We Are Not Going to Be Intimidated: Undocumented Activist Attends SOTU Despite Threat of Arrest

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On Tuesday, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona asked the U.S. Capitol Police to arrest undocumented immigrants attending President Trump’s State of the Union address. Gosar’s threat didn’t stop many undocumented activists from attending after they were invited by Democratic lawmakers. We speak to Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Northwest Detention Center Resistance and the group Mijente. She attended the State of the Union as a guest of Washington Senator Maria Cantwell.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Maru Mora Villalpando into this conversation, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Northwest Detention Center Resistance and the group Mijente. She attended the State of the Union address last night as a guest of Washington Senator Maria Cantwell.

Maru, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what the atmosphere was like inside Congress as President Trump spoke, and the significance of your being there.

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Well, it was quite awful for me to sit next to a lot of people that were cheering him up. At some point I was able to see him clap for himself. I decided to sit down throughout the entire speech. I did not clap at all. I did get a glimpse of other—couple of people also sitting down. When we saw each other, like a young man on the same row that I was, but at the end of the row, we just raised our left fist to each other, trying to endure the whole entire speech, that felt really, really long. People stared at me when I didn’t get up. Again, I saw a couple of people here and there not standing up, either.

And I think the most important thing for me was that Trump’s police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, came to my house last month via certified mail, starting a deportation process against me. And when Senator Cantwell’s office called me and invited me to join, I felt that it was my opportunity to show Trump himself that we are not going to get intimidated, we are going to continue working. People in detention called me yesterday throughout the day and told me, “We cannot be there. But you have been the voice. We have selected you. You have a task to do, and you have to be there and endure whatever he says.” We knew, was a racist, xenophobic speech. He scapegoated my community, along with many other communities. But it was important to show that we’re not afraid, and we’re going to continue in the struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, CNN reported that Congressman Paul Gosar said he requested U.S. Capitol Police arrest undocumented immigrants attending the State of the Union. The Arizona Republican, who’s known as an immigration hardliner, tweeted his request that police consider checking identification of all attending the State of the Union address, and arresting any “illegal aliens” in attendance, he said. Maru, talk about your own situation, not only that you, well, might have been arrested right there, but in Washington state. You’re a longtime, well-known immigrants’ rights activist. But talk about the letter you recently got.

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Yeah, on December 20th, as my daughter and I were heading out, we heard a knock at the door, and it was the mail person handing me a letter. And I saw a logo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I knew exactly what it was. And it’s called a notice to appear, where the government, the U.S. government, via Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is beginning a deportation process against me, saying that I overstayed a visa back in ’96, a tourist visa, and I need to appear before a judge. It did not include a date, but included the location, which is in downtown Seattle.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to part of what President Trump said last night about his immigration plan.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families. For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They’ve allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Maru Mora Villalpando, your response?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Well, I was trying to contain myself. It’s easy to see how he was pitting people against each other, low-income workers of either brown, black communities, white communities, but also scapegoating my community, immigrant communities. It was really shocking to me to see how he utilized people’s tragedies to blame my community, my immigrant community, for those tragedies.

It was also even more shocking to see people of color there standing and clapping for him and really being used, as we have been used, in general, in politics, but using people’s tragedies to scapegoat our communities without talking about the real reasons why there’s violence in our communities, created precisely by the same governments that created the conditions for why people end up being violent.

I think that it was just a huge racist, xenophobic, nativist rhetoric. And again, I just—I just tried to go throughout the night thinking, “I have to be here,” and I know that even though the majority of people there were clapping and standing for him, I knew that people outside would not agree with him.

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