Targeting Undocumented Leaders, Trump Deportation Regime Escalates
As President Trump throws an immigration deal into limbo, federal agents are ramping up deportation efforts coast to coast. We are joined by prominent activist Maru Mora Villalpando of Seattle, who is being targeted for deportation; and by independent journalist Renee Feltz, who has been covering the deportation efforts against Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. President Trump’s reported comment calling Haiti and African nations “shithole countries” came during meeting on immigration. And now his remark is making a deal on immigration even more difficult. Last week, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a temporary agreement that would protect undocumented youth from deportation in exchange for funding the so-called border wall. But Trump not only made his “shithole” remark, but is also reportedly against a bipartisan deal.
Congress has until Friday to pass a new budget or face a government shutdown. But Democrats say they will not agree unless Congress passes protections for undocumented youth. Speaking today to CBS News, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said even if the deal fails, DACA recipients won’t be a priority for deportation.
KIRSJEN NIELSEN: It’s not gonna be a priority of the immigration and customs enforcement, to prioritize their removal. I’ve said that before. That’s not the policy of DHS.
CBS ANCHOR: So if this doesn’t get worked out and I am a DREAMer, the way I’m supposed to read what you just said is this is not going to be a priority of ICE?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: If you are a DACA that’s compliant with your registration, meaning you haven’t committed a crime and you in fact are registered, you’re not priority of enforcement for ICE, should the program end.
AARON MATÉ: But even as the Trump Administration suggests it might lay off DACA recipients, its deportation machine continues. Last week, Trump ended Temporary Protective Status for up to 250,000 people from El Salvador. Then, federal agents raided dozens of 7-Eleven stores in 17 states in a search for undocumented workers. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, ICE deported Jorge Garcia, a married father of two kids in Metro Detroit. Garcia has lived in the U.S. for 30 years and came here when he was just 10 years old.
The U.S. government is also targeting leading undocumented immigrant activists coast to coast. In the past two weeks, the detention of immigrant rights activists Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil has sparked protests in New York City, and now, Maru Mora Villalpando, an undocumented immigrant activist with the group Latino Advocacy in Seattle, has announced that she is being targeted for deportation.
Maru Mora Villalpando joins me now and we are also joined from New York City by Renee Feltz, independent journalist, correspondent for Democracy Now, who has covered immigration for years and has been reporting on the protests in New York City. Welcome to you both. Maru, I will start with you. Tell us what you’ve been notified by the federal government.
M. M. VILLALPANDO: Thank you. I received a letter to my house by certified mail from ICE saying that they’re beginning deportation proceedings against me. The letter, which is called a notice to appear, did not indicate a hearing date. It just says that they are starting deportation proceedings against me. This is very unusual because I have never had any interaction with ICE and I have never had any contact with police that could trigger ICE involvement.
So I feel that they really had to get out of their way to find my home address, which is not public, I don’t even have bills on my name there. And again, I never expected to get a letter saying that I would be placed in deportation proceedings.
AARON MATÉ: So what do you think accounts for this now?
M. M. VILLALPANDO: Well, when I saw the logo in the letter, I realized immediately what it was, and I felt that this is some intimidation tactic on their behalf to stop my work, and the work of all of us here in Washington state. We have been really successful in bringing attention to the Northwest Detention Center, one of the largest detention centers in the West Coast, and all the efforts that we’ve done in partnership with people detained, against the detention of human beings, but also against ICE as an agency that destroys people’s lives.
AARON MATÉ: And talk about some of the work that you’ve done over the years. You’re known nation-wide for your immigrant rights activism in Washington state.
M. M. VILLALPANDO: Yeah, my daughter and I have lived here in Washington state for a really long time. She was born here in Seattle, Washington and in 2014 I decided to go public. Before that, I did a lot of work, again, for what at that time was called The Comprehensive Immigration Reform. But then in 2014 we decided to join #Not1More Deportation campaign, which was to take direct action against deportation of our people and also we fought for the extension, at that time, DACA in the creation of DAPA. We’ve done several actions. We’ve done shut down actions outside the detention center. We have stopped deportation buses, we’ve done marches, we’ve done several things, but the main thing is that we joined with other groups across the nation saying that we are not going to take any more of these detentions and these deportations.
Again, we’ve been very successful. Just last year, there were several hunger strikes. A total of nine hunger strikes at the detention center. We work with people in detention to make those pubic, and those first series of hunger strikes in 2017 led to a lawsuit filed by the attorney general here in Washington state against GEO [Group], the corporation that owns the detention center, for paying only $1 a day to people working there, when it’s a business and what the attorney general says is that as a business, they should be paying $11 an hour, which is the minimum wage here in Washington state. And that for us has been a huge win, and I think that basically, because of all these wins that we have had throughout the years, locally and nationally, we are being targeted now.
AARON MATÉ: And so meanwhile, from coast to coast, Maru’s in Seattle, and meanwhile, on the other side of the country in New York City, ICE has recently detained Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil. Renee Feltz in New York City, tell us what’s been happening there.
RENEE FELTZ: Well, Aaron, you mention these two leaders of the New York New Sanctuary coalition, and basically they helped found this organization that has assisted thousands of immigrants in the New York City area in developing paperwork in their cases, but also coming forward to go to their check-ins with ICE, which is an experience that’s familiar with many, many immigrants. They go regularly to check in with ICE agents in their cases. This allows them to show ICE that they’re living here, following the rules, but don’t have to be in detention.
Many people have deportation orders hanging over their head, and I just point that out to say that the experience that Ravi and Jean are going through is not unique. Which brings us to Thursday, specifically here in New York when Ravi Ragbir went in the morning to the Federal Building in downtown Manhattan, as he has done for many, many years, to check in with his ICE agent at the appointed date that they had agreed on. And what happened while he was up there was that they told him he was being taken into custody and that they were going to begin deportation proceedings.
Outside, there was a Jericho walk of hundreds of people circling the building in a non-violent protest and also to essentially, many people pray for Ravi’s relief and safety in the hands of ICE upstairs. When Ravi got the news, he passed out and interestingly, what happened was that he was put into an ambulance when he was removed from the building and ICE said that they were going to not take him to … Well, actually the NYPD said that they were trying to take Ravi to a hospital, but many people who were outside the building doing that Jericho walk thought that Ravi was being taken to a nearby detention center, where most people are taken from there if they’re taken into custody.
And people were understandably upset. They tried to take action, when they saw the ambulance, including the speaker of the New York City Council, Corey Johnson. I was there with my camera for Democracy Now and witnessed all of this firsthand, and what I ended up filming was police brutally pushing people out of the way of the ambulance and in some cases, both what I filmed and others took photos of and filmed, police brazenly using choke holds on protestors, including men of the cloth, including one of the co-founders of the New Sanctuary coalition here in New York, Father Juan Carlos Ruiz.
And also a New York City council member, Ydanis Rodriguez. 18 people ended up being arrested. Later that night people gathered outside a detention center where they thought Ravi was taken, but in fact, Ravi Ragbir had been taken rapidly from the area and moved down to Krome Detention Center in Florida, which is where Jean Montrevil had been taken just the week prior. Jean, interestingly, had not been taken at his check-in, but ICE reportedly told his lawyer, after for many, many years agreeing not to come to his house, that they, they said, wanted to basically look out for their officers. They’re trying to basically go around, in this case, the check-in process. They approached Jean at his home, as he was coming home from work. His children were inside the house and he saw the ICE agents outside. He asked them to go a block away to take him so the kids wouldn’t see it happen. And so right now, these two leaders were both taken, as I said, rapidly to Florida, removed from the New York City area and Jean reportedly is facing possible deportation to Haiti as early as today. Ravi faces deportation to Trinidad Tobago.
Both of these men have lived in the country for more than 25 years, quarter of a century. They essentially, in terms of what the latest update with Ravi’s case is, legally, is that he has a hearing today where the judge will consider whether or not he should be brought back to the New York area. You know, so what we’ve seen, rapidly, is two people who have helped to keep channels of communication open with ICE in the New York City area, and to help enable immigrants to deal with this process with justice and dignity, they’ve been ripped from their families and taken from the area.
What’s interesting I should note about Ravi’s case is that he has prominent supporters, a prominent lawyer, a wife, Amy Gottlieb, who’s been outspoken in his case and works with the American Friends Service Committee here, another attorney. None of these people were told where he was taken. He was basically disappeared. This is a prominent immigrant leader. So this was not only the treatment that many other immigrants receive in some cases, when they go to these check-ins, but it was also perhaps used to send a message that ICE is done dealing with the New Sanctuary Coalition in the way that they have been and we’ll kind of have to see what happens from here in terms of where the New Sanctuary Coalition goes and some of these methods that both of these men have helped to pioneer here in New York and that were replicated around the country.
AARON MATÉ: Maru, as you hear this, the targeting of these two immigrants’ rights leaders in New York City, your thoughts on the overall deportation regime we’re seeing right now, going after you, going after them? I mentioned the raids on 7-Eleven stores last week, the case of a father of two in Detroit being sent to Mexico after living in the U.S. for many years. Your overall sense of what is happening right now across the country?
M. M. VILLALPANDO: Well, we predicted this would happen. We knew since Obama didn’t take that chance and the Democrats never took the chance to actually dismantle this [inaudible 00:14:20] and the deportation machine, and instead handed it to this new regime to run with it, that this would happen. We seen in this past week, like you mentioned, all these people that pretty much have been sentenced to be separated from their families. Even the Department of Justice, let’s not forget, that has been collaborating with Homeland Security and now are going to review the 150,000 records of people are U.S. citizens, they are naturalized U.S. citizens. According to them, they should be stripped of their citizenship.
So this goes beyond undocumented immigrants. This is about documented immigrants and even those that have naturalized. This is a war against immigrants that this regime declared against us last year when they took office. But in the case of Ravi and Jean, I think it was clear that now, with my case being public, that is a lie that ICE is after them because of their past convictions. That’s not true. This is obviously because of their political stand, because of their activism, because of their human rights efforts.
There is not coincidence that I get that letter in December and they’re already dealing with these attacks from ICE, calling them to check-ins and threatening them with deportation and then all of a sudden trying to deport them, without any regard for any kind of law. I mean, for us, ICE has presented again and again that they don’t care about rules. Not even their own rules. They made up their own rules and then they break them. This is an agency that was built to destroy. They destroy our families, they destroy our society, they destroy laws that they themselves supposedly are following. And at the end of the day, this is not about whether somebody behaves and somebody is a nice person, or somebody’s a good person and is a good American and all that rhetoric.
This is about criminalizing just the fact that we are immigrants and that we’re not white. They want us to try to appear as [if we want to] assimilate, and for those of us that don’t want to assimilate, that we’re happy the way we are — we just push to be here and we have to be here for different reasons — for us, it’s about reclaiming our humanity and pushing back on ICE and all their dirty tactics that they use and especially now with my case being public. For us it’s very clear: ICE has become Trump’s police. ICE has become a political repression apparatus. This is what we’re seeing now and if people are still doubting whether we’re under a fascist regime, I think they should take a look at these cases to understand that we are definitely in a fascist state.
AARON MATÉ: I want to go to a clip of Ravi Ragbir. He recorded this the night before he was detained. A message to his community.
RAVI RAGBIR: I hope and I pray that you all will step out of your comfort zone to create a network of safety. Not just in the houses of worship, not just in the space where we call ‘sensitive zone,’ but create a network of safety around you and around the community because you refuse to let this agency of immigration and customs and enforcement, you are refusing to let them come into your community and destroy it and take away those families, only because they don’t have one piece of paper.
AARON MATÉ: So that’s Ravi Ragbir, speaking the night before he was detained. Renee, if Ravi and Jean were to be deported, what would that mean for the immigrant rights community in New York City?
RENEE FELTZ: Well, Aaron, it’s a good question. As someone who’s followed the work of these leaders as a journalist for many years, I had that exact question. I think it’s too early to tell. We don’t know if one of them are still in the country, or if he’s been removed to Haiti. And with Ravi, you know, I think that he’s using this opportunity of mass media attention on what’s happening to him to shed a light, as I was mentioning earlier, on the thousands of people who go through a similar experience as he does, without so much prominent support.
You know, to be clear, they do many different services and he encouraged people who are facing deportation to still reach out to New Sanctuary. You can see how ICE would want people to think, “Well, maybe that group isn’t really the best thing to contact now.” And I think that they’re trying to fight that message and say “Continue to join us.” They’re also looking for citizen allies. Father Juan Carlos Ruiz spoke on Monday, on Martin Luther King Day, to a mass gathering of people at a press conference and said, he described being thrown side to side by NYPD Thursday in the streets, and he asked himself, “Why am I here?” And he said, “I’m here to take a stand,” and he said, “This is the time to take a stand.”
He said this on Martin Luther King Day, but I think he was saying broadly that many people can show support for New Sanctuary Coalition and even ask themselves what they can do to contribute to the concept to spread the idea and to spread the reality of sanctuary, thinking about what that means and how they can provide it in their cities, in their homes, beyond churches, which is something that Ravi talked about to me in the past, when I covered him for example, in stories for The Independent here in New York.
I think that he would say, now is the time for people to adopt the logo that many people held up at the protests and the Jericho walks for Ravi and Jean this past weekend and week, which is sort of an S, it looks like an ampersand when you use them in the email, but this time it’s an S instead of A. And you can print out that logo from their website, put it in your windows, put in on a flag, put it on a T-shirt. Put it on your backpack. And help to show that you want to get involved or can be an ally.
One interesting thing I would say quickly that the New Sanctuary Coalition does in the basement of Judson’s Church here in New York is that they helped people process paperwork in their cases and put simply, the more paperwork there is, sometimes the slower the case will go and you can remain free from detention, even if you have to wear a GPS ankle monitor or shackle. And these volunteer efforts between lawyers, people with language skills and people who need assistance to go through the labyrinth of ICE paperwork, I’m sure that these sessions will continue even as people face these deportations.
I think that the New Sanctuary Coalition will continue to exist here in New York, it’ll just remain to be seen what some of the techniques are going to be like if ICE is actually going to step around picking up people at their check-ins and start to go to their homes like they did with Ravi and I think that that’s another reason that New Sanctuary Coalition will probably try to remain out there, remain public and to continue these type of methods, even if they have to adapt and evolve.
AARON MATÉ: Maru, as we wrap, your final thoughts and what are your plans next? You’ve been given a summons to appear?
M. M. VILLALPANDO: I haven’t. My lawyer requested the document that ICE is supposed to be sending to the immigration judge, explaining why am I being brought to deportation proceedings and to a court hearing. ICE denied the document, so she filed a FOIA, a Freedom of Information Act to acquire that document. We know that the cards are really held behind, there’s a backlog, of years in some instances, but again, not trusting ICE, we don’t know if at any point they decide to detain me, regardless of not having even a court hearing.
We also filed a public request for Department of Licensing here in Washington, to find out if my name is listed in the many names that were given to ICE willingly by Department of Licensing. And we actually, right after this morning’s press conference, we went to the detention center to help an action that we had already planned. So we had around 60 people, or maybe more, marching outside the detention center and chanting for people detained as we always do. So for us, we’re not going to stop, we’re not going to hide, we’re not going to be afraid, we’re not going to be intimidated. We’re going to continue our work and tomorrow, I’m heading out to Washington D.C. in hopes to meet with a couple of congresspeople to see how do we work this possibly at a congressional level, which we know, Congress is always a mess.
But we’re also going to be meeting with Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which I met with last year and I talked about the conditions of detention at Inter[inaudible 00:24:00] at a international level. I also met with the United Nations working group against arbitrary detention the year prior, and I’m planning on possibly meeting with them again to talk to about retaliation against activists here in the United States. So the work is not going to stop. On the contrary, we’re going to go stronger.
AARON MATÉ: Maru, just to clarify, you’ve been given a notice to appear, but they won’t release any information to you surrounding it?
M. M. VILLALPANDO: That’s right. They declined that to my lawyer, that’s why my lawyer had to file the Freedom of Information Act to acquire my file.
AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Maru Maro Villalpando, activist with Latino Advocacy, now being targeted for deportation in Seattle. And Renee Feltz, independent journalist and Democracy Now correspondent. Thanks to you both.
M. M. VILLALPANDO: Thank you.
RENEE FELTZ: Thank you.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.