A human-rights activist detained during a check-in with immigration officials in Tucson on Wednesday is being held in "retaliation" for her political work, an immigrant-rights group said.
Alejandra Pablos, 32, is from Tucson but works as a field coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. She's also active in immigration issues.
Pablos released a video on Facebook on Wednesday after being detained. She says in the video that she's being detained "illegally" and was being shipped out soon to the federal immigrant detention center in Eloy, a place she knows well, where she would fight deportation to Mexico.
"I need you to fight for me," she said, her hair disheveled in the grainy video. "As I'm fighting inside, you please fight outside."
Pablos must check in with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau every three months after her release in 2013 from what she describes in one online article as a two-year stint in the Eloy facility.
Although she's a legal permanent resident and green card holder, her immigration status has been threatened over the years because of her criminal record. She served a few weeks in state prison in February and March 2012 for a second DUI, records show. She also has a number of minor convictions and accusations of failing to appear in court going back to 2006.
Phoenix New Times could not clarify on Wednesday whether Pablos was taken directly from the Eloy facility to Arizona state prison to serve her 2012 sentence for the repeat DUI.
She's no hardened criminal, but has been a troublemaker, it seems. Yet many other legal permanent residents have much worse records and don't get deported, arguably lending strength to the claim of retaliation by ICE. The federal agency didn't immediately respond to messages on Wednesday evening.
Pablo's background story has been related by various news or activist sites over the years, and she's well-known for her social justice work.
In January, she was arrested on suspicion of trespassing and obstruction of justice during a demonstration at an office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau in Virginia. Her fellow activists say she was targeted for enforcement action because of that and other advocacy on behalf of immigrants.
She was with a few dozen people from several different groups at the ICE building, and was using a megaphone, said Tania Unzueta of Mijente, a rights group lobbying on behalf of Pablos, who's also a Mijente member. The group has started an online petition for her release.
Neither Baltuano nor Unzueta were at the Virginia demonstration, they said, but witnesses relayed them the information later.
Pablos was the only one arrested, Baltuano said. The officer took Pablos to local authorities, who booked her in connection with the two charges.
"We believe that they know who she was," Baltuano said of ICE.
Pablos told other Mijente members that when she went in for her ICE check-in on Wednesday and was detained, an officer informed her that after the January arrest, ICE officials in Virginia notified their Arizona counterparts to make sure they knew she'd been busted again.
Last summer, Baltuano said, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security "decided to bring up an old charge ... and recharge her."
Asked for more details, Baltuano would only say that it "comes down to a lot of people like Alejandra don't have a lot of options."
Pablos has lived in the United States since she was a baby. Her mother became a citizen while Pablos was still a minor, according to an October 2013 article in Colorlines.com.
"The family assumed that that would make Pablos a citizen, too, but that is not how the system works," says the article by Aura Bogado. "If she had become a citizen, none of her offenses would have turned into an immigration matter."
The detention of Pablos comes at a time of controversial deportations and tough, new immigration enforcement actions from the Trump administration.
Baltuano described Pablos as a capable "leader" and organizer whose past mistakes have resulted in enormous troubles because the immigration system won't cut her a break.
"This is an unfair treatment to someone who has gone through so much unfair treatment in the past," Baltuano said.
"Our hermana en la lucha & poderosa Alejandra was detained earlier this morning by ICE," the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health tweeted on Wednesday. "Alejandra is a powerful immigrant and reproductive justice organizer who has done incredible work for the Latinx community. Write a letter of support for Alejandra."
Pablos has a hearing in April for the Virginia charges, and a December trial date set in immigration court.
Pablos is now seeking asylum based on the potential danger to her in Mexico because of her political work over the years, which has sometimes been in Mexico.