The new report presented by the Immigration Clinic of the University of Washington School of Law shows that federal immigration services such as the ICE agency carry out systematic campaigns of persecution and repression directed against groups that defend the rights of migrants.
The report includes interviews, court records, and other documents obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). There is documentation of a wide range of complaints in different states of the country (Texas, Washington, Vermont, North Carolina, Illinois) where the activists were intimidated or even deported for their political actions.
"Some of the activist retaliation stories have previously been told in a piecemeal fashion, allowing someone to argue that it is actually a pair of rogue officers from a particular field office. By documenting the accounts of groups across 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.
What does the ICE agency say?
The repercussions were not long in coming once this report came to light. Spokesmen for the federal agency stated that they are not retaliating against any individual for their activism on migrant rights. According to the version of federal agents, the agency limits itself to enforcing immigration law against all those who live in the country illegally.
“ICE condemns retaliation against people who exercise their First Amendment right to 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.
Despite these statements, the stories of the migrants contradict the agency's statements. The migrant and activist Mora-Villalpando never sought 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 interviews.
Mora-Villalpando is one of the co-founders of the migrant rights advocacy group called La Resistencia and began protesting the dire conditions in immigration detention centers run by the ICE agency since 2014.
However, she managed to stay 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 described the violation of migrants' rights as "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 freedom of expression and, frankly, the civic obligation to protest against government positions with which one disagrees, that is simply unacceptable."
The Secretary of National Security Alejandro Mayorkas declared.
Defenders of migrant rights celebrated Alejandro Mayorkas' attitude but insist that the Democratic administration must go further. They demand that Mayorkas take a formal position against retaliation in the new official ICE agency guidelines of conduct that will be issued in the coming months.
Source: Law Office of Yohana Saucedo
Activist groups demand that immigration officials use so-called “prosecutorial discretion” in cases of activists and members of groups working for the rights of migrants and those activists who were deported for their work. If this is not enforced, they insist, the persecution and espionage of groups defending the rights of immigrants will continue.