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Northwest Activist, Facing Deportation, Heads To Trump's State Of The Union

Will James
Maru Mora Villalpando speaks at a news conference in Seattle on Jan. 16, 2018

A local critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies is going to be in the audience at the president’s first State of the Union address. 

Maru Mora Villalpando, a Bellingham-based activist who is facing deportation, is attending Tuesday's speech as a guest of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington state. 

Villalpando, a native of Mexico who has been public about her undocumented status, is known for leading protests outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

She has called for an end to the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, and has been critical of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

On Dec. 20, she received a letter saying federal authorities were starting deportation proceedings against her.

Villalpando said she sees her presence at the State of the Union as an act of protest. 

“They dared to send me a letter to my house," she said. "I feel it’s important for me to be here, at Trump’s house and say, ‘We’re not going to be quiet, we’re not going to be silenced, we’re going to continue our work.'”

Trump's guests for the speech include an ICE agent and the parents of two girls killed by the international gang MS-13.

Villalpando traveled to Washington, D.C., over the weekend. She said she's prepared for strong emotions during Trump's address.

"I'll have to be very strong and not feel angry as to the things this person is going to say against my community," she said. "But I believe that it's important for me to be there." 

The letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security accuses Villalpando of overstaying a six-month visa she received in 1996.

Villalpandohas described the case as an attempt to silence her, saying she has no record of arrests or other contact with authorities that might trigger deportation proceedings. 

An ICE spokeswoman said the case is "in accordance with federal immigration law."

"All those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States," spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe said Jan. 16 in an email.. 

No court dates have been set.

But the case has already raised Villalpando's profile, leading to mentions in The Washington Post and an appearance on the television show Democracy Now.

"I think ICE's move of trying to silence us actually did the opposite," Villalpando said. "The response of people, not only in our state but beyond, around the nation and even in other countries, has been overwhelming." 

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.