With latest detention of activist, ICE continues pattern of targeting dissent

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims not to target activists who speak out against it, but the agency’s actions suggest otherwise.

Reproductive justice activist Alejandra Pablos has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the latest in a series of actions targeting immigrants who openly criticize the agency.

On March 7, ICE officials detained Pablos in Tucson, Ariz., during a routine check-in, similar to the one at which immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir was detained in January.

Pablos, like Ragbir, suspected that she might be detained due to high-profile activism that ICE had become aware of. She recorded a video in preparation for that possibility in advance of her check-in.

“They’re retaliating against all activists, all organizers, people who have advocacy and who are out there fighting,” Pablos said of ICE in the video. “It’s my turn to ask for you guys’s help.”

Pablos has been a community organizer for three years, and works as a field coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. In addition to her reproductive justice work, Pablos has advocated against mass incarceration and for immigrant rights.

In January, Pablos was arrested at a demonstration outside of a Virginia ICE office after leading chants at the protest. It was at her next check-in with ICE that she was detained.

An ICE officer at Pablos’s check-in told her that officials in Virginia notified the Arizona office of her January arrest, according to members of immigration justice group Mijente who spoke with Pablos after her detention.

Mijente is collecting petition signatures in support of Pablos’s release on bond. It’s unclear how long Pablos will have to wait for a bond hearing, after a Supreme Court ruling that periodic bond hearings aren’t required for people in immigration detention.

Pablos’s next hearing date is set for April, but it will deal with the charges stemming from her January arrest in Virginia. Her next court date related to her immigration status won’t take place until December.

Pablos has lived in the U.S. since she was a baby, and is seeking asylum to avoid being deported to Mexico, where she was born. She says her political activism in Mexico would put her at risk there, as activists in the country are frequently killed under murky circumstances.

ICE claims not to target activists for detention and deportation.

“US Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not target unlawfully present aliens for arrest based on advocacy positions they hold or in retaliation for critical comments they make,” ICE spokesperson Lauren Mack told the Independent.

But Pablos’s detention is the latest in a pattern of arrests by the agency that appear to be politically motivated. In December, ICE detained Aburto Gutierrez, a man it had previously chosen not to detain, after Gutierrez spoke about his girlfriend’s detention in a news article.

After living in the U.S. for over 25 years, immigration activist Maru Mora-Villalpando received a summons from ICE in December telling her to appear in court.

“To me, it’s a clear sign that ICE wants me to stop my job,” Mora-Villalpando told the Seattle Times. “It was an intimidation tactic.”