An immigration judge in Arizona on Tuesday stripped prominent immigration and reproductive-rights activist Alejandra Pablos of her green card and ordered her deportation nearly a year after she was arrested outside a protest in Virginia.
It was the climax of a case that has loomed over Pablos for years. But, she said, she’s not giving up yet.
“La lucha sigue,” Pablos, 33, said in an interview. The struggle continues.
Pablos, who since 2016 had worked for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in Annandale, said she plans to appeal the decision by immigration Judge Thomas Michael O’Leary.
Pablos said that her life would be in danger if she were deported to Mexico, where abortion remains largely illegal and activists have been targeted with threats and violence.
A petition asking Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to grant a pardon for the 8-year-old DUI arrest that thrust her into deportation proceedings garnered more than 10,000 signatures in 24 hours.
It’s unclear what her chances are of staying in the country.
Immigration is under federal jurisdiction, and a gubernatorial pardon can’t negate a deportation order. But by eliminating the reason for a deportation — in this case, a felony conviction from 2013 — a pardon could prevent the removal of people such as Pablos.
“I’ve taken responsibility for my mistakes, but when is it enough? I’ve completed my sentences, I’ve turned my life around and transformed myself into someone who works every day to help others — but when is it enough?” said Pablos, who remained out on bond Wednesday.
Pablos is a legal resident who grew up in Arizona. Though she was born in Nogales, Mexico — across the border from Nogales, Ariz. — Pablos said the United States is the only home she has known.
Her immigration status came under scrutiny in 2013 following criminal convictions that included driving under the influence, endangerment and possession of drug paraphernalia. Pablos, who has spoken publicly about the convictions, said she “didn’t grasp the consequences” of her decisions at a young age.
In 2013, immigration officials were waiting for Pablos at a routine check-in with her probation officer. She spent the next two years in detention at an Arizona immigration facility.
The experience changed her life.
“I realized I wanted to help other people learn from my story so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes,” she said.
When Pablos arrived in the Washington area two years ago, she transformed the way local activists talked about the connections between immigration and reproductive rights, said Margie Del Castillo, 36, director of field advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
In her work with the institute, Pablos organized rallies and training for the public. She directed her colleagues’ attention to issues such as supporting driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and allowing noncitizens to receive in-state college tuition if they lived in Virginia.
“Alejandra is a really visionary person, and she’s had an impact on so many people,” Del Castillo said. “She’s lifted up her own story and said, ‘Look, I’m someone people might classify as a bad immigrant. I have a record, I’ve been arrested, but look at all the good things I’ve done.’ ”
The judge on Tuesday was unmoved.
He denied her petitions for asylum, saying Pablos wouldn’t qualify for protections because reproductive rights activists haven’t been deemed a group in need of protection.
Pablos and her supporters have said they believe Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted her because of her vocal activism and aggressive style. The agency has faced similar accusations in other cases involving immigration activists, but has denied such claims.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate,” Matthew Albence, who oversees ICE enforcement and removal operations, said in a statement to The Washington Post in March.
Pablos was arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing and obstructing justice during a Virginia protest in January outside a DHS facility near Richmond. The charges were later dropped.
But three months later, during a routine check-in with ICE, she was detained. She spent another 43 days at the Arizona detention facility before being released on bond.
More than 70 people turned up for Pablos’s court appearance Tuesday. The support has given Pablos and her supporters hope, they said, for the immigrants and activists who may come after her.
“This is the reason we do this work — because we’re organizers, and we’re trying to make the impossible possible,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, a senior campaign organizer with immigration-rights group Mijente. “We remain hopeful and optimistic that we can create better alternatives, because that hope is all we have.”