Is the Trump administration retaliating against activists that criticize its harsh immigration policies?
Immigrant advocates across the country and the American Civil Liberties Union assert that federal immigration agents are increasingly targeting activists who oppose them, help undocumented immigrants, and are quoted in the media.
The following cases have been brought to light by lawyers who claim activists' free speech rights are being violated. Most are in the country illegally and have been arrested or are under deportation orders. Some have criminal records, several do not.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency most frequently criticized for arresting activists, categorically rejects the accusation that it is singling them out. ICE says it does not retaliate against unlawful immigrants for critical comments they make, and any suggestion to the contrary is "irresponsible" and "speculative." ICE says that any individual in violation of immigration laws may be subject to arrest, detention, and removal.
Here are the cases of more than 20 activists and volunteers that have been highlighted by the immigrant advocates:
This nonprofit in Burlington, Vt., has had six leaders arrested over a period of 14 months. All are undocumented. Migrant Justice advocates for dairy workers in Vermont. The arrested leaders are Victor Garcia Diaz, Alfredo Alcudia Gamas, Enrique Balcazar Sanchez, Zully Palacios Rodriguez, Yesenia Hernandez Ramos, and Esau Peche Ventura. Garcia Diaz has a DUI conviction; none of the others have criminal charges. All have been released and are fighting deportation orders.
New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City
On Jan. 3, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Jean Motrevil, a prominent immigrant rights activist from Haiti who co-founded the New Sanctuary Coalition. According to ICE, Motrevil has several felony convictions for cocaine possession and served time in prison. He was ordered deported, but allowed to stay if he checked in with ICE regularly, which he did for the past 15 years. He married a U.S. citizen, had four children, and started a business. Motrevil was deported to Haiti on Jan. 16.
On Jan. 11, ICE agents arrested Ravi Ragbir, well-known executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, during a routine check-in with ICE. Federal agents point out that he was convicted in 2001 of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for processing fraudulent mortgage applications. Ragbir, from Trinidad, was ordered to pay $350,000 in restitution and detained by ICE for two years while he was in deportation proceedings. He was allowed to stay in the U.S. if he checked in regularly with ICE. Last month, after his arrest, a judge halted Ragbir's deportation.
No More Deaths
On Dec. 6, 2017, the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona charged nine volunteers for No More Deaths, a humanitarian group in Tucson, with misdemeanors. None of the defendants are undocumented immigrants. The organization works to reduce deaths of immigrants illegally crossing the border and trekking through the Sonoran Desert, chiefly by leaving caches of drinking water. The federal civil charges include entering the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge without a permit, and operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area. Hours after No More Deaths released a controversial video showing Border Patrol agents kicking over water jugs, volunteer Scott Daniel Warren was arrested and charged with harboring undocumented immigrants, a felony. The other defendants are Natalie Renee Hoffman, Oona Meagan Holcomb, Madeline Abbe Huse, Zaachila I. Orozco-McCormick, Caitlin Persis Deighan, Zoe E. Anderson, Logan Thomas Hollarsmith, and Rebecca Katie Grossman-Richeimer.
Eliseo Jurado Fernandez
On Jan. 11, ICE agents arrested Jurado, an undocumented Mexican national, outside a Denver supermarket. He is married to Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a Peruvian woman who received publicity for seeking sanctuary in three Colorado churches to avoid deportation. ICE says Jurado came to the agency's attention while it was investigating his spouse. Jurado has a DUI conviction, as well as misdemeanor convictions for driving without a license and giving false information to a police officer. He was released from detention last month pending deportation orders.
Baltazar Aburto Gutierrez
ICE agents arrested the Mexican shellfish worker in Ocean Park, Wash., in December 2017, after he was quoted in a newspaper complaining about his longtime partner's deportation to Mexico. According to the Seattle Times, Gutierrez said the arresting agent told him, "You are the one from the newspaper." Aburto has no criminal record. An immigration judge lowered his bond in January, saying he poses no danger to the public.
Pablos is an anti-Trump immigrant activist and field coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in Virginia. On March 7, agents detained her after she flew to Arizona for an ICE check-in. She was convicted in Tucson of driving under the influence. Though she had a green card, the DUI conviction makes her deportable. She remains detained in southern Arizona.
Claudia Rueda is an immigration activist and college student who protested U.S. deportation policies, as well as the arrest of her mother on drug smuggling charges. Rueda was arrested by immigration agents on May 18, 2017, and released 22 days later. She claims her detention was motivated by retaliation to silence her. A supervisory Border Patrol agent told the Los Angeles Times that they had identified Rueda as "part of a support network" for a drug organization. Her mother was never charged on narcotics offenses but she was held on immigration violations.
On March 1, 2017, a 22-year-old immigrant activist from Argentina named Daniela Vargas was leaving a rally in Jackson, Miss., where she had spoken in favor of undocumented rights. ICE pulled over the car she was riding in and arrested her because her DACA status had expired. Vargas, who was brought to the U.S. as a child, had received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants her a temporary work permit and protection from deportation. She says she had applied to renew it. She was detained for 10 days and released.
Maru Mora Villalpando
On Dec. 20, 2017, ICE told Villalpando to appear in immigration court to face deportation. She came to the United States in 1996 on a student visa and overstayed. Villalpando is a well-known activist who speaks against ICE detention policies in Washington state; she founded Northwest Detention Center Resistance. She has no criminal record. ICE says she came to their attention when she told the media that she was unauthorized. Her ICE charging document says, "She has extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs." Villalpando filed a First Amendment claim with a Seattle immigration court this month, arguing that she was arrested in retaliation for her activism. Experts with the United Nations Office of Human Rights have called on the U.S. government "to guarantee that no action, including detention and deportation, as a means of retaliation, is taken against Villalpando."
Adrienne St. Clair contributed to this report.