Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Immigration Activists say ICE is after them

Activists across the country say they are being targeted by federal immigration authorities for speaking out at protests and accusing the government of heavy-handed tactics.

“We’re always at the marches and giving interviews, without fear of what could happen,” says Zully Palacios Rodriguez, one of the activists caught by ICE. “So to go against us is a way to intimidate the community.”

The ACLU and other groups say they have documented two dozen cases of immigrant activists and volunteers who say they have been arrested or face fines for their work. Many of the activists who are undocumented don’t have criminal records and only came to the attention of ICE because of their activism.

One of the groups crying foul is Migrant Justice, a nonprofit that advocates for dairy workers in Vermont, said six of its undocumented leaders have been arrested and face deportations. Zully Palacios and Enrique Balcazar Sanchez, both prominent leaders of the group, were arrested a year ago when driving away from the organization’s headquarters in Burlington.

ICE denies that activists and other pro-immigrant groups are being singled out. In a statement, Matthew Albence, executive associate director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, said that ICE did not target unlawfully present aliens for arrest based on advocacy positions or in retaliation for critical comments they make.

Two of the undocumented activists who have been arrested and put in deportation proceedings have filed First Amendment lawsuits claiming their free speech rights have been violated. Maru Mora-Villalpando, who became well-known for speaking out against ICE’s detention policies, believes that was the sole reason why she was targeted.

“My first sense was that ICE was trying to send me a signal to stop my work,” Villalpando says from her home in Bellingham, Washington. “The public needs to know what’s going on.”