The logic may seem backward, but it worked. For years, being publicly out and outspoken as an undocumented person could serve as a kind of shield.
The undocumented-youth movement built its political power in part by turning the act of declaring one’s immigration status publicly into a form of resistance as well as a personal defense. During the Obama years, an undocumented person nabbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement could rally their community around them, involve lawmakers in their campaigns, and shame the federal government into approving their release. Under President Barack Obama, this kind of righteous truth-telling was a powerful tool.
Under President Donald Trump, ICE now appears determined to put those years behind it. Increasingly, ICE seems intent on proving that there is no safety for undocumented immigrants anywhere—not in the shadows and not in the spotlight.
This week, longtime New York immigrant-rights activist Jean Montrevil, who had lived in the US for 31 years and was arrested just a week prior, was deported to Haiti. On Thursday, Ravi Ragbir, a leader alongside Montrevil with New York City’s New Sanctuary Movement, was transferred back to the New York area from Miami after ICE took him into custody during a check-in on January 11. Ragbir, like Montrevil, has been fighting a deportation order pegged to old criminal convictions, and has been an outspoken leader in New York City for immigrants in similar situations.
Also on January 11, ICE pulled over and arrested Eliseo Jurado, the husband of Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a Peruvian woman who has taken sanctuary in a church in Boulder, Colorado. This string of recent arrests prompted another immigrant-rights leader to come forward. On Tuesday, the longtime Seattle-based immigrant-rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando went public with details of ICE’s enforcement against her. On December 20 she received in the mail what’s known as a notice to appear. This document, sent by the Department of Homeland Security, signals the beginning of deportation proceedings that the federal government intends to pursue against Mora Villalpando.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard from immigration,” Mora Villalpando told The Nation. The timing, for the 47-year-old activist, is no coincidence. Both Ragbir and Montrevil had old convictions in their records that they’d been fighting for years. “What happened with Ravi and Jean and the others, I think ICE could excuse the fact that they were already in deportation proceedings, and they knew of them because of some legal interaction with ICE.”
“My case makes it clear that this is a targeting of people who have decided to be outspoken,” said Mora Villalpando, who has never received a deportation order and says her criminal record is clean. “I only have traffic tickets in my life, and that’s that.”