The controversial arrest of a domestic violence victim at an El Paso courthouse enraged a Texas district attorney and immigration rights activists. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials detained the woman after she had just received a domestic violence protection order against an abusive boyfriend.
According to El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza, the arrest by ICE officials sends a chilling message to domestic abuse victims that they may not be able to seek justice in Texas courts.
“I don’t think it matters what your [immigration] status is. Everyone has the right to be free of violence and live in a safe community,” Esparza said.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identified the detainee as Irvin Gonzalez, a transgender woman who had reported her partner to police on at least three separate occasions. Gonzalez said her boyfriend repeatedly punched, kicked, and choked her, and at one point, even allegedly chased her with a knife.
According to El Paso Court Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, federal agents sat through Gonzalez’s protective order hearing on February 9, with one person guarding the courthouse’s exits. Bernal adds that ICE agents probably received a tip from the woman’s partner, who was in custody at the time and was the only person to know about the hearing outside Gonzalez’s party.
And although a rap sheet of the arrest claims that Gonzalez had been picked up outside the courthouse, video footage obtained by the county attorney’s office clearly shows an ICE agent escorting her from the courthouse.
In a public statement, ICE spokesperson Leticia Zamarripa said that DHS and El Paso border security agents detained Gonzalez on a felony charge for re-entering the country without legal documents after being previously deported. She has already been deported from the U.S. at least six times and has a record of assault, larceny, false imprisonment, domestic violence, and returning to the country without legal documents.
Gonzalez is currently in custody in the El Paso County Jail and awaits for ICE to initiate her removal proceedings.
However, Bernal argues that the Gonzalez’s criminal record is irrelevant, as victims of domestic abuse don’t always have a clean history. Moreover, she contends that her protective order hearing should be a “place of sanctuary.”
“Our job is if that victim has been subjected to violence and is likely to be subjected to serious bodily injury in the immediate future … to offer protection for that victim regardless of her criminal history,” Bernal said.
And according to El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, the fact federal agents entered the court creates a “tremendous risk for the community.” She notes that like many border cities, El Paso has a high concentration of immigrants, yet because local law enforcement officials have good relations with both documented and undocumented immigrants, El Paso is significantly safer compared to other cities of its size in the U.S.
While cases like this could be isolated incidents, given the growing list of immigration issues in a Trump presidency, communities and immigration rights activists are still bracing for the worst. If you or a loved one is concerned by these developments and want to know your rights, talk to immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today to schedule a consultation.