Activists Fear ICE Will Target Another Reproductive Justice Advocate for Deportation (Updated)

"As is the case with all deportations, it's about more than family separation. It's ripping a person away from their community."

[photo: A woman, Eva Chavez, talks with another person]
Eva Chavez has spent a bulk of her time in the United States organizing "for justice and dignity for all women," including helping "immigrant women like herself bring improvements to their neighborhoods and lives," according to an online petition for Chavez.

UPDATE, March 14, 12:33 p.m.: Nancy Cárdenas Peña confirmed on Twitter that Eva Chavez was not detained during her check-in appointment.

A community pillar from the Rio Grande Valley who has a son with special needs could be the next reproductive justice advocate to be taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

Eva Chavez, a domestic violence survivor who has worked with La Unión del Pueblo Entero for 15 years and with the Texas Latina Advocacy Network of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) for ten years, was detained by ICE on February 14. Advocates said the federal immigration agency released Chavez because she is the primary caretaker for her son, who requires weekly doctor’s visits, including thrice weekly therapy sessions.

ICE released Chavez but required her to return for a check-in Wednesday. Advocates fear Chavez will be the next victim of the agency’s “silent raids.” Silent raids are the increasingly common practice of ICE turning a routine check-in into deportation, either by informing the person they have 30 days to leave the United States or by detaining them on the spot. These raids are affecting immigrant mothers across the country.

This is the second NLIRH-affiliated reproductive justice advocate to be targeted by ICE this month. As Rewire.News reported last week, prominent activist Alejandra Pablos was detained by ICE in an apparent act of retaliation, another of ICE’s emerging trends under the Trump administration. Pablos is the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network field coordinator for NLIRH and a member of the social justice organizing network Mijente, as well as a member of We Testify, an abortion storytelling leadership program of the National Network of Abortion Funds. 

Pablos remains detained at the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona. 

Chavez has spent a bulk of her time in the United States organizing “for justice and dignity for all women,” including helping “immigrant women like herself bring improvements to their neighborhoods and lives” and ensuring that immigrant women “have the economic means, social capital and political power to make and exercise decisions about their health, family and future with dignity and self-determination,” according to an online petition for Chavez. 

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, NLIRH’s Texas associate director for policy and advocacy, told Rewire.News that Chavez is a “pillar in the Rio Grande Valley community.” Countless reproductive justice meetings have been held at Chavez’s home, including one scheduled for the day she was detained. Chavez was a primary source of information for women in the Rio Grande Valley, openly discussing cervical cancer and stressing the importance of screening. According to NLIRH, the incidence of cervical cancer for Latina women in the United States is among the highest of all racial and ethnic groups, and almost twice as high as non-Latina white women. Latina women have the second highest mortality rate from cervical cancer, though the mortality rate for Latina women is higher in communities along the Texas-Mexico border because of disparities in being able to access health care and low rates of cervical cancer screening, NLIRH says.

“If you’ve gone to a reproductive justice protest in the Rio Grande Valley and you’ve been offered food, it was Eva’s hands that made that food,” Cárdenas Peña said. “She has dedicated so much of herself to this movement in so many different ways. She is a tremendous asset to her community.”

The policy and advocacy director said “ICE is a rogue agency” and she “wouldn’t put it past” them to target reproductive justice advocates like Pablos and Chavez.

The mainstream reproductive rights movement has largely ignored immigration, though reproductive justice advocatesthose using the framework created by Black womenhave long identified immigration as a reproductive justice issue.

The connection between immigration and reproductive rights is becoming a national conversation because of the Trump administration’s unprecedented attacks on immigrant women. Under Trump, an environment of “anti-choice fanaticism” has been ushered into the U.S. immigration system, with vehement, anti-choice zealots like Scott Lloyd using his power over a federal immigration agency to weaponize his religious beliefs to bar teenage refugees from accessing abortion care.

Trump’s proposed budget would allow ICE agents to determine if people in detention can access abortion care.

“We’ve been screaming that immigration is a reproductive justice issue, and that reproductive justice is an immigration issue, for so long,” Cárdenas Peña said. “For many people, this is becoming increasingly apparent because ICE has made such calculated moves to detain immigrants involved in both spheres. What is happening to Eva is so clearly a reproductive justice issue because she is a mother who deserves the right to parent her child in a safe environment without fear of retaliation.”

Chavez has a 10-year-old charge on her record that has since been dismissed, but ICE may be using it to detain and deport her, another common tactic. Chavez has been in the United States for more than 30 years and ICE purported to be in search of Chavez’s husband when they detained the activist on February 14.

According to Cárdenas Peña, who has met with Chavez leading up to Wednesday’s check-in with ICE, Chavez’s biggest concern is what will happen to her son should she be detained. While advocates are hoping for the best, their fear is that ICE will detain Chavez and quickly move to deport her, as they have with outspoken activists like Jean Montrevil, a Haitian immigrant who was deported less than two weeks after being detained. 

Chavez was a member of LUPE, a Latino advocacy organization that works in the colonias of the Rio Grande Valley. LUPE’s communications director, John-Michael Torres, is running Chavez’s deportation defense campaign, urging supporters to sign Chavez’s petition and call Daniel Bible, ICE’s field office director of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in San Antonio. Bible has the authority to grant Chavez a stay of removal. 

“The impact of Eva’s case is already being felt in the community, and it’s heartbreaking,” Torres said. “You have to understand that Eva’s house was like a hub for everything that’s needed in the Rio Grande Valley and since she was detained, people have called and asked that meetings no longer be held at her home because of fear that ICE will show up. Countless people who rely on Eva for good information and opportunities to improve their lives will no longer have that space in their community. As is the case with all deportations, it’s about more than family separation. It’s ripping a person away from their community,” Torres said.

Now Chavez is calling on her community for support. NLIRH has organized a rally on Chavez’s behalf, set to take place Wednesday at the Harlingen, Texas, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office where Chavez will be checking in with ICE at 10 a.m.

Cárdenas Peña said of all the options offered to Chavez by advocatesseeking sanctuary or not showing up at the check-inshe chose accompaniment to her appointment, believing her community would show up for her. The policy director doesn’t want to let her down.

“I want to see everyone come together for Eva. She has done so much for the Rio Grande Valley community, which is a community so often ignored by mainstream media. We’re often left behind and the last people to be invited to conversations that directly impact us as people who live here, especially when it comes to immigration and reproductive rights,” Cárdenas Peña said. “I want people to listen and know that these cases are happening in in the Rio Grande Valley right now, that women like Eva are being targeted right now, and this deserves just as much attention as similar incidents anywhere else in the country.”