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Northwest Immigrant Rights Activist Maru Mora Villalpando Faces Deportation

UPDATED Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 4:15 P.M. with a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Federal authorities have begun deportation proceedings against a Washington activist known for criticizing the government's immigration enforcement efforts. 

Maru Mora Villalpando told reporters Tuesday that on Dec. 20 she received a certified letter ordering her to appear before an immigration judge in Seattle. The notice said a court date would be set later.

Mora Villalpando went public with her undocumented status several years ago as she advocated for better conditions for immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

She has organized protests outside the center, acted as a spokeswoman for detainees staging hunger strikes within it, and served as a public face of local activists critical of the federal government's detention and deportation policies. 

Surrounded by other activists at a news conference Tuesday, Mora Villalpando called the notice she received "an intimidation tactic" by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE.

"To me, it was a clear sign that ICE wants me to stop my job," she said outside a Seattle building that houses an immigration court. "They want us, all of us that are here, to stop what we're doing." 

An ICE spokeswoman said the action against Mora Villalpando is in line with federal policies. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security "will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement," spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe said in an email. "All those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States.”

Mora Villalpando, 47, is a Mexican citizen who lives in Bellingham. She said she first entered the United States at 21 with her then-husband to find work in the Seattle area. The notice from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security charges her with overstaying a six-month visa she received in 1996. 

She said she has no record of arrests or other contact with authorities that might trigger deportation proceedings. "I only have a couple of traffic tickets," she said in an interview.

Mora Villalpando's 20-year-old daughter Josefina Mora appeared with her at the news conference and said the threat of her mother's deportation has hung over the family. 

Credit Will James / KNKX
Josefina Mora, 20, criticizes deportation proceedings brought against her mother, Maru Mora Villalpando (right)

"Oftentimes, my mother and I have to be separated, just for school," said Mora, a student at Western Washington University. "And we have a ritual in which we let each other know where we are, where we're going, when we have left, when we have arrived, and this is all out of this fear that we have that she may be taken away from me." 

Activists on Tuesday called on federal authorities to end proceedings against Mora Villalpando. 

"We are going to be fighting this on many fronts," said Angelica Chazaro, a University of Washington law professor. "We're going to be fighting to defend Maru." 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.