Published: Sat, February 18, 2017
National | By Miranda Cannon

El Paso officials dispute federal agents' account of domestic-violence victim's arrest

El Paso officials dispute federal agents' account of domestic-violence victim's arrest

After receiving a tip, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a woman at the El Paso County Courthouse on February 9, while she was reportedly getting a protective order against an alleged domestic abuser.

On Feb. 9, a federal agent sat through the protective order hearing, while another agent guarded one of the court's exits, according to El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal.

Victims already fear reaching out to police, but much progress has been made in recent years in making sure undocumented immigrants know they will not be in danger of deportation simply for reporting a crime.

"Our clients come to us at the lowest point in their lives", Bernal, who represents domestic abuse victims, told the El Paso Times.

According to Bernal, even the smaller scale incidents, like the arrest of the transgender woman in her court, instill fear in the nation's many immigrants. The information received stated that Gonzalez was staying at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence.

Federal agents arrested an undocumented trans woman after she sought out help for domestic abuse.

Immigration lawyers say this signals a disturbing new precedent for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which is not supposed to exclusively use information provided by an abusive partner to make decisions about whether to detain someone. She said she accompanied them to the courthouse doors, where they escorted Gonzalez onto the street.

The case is gaining national attention, in part, because it comes as the Trump administration is ramping up enforcement of immigration laws.

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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. Gonzalez's live-in boyfriend had earlier been detained by ICE, Bernal said. Bernal told reporters that she can't verify that claim, but she said the only two people informed of Gonzalez's court hearing were Gonzalez and her alleged abuser.

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. And immigration status is not a barrier to seeking help from most domestic violence shelters and services.

Bernal said the footage is clear from the security cameras.

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.

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

'This is a situation which has never happened before in the courthouse and we were all pretty stunned and we are hoping this isolated incident never happens again. "If victims of crime aren't willing to come forward, that really endangers the whole community".

The National Network to End Domestic Violence now recommends that advocates helping survivors figure out what to do should consider whether the survivors have a criminal record, as the El Paso survivor allegedly did.

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