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Emails Reveal ICE Targeted WA Immigration Activist

NWDC Resistance is part of a lawsuit against ICE that accuses the agency of illegally targeting one of its members. (Common Language Project/Flickr)
NWDC Resistance is part of a lawsuit against ICE that accuses the agency of illegally targeting one of its members. (Common Language Project/Flickr)
May 4, 2020

SEATTLE -- Newly revealed emails show U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials discussed taking away the "clout" of a Washington state activist.

The emails were released as evidence in a lawsuit against ICE by two immigrant rights groups, accusing the agency of intentionally targeting a La Resistencia community organizer.

The groups say ICE sought to retaliate against Maru Mora Villalpando for organizing protests against the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

The emails stretch back to 2017, and Villalpando was placed in deportation proceedings in 2018. She says the case drained resources from her group's work.

"What we wanted to present to the judge is that ICE is clearly targeting human rights and human rights activists, and the impact goes beyond those activists," she states.

In another email, an ICE official discusses her desire to "take on these punks," in reference to a panel about ICE taking place at the University of Washington.

An ICE representative says the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation, but emphasizes that this shouldn't be construed as agreement with any of the allegations.

Sejal Zota is legal director of Just Futures Law, which has represented immigrant rights activists who have charged ICE with illegally singling them out. She says these emails show an attempt to violate Villalpando's right to free speech.

"If ICE is targeting immigrants simply because they're engaging in that protected right, then that would be unlawful retaliation, that would be an unlawful policy," Zota stresses. "It would violate the First Amendment."

Villalpando says it's important to note who sent and received these emails, including the deputy field director of the Seattle ICE office and the acting head of Seattle's Enforcement and Removal Operation office. But she maintains the agency's deportation efforts may have backfired. She says she has received an outpouring of support from folks in Washington state and beyond.

"If you think about it, when they say they're going take away some of my 'clout,' they end up giving me more," she states. "They just helped create this huge influence, a lot more so than my organization and I have."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA