Federal immigration agents managed to outrage even a Texas district attorney by arresting a domestic violence victim at the El Paso courthouse, after she was granted a protective order to shield her from an abusive boyfriend.
El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said she reviewed the courthouse security footage that shows federal agents entering the courthouse on February 9, approaching Irvin Gonzalez as she was leaving the protective-order courtroom and escorting her out of the building by the elbow.
Activists across the county have expressed concern about an increased presence of ICE agents in county courthouses, but Bernal told the Washington Post it's "unprecedented" for immigration agents to arrest someone seeking protection from domestic violence - something she hadn't witnessed in her 23 years at the courthouse.
"They came into the courthouse", El Paso district attorney Jaime Esparza told the Guardian, "and I think it sends a frightful message to victims of domestic violence on whether or not they're actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse". Furthermore, it undermines protections in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that protect the confidentiality of immigrant victims and prevent ICE from engaging in enforcement activities in sensitive locations, such as a courthouse where a victim is seeking an order of protection. And although the documents refer to the woman with a male name, Bernal said she is actually a transgender woman.
"This victim was harmed twice", says Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, of the El Paso woman. The woman alleged that she was a victim of domestic violence. She said she wants to establish a good relationship with local ICE officials and get assurance that this type of arrest won't happen again.
Gonzalez is now at the El Paso County Jail in Downtown.
Her alleged criminal history includes convictions for false imprisonment in 2013; assault, probation violation, domestic violence in 2011 and false imprisonment-minor-parental in 2010.
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And once in immigration detention, transgender women often face continued abuse at the hands of staff or other detainees - particularly when they are held with men instead of women.
Bernal said prior crimes have nothing to do with protecting victims of abuse. KVIA reports that the alleged abuser called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to let them know his ex would be at the courthouse.
Bernal's office does not ask after its clients' immigration status.
She said she can not provide the survivors with assurance that this incident was a one-off, though she is telling them that the center and county officials will do "everything in our powers" to make sure they are safe and protected.
"We hope this is an isolated incident", Bernal continued.
Bernal's staff is also researching immigration law and is trying to communicate to ICE to make sure further arrests don't take place in or near family court.
Experts nationwide said the case set a unsafe precedent and might deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes to authorities.