for nearly a decade has taken a toll on Pablos and her family, the reproductive justice organizer said something unexpected has resulted.
“This whole process of seeking political asylum has re-opened a lot of wounds for my mom, who never wanted to see me detained again,” Pablos said. “But because of this, my family is having tough political conversations and letting go of a lot of trauma. We’ve been talking about how the immigration system wasn’t designed to sustain families; it was designed to break families apart. I think for a long time my mom took on a lot of blame and thought this was all her fault because she didn’t understand the system when she got here. We are fighting my deportation as a family, and working together to free ourselves of shame. Through this oppression, we’re also being liberated and healed.”