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ICE under fire: Immigration and Customs Enforcement persecutes migrant activists

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Activists denounce that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) persecutes them for working to protect immigrant rights.

According to a new report prepared by the Immigration Clinic of the University of Washington School of Law, federal immigration agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carry out systematic campaigns of persecution and repression directed against groups that defend the rights of migrants. To support this research, they worked closely with hundreds of migrant activists and immigrant rights advocates in the country.

Additionally, the report includes interviews, court records, and other documents obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). A wide range of complaints is documented in different states of the country (Texas, Washington, Vermont, North Carolina, Illinois) where activists were intimidated or even deported for their political actions.

“Some of the stories of activist retaliation have previously been told in a piecemeal fashion, allowing someone to argue that it is actually just a couple of rogue officers from a particular field office. By documenting the accounts of groups from all over the country, I think it becomes clear that this is a broad and national problem.”

Explains Sejal Zota, legal director of Just Futures Law, one of the groups behind the new report.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement insists that it only enforces immigration law

Spokesmen for the federal agency stated that they are not retaliating against any individual for their activism. According to the federal agents, the agency limits itself to enforcing immigration law against all those who live in the country illegally.

“ICE condemns retaliation against individuals who exercise their First Amendment right of speech and assembly. Like all other law enforcement agencies, ICE monitors planned protests to ensure the safety of its infrastructure, staff, officials, and everyone involved.”

An agency spokesperson said in a statement.

But the stories of migrants contradict the agency’s statements. The migrant and activist Mora-Villalpando never tried to hide her immigration status. She came to the United States from Mexico City in the 1990s and remained in the country after her tourist visa expired. She has no criminal record and she openly discussed her delicate status in the country in public interviews.

She is also one of the co-founders of the immigrant rights group called La Resistencia and she protested the terrible conditions in the immigration detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement since 2014.

However, she remained off the radar of immigration authorities for a few more years, until two representatives from Washington insisted in 2017 on inviting her on a tour of the new facilities of an ICE detention center. Agency authorities at the time refused to allow her into the facility based on her immigration status and placed her in deportation proceedings.

Alejandro Mayorkas: the violation of immigrant rights is “unacceptable”

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, was asked about allegations of retaliation against migrants in an April interview organized by the University of California. Mayorkas stated that he considered retaliation absolutely unacceptable but that he would like to thoroughly investigate the reported cases before taking action.

“That is unacceptable. Retaliation in response to the constitutionally protected right to free speech and, frankly, the civic obligation to protest against government positions with which one disagrees, is simply unacceptable.”

Mayorkas declared.

Immigrant rights advocates welcomed Mayorkas’ condemnation of ICE actions but insist the Democratic administration must go further. They demand that Mayorkas take a formal position against retaliation in the new official Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidelines of conduct that will be issued in the coming months.

Specifically, the activists demand that immigration officials make use of “prosecutorial discretion” in the cases of activists and members of groups working to protect the rights of migrants and that activists who were deported for their work are brought back into the United States. If this is not enforced, they insist, the persecution and spying on pro-immigration groups will continue.

If you are in need of immigration legal advice, do not hesitate to contact us! At the Law Office of Shelle-Ann Simon we have wide experience in immigration proceedings, family law, and personal injury and have successfully defended our clients for over 10 years. Contact us through our website or give us a call at (281) 606-0800!

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