#FreeAle: Feminists are Demanding the Release of Reproductive Justice Activist Detained by ICE

Reproductive justice advocate Alejandra Pablos was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on March 7 during a routine check-in with the government agency’s field offices in Arizona. She is now being held without bond at the Eloy Detention Center—and feminists are demanding her release.

Pablos, 32, is a field coordinator in Virginia for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and a member of the abortion storytelling program We Testify. She previously had legal permanent resident status.

In a petition calling for her release, the Latinx and Chicanx political organization Mijente asserted that Pablos’ fierce activism led ICE to target her, citing their firsthand observations from a protest Pablos led against immigration arrests in January 2018. “As Pablos was leading chants at a peaceful protest in Virginia outside of the Department of Homeland Security, she was singled out and detained by DHS agents,” they wrote. “Although she was released, this flagged her case. When Pablos showed up to her check-in with ICE in Tucson, she was taken into custody and not allowed to pay a bond.”

In 2010, Pablos was convicted of driving under the influence and served time in prison and at Eloy; since her release in 2013, she has been ordered to check-in with ICE in Arizona every three months. These court visits grew more difficult when Pablos moved from Arizona to Washington, D.C. in 2016, but she kept them up, despite the hardship the check-ins imposed on her. “Each and every time it is a tough, emotional process, one that forces me to choose between paying my rent or securing a flight to make it to court,” she shared on an online fundraiser. “For the last four years I have had to make arrangements to protect myself and stay safe, knowing that my freedom and life are at the hands of a racist system that doesn’t recognize my humanity.”

It was at one of these very routine meetings earlier this month that Pablos was detained and sent back to Eloy. “ICE lied to me,” Pablos explained in a Facebook video published online after she was detained. “I went in there in good faith.”

Pablos’ situation is increasingly far too common among undocumented advocates. NPR has reported over 20 activists who have been detained, including Northwest Detention Center Resistance founder Maru Mora-Villalpando, New Sanctuary Coalition Executive Director Ravi Ragbir and Baltazar Aburto Guiterrez, who had expressed his frustration about the deportation of his longtime partner to the Seattle Times. And in Vermont, the nonprofit Migrant Justice saw six of its undocumented leaders arrested over the past year—despite that only one of those leaders had a prior criminal charge, a DUI conviction.

Immigration groups worry these detainments, often conducted during routine ICE check-ins, are retaliation against outspoken activists. As Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, told Teen Vogue, “by detaining Alejandra Pablos without bond, the government is sending a message that it’s not safe to peacefully protest their brutal, xenophobic immigration policies.” Zully Palacios Rodriguez, one of the Migrant Justice leaders who was arrested by ICE, echoed Hernandez’s sentiment in an NPR interview. “We’re always at the marches and giving interviews without fear of what could happen,” Rodriguez told reporters. “So to go against us is a way to intimidate the community.”

In detention, Pablos’ future remains unknown, although the activist has begun the process of filing for asylum. In the meantime, she will remain illegally held at a detention center notorious for mistreating those inside. Fifteen deaths have occurred at Eloy since 2003—the most of any detention center in the U.S. Gretta Sota Moreno, a transgender woman held at that same facility, told Latinx culture site Remezcla that she endured harassment as well as repeated abuse by male guards at Eloy who would squeeze her breasts and butt. “From the first day I was in prison,” she shared, “an official called me faggot, and there the war was constant as immigration saw me as a threat because I was somewhat of a leader in the transgender community.”

Now, more than ever, Pablos—and the numerous other undocumented advocates suffering similar fates alongside her—need people to speak out against the unjust targeting of already marginalized communities. “Ale embodies resistance in her warrior spirit,” Chelsea D. Yarborough, a former Feminist Majority Foundation Senior National Campus Organizer and the Manager of Young Women of Color Programs at Advocates for Youth, posted on Instagram. “She fights for all of us, and we need to fight for her.” Pablos was scheduled to speak at the FMF National Young Feminist Leadership Conference the weekend after she was detained, where event organizers urged attendees to take action on her behalf.

“I need you to stand up for me. I need you to fight for me,” Pablos said in her video. “As I’m fighting inside, you please fight outside.”




Maura Turcotte is an editorial intern at Ms.