ICE Arrests Domestic Violence Victim at Texas Courthouse

Posted February 18, 2017

An undocumented woman was arrested last week by federal immigration agents in El Paso, Texas, after securing a protective order against her allegedly abusive boyfriend, PEOPLE confirms.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said at a news conference Thursday that while ICE officials continue to highlight the criminal history of Gonzalez, they have failed to address the issue of agents going into the courthouse to enforce immigration laws.

"They came into the courthouse", El Paso district attorney Jaime Esparza told the Guardian, "and I think it sends a awful message to victims of domestic violence on whether or not they're actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse". Previous year alone, our advocates answered more than 7,000 calls, chats and text messages from victims and survivors of domestic violence facing issues related to immigration.

'We later learned there were up to six ICE agents in the courthouse looking for our client, ' she said.

Jaime Esparza, the local district attorney, said: "They came into the courthouse and I think it sends a terrible message to victims of domestic violence on whether or not they're actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse". Bernal's office is investigating the incident, she said.

'Many of them are so frightened of coming to us because of possible immigration concerns'.

Bernal said her office is taking steps to relieve those fears in the wake of last week's arrest.

De Avila is now being held on suspicion of forging a financial document.

ICE Central Region communications director Carl Rusnok said in a statement that Gonzalez had been arrested after agents received a tip from another law enforcement agency "indicating that a previously deported felon had illegally re-entered the United States".

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Its narrative differs, however, from what Bernal unearthed in her investigation in a key respect.

Although the complaint alleges Gonzalez was arrested on the street, Bernal claims it happened inside the courthouse. The headline-grabbing arrest comes after President Donald Trump's controversial immigration executive orders and immigration raids. The same complaint said that the woman had been deported six times since 2010 for arrests related to possession of stolen mail, false imprisonment, or assault, but Bernal told the Washington Post that the woman had no current outstanding state warrants.

BuzzFeed News could not immediately reach Bernal or federal immigration authorities Wednesday night. County officials suspect Ice acted on a tip-off from her alleged abuser, since he was the only other person given written notice of the hearing. Agents were conducting surveillance at the the county courthouse on February 9 in an effort to catch Gonzalez, the affidavit said. They fear that in cities with large immigrant populations such as El Paso, the presence of ICE officials will drive many domestic violence victims back into the arms of their abusers.

The fear among those who deal with victims of domestic violence on a daily basis is that actions like this empower abusers to prevent their victims from seeking help, able to threaten their victims with retaliation from the law if they seek refuge from their awful situation. In response, she had "filed three police reports" which detail incidents involving "punching, kicking, choking and having a knife thrown at her".

Judge Gutierrez added that in acting on tips from alleged abusers, ICE is effectively assisting in the abuse. The woman alleged that she was a victim of domestic violence.

"We will do everything in our power to get them the protection they need", she said.

For these people and countless others, we have to take a stand to ensure that what happened in El Paso doesn't happen again.

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar said she is anxious that word about the woman's arrest is already spreading in the immigrant community - which is large in a border city such as El Paso.