Published: Sat, February 18, 2017
National | By Glenda Ortiz

Undocumented domestic abuse survivors may not seek help after courthouse ICE arrest

Undocumented domestic abuse survivors may not seek help after courthouse ICE arrest

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested an undocumented woman who alleges she was the victim of domestic violence, the El Paso Times reported on Wednesday.

El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza said Thursday that the arrest sends a "horrible message to the victims of domestic violence on whether or not they're actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse". "I think an unfortunate effect of some of the recent immigration actions that we've seen is that victims of all sorts of crimes will be scared to report".

County officials want to make clear that the courthouse is not a place for the enforcement of immigration laws, but "a place where victims of domestic violence come for protection", Bernal said.

At the time, she was staying at the city's Center Against Sexual and Family Violence. The woman alleged that she was a victim of domestic violence.

Bernal is now setting up a meeting with the local ICE director to make sure this doesn't happen again, and she has launched an investigation into the incident.

After Donald Trump's election, some anti-domestic violence advocates started wondering if it's a good idea to tell undocumented immigrants to turn to law enforcement, McLaughlin and immigration attorney Laura Polstein said, and this arrest only inflames those worries.

Court documents show that Gonzalez's boyfriend, De Avila was arrested and is being held in the El Paso County Detention Center on three counts of Forgery of a Financial Instrument and one count of Forgery of a Financial Instrument - Elderly.

According to the same complaint, the alleged victim has been deported six times in the past seven years after arrests of her own for domestic violence, false imprisonment, and possession of stolen mail, New York Mag reports.

But in a statement, Ice said that the woman was arrested on a felony charge of illegally re-entering the USA "after receiving a tip from another law enforcement agency indicating that a previously deported felon had illegally re-entered the United States".

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The ICE detainee is a Mexican national identified in a criminal complaint as Irvin Gonzalez (aka Ervin Gonzalez).

ICE agents wrote in an affidavit used to detain Gonzalez that they approached and took her into custody outside the courthouse.

O'Rourke could not be reached for comment Thursday, but in a Facebook post, he said that "everyone regardless of immigration status should be able to report domestic abuse and seek protection without fear of deportation".

As the protective order was granted on 9 February, Bernal said, an Ice agent sat through the proceedings in the courtroom.

"If we only protected people with flawless records, we'd all be out of a job", she said.

County leaders said they hope this is an isolated incident; however, they are fearful that it's not.

Bernal suspects that the tip came from Gonzalez's abusive partner.

Bernal's office does not ask after its clients' immigration status.

Experts nationwide said the case set a risky precedent and might deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes to authorities. Victims are beaten down physically and emotionally and reluctant to come forward without the fear of arrest, she said.

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