- Alejandra Pablosreproductive justice and immigrant rights activist who works for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. She is a member of We Testify, an abortion storytelling leadership program of the National Network of Abortion Funds. She was released from ICE custody last week, after being detained after a regular ICE check-in.
Extended discussion with immigrant rights and reproductive justice activist Alejandra Pablos, who has been freed from the for-profit Eloy Detention Center, where she was detained for more than 40 days after she reported to a routine ICE check-in on March 7.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, with Part 2 of our discussion with immigrant rights and reproductive justice activist Alejandra Pablos, who has been freed from the for-profit Eloy Detention Center, where she was detained for more than 40 days after she reported to a routine ICE check-in on March 7th. Advocates say she was detained in retaliation for her activism. Alejandra works for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and joins us from Tucson.
Thank you for continuing this conversation with us, Alejandra. Now that we have more time, I was wondering if you could just take us step by step through what happened to you this year. How was it that you ended up being picked up and detained by ICE?
ALEJANDRA PABLOS: OK. Thank you so much, Amy, for having me here. So, what happened was, January 10th, I went to a protest. We wanted to expose a very clandestine DHS center that was targeting our communities in Virginia and that were literally destroying folks and violently interrupting the lives of our community. So we were at a protest trying to expose that DHS center. And basically I was the only activist there that got arrested, out of the almost 40, or 40-some, protesters there. And I spent the whole day in Chesterfield County.
But that arrest targeted folks from Virginia to contact the deportation officer in Tucson and let them know that they were ready to revoke my bond. I was—I had been out on bond for almost five years, since, you mentioned, in 2013, when I first got released. And for those five years, I’ve been incredibly entrenched with advocacy and human rights advocacy, you know, prison abolishment and all of those sorts of things. So, to me, it was the first time that I was a part of a protest or any sort of activist activity, for activism. And I got arrested there, with no warning that I was going to get arrested. So, that prompted Tucson to find out about that. But my deportation officer had said, “Don’t worry. You’re classified wrong. When you come to check in, we’ll reclassify you. You shouldn’t be out on an order of supervision,” and all this immigration jargon, because basically I was on ICE parole for these five years.
And so, sure enough, I went to court March 6. He asked me to check in March 7th. And, you know, that’s when he told me that I would be redetained, that I wasn’t able to get bond then, that I would have to go to Eloy and see the same judge I saw before to redetermine my custody. So, on April 19th, I actually—we actually won. We actually got to come home because of all the hard work of the organizers.
AMY GOODMAN: Though you were held for 40 days.
ALEJANDRA PABLOS: Yeah, I was held—I was held there for more than 42 days. That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Eloy Detention Center has one of the worst records in the [country], in several studies was shown to have the highest number of deaths of any detention center in the country. In February, the family of José de Jesús Deniz Sahagun filed a lawsuit against CoreCivic, the operator of the center, for failing to prevent Deniz Sahagun from killing himself while in custody nearly three years ago. And then, two years ago, Raquel Hidalgo, a 36-year-old Guatemalan woman, died in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement after she suffered a series of seizures while being detained at Eloy. At least 15 people have died while confined there since 2003. Can you talk about what those conditions were like in Eloy during your 40 days?
ALEJANDRA PABLOS: Oh, my goodness. I just couldn’t believe I was back there, for one. Right away, when I was there, maybe a week while being there, a woman cut herself multiple times trying to commit suicide, as well. It wasn’t her first time there. And it was just—it just seemed like they just tried to brush everything off. They took the woman away. She didn’t die. She came back to the community with us. But there was no follow-up on the trauma that it caused everybody, not just that person and their family, but everybody who got to see the incident.
And they lie about a lot of things. They make you get up at 5:00 in the morning if you have to see the doctor. So, if you’re feeling sick or something’s going on at 6 p.m., you have to wait 'til 5 in the morning, when that's the only time you can see the doctors. There’s no way to request anything. There’s no—you know, a copy that you may keep, when you send something to medical and you need some sort of request. And then CCA tells you—CoreCivic tells you that there’s two separate contracts, one with them and one with medical. They have nothing to do with that. So when we ask officers, we get denied the benefit of the doubt of letting them know that we’re sick and we need some medical attention.
So, and yes, we have seen a lot of women—even when I was there five years ago, two people committed suicide and actually died. So, the negligence is out of control at the moment right now. It’s very secretive. There’s no accountability. And I’m surprised that there’s not more lawsuits going against CoreCivic, because that’s exactly what we need to do.
And here in Arizona, they keep it—they make it easier for them to cage us up again. The criminal justice system here, the sentencing system here, is—I got in trouble for things that in other states would be just either misdemeanors or just plain tickets. But here in Arizona, because of the sentencing structure, I’m facing deportation, and my charges are actually felonies. So, I think that’s another part of why we’re trying to talk to Governor Ducey about giving me a pardon and also to support criminal justice reform in Arizona, because here, I think, since 1992, our incarceration rates have doubled, like to 171 percent. Latino people are—we have the most Latino people incarcerated in all of the United States. Women are skyrocketing in there. I mean, they’ve doubled the pace, just like men in the last five years.
So I think it’s really important to talk about how folks like myself are products of that. We’re products of the criminal system and the immigration system, that’s broken and that’s failed the communities. And it’s not making anybody safer from keeping me—where my whole entire family are citizens here—keeping me away from them, caged up in a detention center that doesn’t take care of us, doesn’t give us nutritional food, doesn’t allow to touch our family members when they come and see us, doesn’t allow us to really grow from being in the detention center. There’s no educational, vocational support groups for women. Women are in there because of domestic violence, survivors of domestic violence and drug abuse, when they’ve had nothing, no resources in their life, to make better decisions.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet you say they’re treated like criminals. Can you walk us through your case? In Part 1, you referenced coming here as an infant. Explain what happened to you, because you’ve just said you were in Eloy before. In fact, you were there for two years, from 2011 to 2013.
ALEJANDRA PABLOS: Yes. So, we’re actually from Santa Ana, California. We moved here to Arizona when I was about 15 years old. And my mom became a citizen through the amnesty in '86, I believe. And there's just a myth. There’s so many myths. And that’s why I do the work that I do with the National Latina Institute, to debunk a lot of these myths and change the cultural narrative of how we think about our families and the history and where we’ve been. But there was a myth that said if your child is a little baby, a minor, and you’re a U.S. citizen, your children are good. Well, in Santa Ana, California, we didn’t really need anything. I grew up pretty much my whole teenage life there not needing a petition from my mom. So, at 16, I wanted to work. I got my Social Security. I got my work permit at 16. They told me to just wait for my LPR card, which is my legal permanent resident card. And I got it at the age of 18 and a half, so two and a half years later.
So, fast-forward: When I got placed on probation for a misdemeanor, that later became a felony because of the sentencing structure here, I was on probation and ICE picked me up. In 2006, there was a law created, a probation and parole law, that said that probation officers can actually call immigration and let them know they have a resident or an undocumented person. And that’s what happened to me. I was on my fifth month of probation. I remember being like, “This is ridiculous. I’m a legal permanent resident. My parents are citizens, my brother—everybody in my family are citizens. What’s going on?” And I was like, “I’m only going to be there for two months, four months.” And it turned into two years, because I fought for derivative citizenship, as well. I couldn’t believe that a document made me less of a family member of this family that’s in Arizona and that’s part of the American structure.
So, it was really interesting. It opened up my eyes. I got really politicized at the detention center. I was a part of the hunger strikes there in 2013 with the DREAMers 9. It was a place that I had to be, and it’s changed my life forever. And that’s why I do what I do, and I can’t do nothing else but speak up for the most vulnerable and for the people that are scared of speaking up. And I’m just very blessed to have a community behind me that’s able to work together with lawyers and and get women out of detention.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read a statement issued by the Planned Parenthood executive vice president, Dawn Laguens. She writes, “Immigrants are a part of Planned Parenthood’s family—they are our patients, our providers, our volunteers, and in the case of Alejandra Pablos, fierce activists and partners. We believe that the arrest of Alejandra Pablos was a targeted attack. When leaders from within our movement become targets of the very injustice they have fought against, it is not a coincidence. Alejandra Pablos is a strong leader who advocates for reproductive health and rights in our communities. We will not silently stand by as someone in our family is under attack. We call for Alejandra to be given due process, and we call upon the Trump-Pence administration to stop using ICE to target activists.” So, Alejandra, do you feel that you were targeted specifically for your activism? And then tell us what you face right now. What are your court dates?
ALEJANDRA PABLOS: Thank you for reading that statement. I haven’t gotten to that letter of support yet. I’m staying at home reading all of the letters of support. It was amazing to receive hundreds and hundreds of letters that were able to release me. My next court date is—in immigration, is actually in Tucson court. I don’t have it 'til December of this year. But I also do have the court pending in Virginia May 15th. So we're going to trial for that, for that protest that I got arrested at.
And I believe that all people that are outspoken and that are not living in fear, because a lot of us know that we cannot be conquered, and we carry this energy of resistance and resilience—and I think that all advocates and activists who are in the public light that are advocating for folks across the country—I’m a part of—I’m a member of Mijente. I’m a member of the Detention Watch Network. I’m a storyteller, abortion storyteller, with We Testify and the National Abortion Funds. I’m a part of the National Latina Institute. And I can name and list all of these organizations that I partnered up with, because we want liberation for all people. So, I think, absolutely. They’ve shown, even with Maru’s case, that they are targeting her simply because she was publicly in the media advocating for immigrant justice. And I think that I’m not an exception to all of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me just reference who you’re talking about: Maru Mora-Villalpando, also concerned about deportation in Washington state. And, of course, we covered Jean Montrevil, a well-known immigrant rights activist here in New York, who was deported to Haiti. And then there’s Ravi Ragbir, who had his deportation stayed for the moment. Manuel Duran, who was just arrested in Memphis, Tennessee, we just did a segment on him this week on Democracy Now! So, are you seeing leaders specifically targeted?
ALEJANDRA PABLOS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we’ve seen that across—like you just mentioned the list of these—and these are my comrades. These are folks that are, like I said, in the same struggle. And absolutely. Why wouldn’t ICE target folks that are defending other communities, that are like—that are getting together to actually have communities to understand what the criminal justice has done and how the Department of Justice works just like the Department of Homeland Security, and they’re all working hand in hand? No police, no ICE is making anyone safer. The impunity. We just saw here in Tucson that a Border Patrol agent shot somebody across the border, a young person, and didn’t get convicted for that. And we’ve seen it many, many times.
So I think that, absolutely, the targeting is real. I’m excited to go to court and fight this in Virginia. I don’t want to be targeted anymore. I don’t want to live in fear. Reproductive justice, for me as a woman, as an immigrant woman, as an immigrant woman with a criminal justice—I mean, a criminal record, I think about safety. I think about making decisions over my life without government interfering, right? And I think DHS, Border Patrol, the police are going rogue out in the community, especially because the administration is backing them up. And families are not able to really like live a life free of persecution, you know, a peaceful life, a life where they can live abundant lives with respect and dignity. And I think that they’re watching out for us because they know that the community is stronger than ever.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Alejandra Pablos, reproductive justice and immigrant rights activist, released from ICE custody last week after being detained after a regular ICE check-in. She was detained for 40 days. There was enormous outcry around the country, and she was released. To see Part 1 of our discussion with her, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.