Immigrant groups in Northern Virginia are pushing for the release of a prominent local activist who is being held in Arizona after appearing there for what she believed would be a routine hearing on a pending deportation case.
Alejandra Pablos, 32, traveled to the Phoenix area this week to check in with immigration officials in a 2013 case that stemmed from a felony conviction for driving under the influence in Arizona three years earlier.
Although Pablos is a legal permanent resident who grew up in Arizona, the DUI conviction qualifies as a “crime involving moral turpitude” that, under federal immigration law, makes her subject to deportation.
She will be held in a detention center outside Tucson until December, when she is next scheduled to appear in court, the result of a Supreme Court ruling last month that people being held for deportation are not entitled to a bond hearing.
“ICE lied to me,” Pablos said in a Facebook video she recorded shortly after she was detained Wednesday. “I went in there in good faith.”
The deportation case has loomed over Pablos — an organizer in Annandale for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health — as she advocated in Richmond for legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and to pay in-state college tuition rates.
Pablos, who moved to Washington from Arizona in 2016, also organized protests in Virginia against President Trump’s immigration crackdown.
“She is our primary organizer,” said Margie Del Castillo, an associate director at the reproductive health institute. “She’s been very instrumental in leadership development for other activists.”
Del Castillo and other supporters across the country say they believe that Pablos’s aggressive style made her a target for Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a charge the agency has faced in other cases involving immigration activists.
In January, Pablos was arrested during a protest attended by about 30 people outside a Homeland Security building near Richmond and charged with trespassing. A photo provided by one of the other protesters appears to show a Homeland Security officer handcuffing Pablos.
“The DHS officer, he singled out Alejandra and arrested her,” said Nelson Lopez, the protester.
An ICE spokeswoman did not have information about Pablos’s case immediately available Thursday. The agency said it does not single out anyone based on their advocacy or critical comments.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate,” Matthew Albence, who oversees ICE enforcement and removal operations, said in a statement.
In an increasingly volatile political climate over immigration, news of the detention of a well-known activist caught fire on social media sites, where fellow activists circulated petitions in support of Pablos to send to the judge in the case.
“Another immigrant rights activist detained by ICE after protesting deportations. Please sign here for support,” actress and activist Alyssa Milano wrote to her 3.4 million Twitter followers Wednesday, posting a link to a group that, so far, has collected nearly 8,000 signatures.
Pablos, who has filed for asylum protections — arguing that her work as an activist would put her in danger in Mexico — pleaded in her Facebook video for viewers to rally on her behalf.
“They’re retaliating against all activists, all organizers, people who have advocacy and are out there fighting,” she said. “So, please help.”