An undocumented transgender woman, who had just received a protective order against a boyfriend who she alleges was abusing her, was detained on February 9 at the El Paso County Courthouse by six Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
The woman, who is a citizen of Mexico, was arrested after federal immigration agents got a tip from her boyfriend, who was already in custody, El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told the Washington Post.
Bernal said she is concerned the arrest will scare other victims of domestic violence into not reporting partner abuse for fear of being deported. She added the arrest was unprecedented in that it was the first time in 23 years that ICE agents made an arrest during a protective order hearing.
“Our clients come to us at the lowest point in their lives,” Bernal told the El Paso Times. “Many of them are so frightened of coming to us because of possible immigration concerns.”
The woman, who was identified by the Times as Irvin Gonzalez (also is known as Ervin Gonzalez) had a prior criminal record and had been previously deported. However, she has no outstanding warrants.
Gonzalez’s alleged abuser, Mario Alberto De Avila, is in jail on a charge of forgery of a financial document.
Gonzalez sought shelter at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence and had been taken to court to file for the protective order by a victim’s advocate.
El Paso County officials say they would prefer ICE agents not make a habit of arresting people in courtrooms. “There’s no place for that — especially in family court,” 65th District Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez told the Times.
Gutierrez said it was common for abusers to control undocumented partners by threatening to report them to immigration agents.
Mimi Marziani, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, issued a statement regarding Gonzalez’s arrest saying:
“Everyone should feel safe to seek help from the courts when they are suffering domestic violence, regardless of their immigration status. ICE’s action today is certain to make our communities less safe, as immigrant members of those communities will be less likely to report crimes against themselves and others. It’s an affront to human dignity and to justice. In response to new threats to immigrant communities, our team will double-down on our efforts to vindicate civil rights and empower immigrant victims of abuse.”
The arrest comes as hundreds of undocumented immigrants across the U.S. have been swept up in ICE raids initiated by President Donald Trump’s promise to tighten immigration policies.
In the meantime, trans advocates in El Paso have started a petition on MiJente.com asking for Gonzalez’s release from ICE custody.