Federal immigration agents last week detained a woman in the U.S. illegally just after she received a protective order against an abusive boyfriend, in an El Paso County courthouse.
El Paso County Attorney Joanne Bernal said the ICE arrest inside a courthouse was “unprecedented and stunning.”
“To my knowledge, and others I have spoken to, no one has a recollection of immigration officials acting like this in a courthouse,” Bernal told NPR.
As a prosecutor, one of Bernal’s duties is to seek and obtain protective orders against domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault. She said the victim had been brought to the court hearing by an advocate from the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence in El Paso.
Bernal said one ICE agent was inside the protective-order courtroom, two more were guarding each exit door and other agents were staking out the 10th floor of the courthouse building. They detained the woman moments after a judge approved her protective order. Bernal said she believes that the woman was set up by her abusive boyfriend who knew the details of her court appearance. According to the El Paso Times, the boyfriend is in custody on other charges.
Officials at ICE have not returned an email request for comment on the El Paso detention.
The ICE detainee is a Mexican national identified in a criminal complaint as Irvin Gonzalez (aka Ervin Gonzalez). Bernal said she can’t confirm that Gonzalez is transgender. “She presented herself to us as a woman,” said Bernal.
The government released a copy of the complaint, including an affidavit in which ICE agents said they approached and arrested Gonzalez outside the courthouse. But courthouse surveillance video, provided by Bernal, appears to show the ICE agents inside the courthouse. They escort a woman identified by Bernal as Gonzalez down a hallway, into an elevator and out of the courthouse exit.
The case is gaining national attention, in part, because it comes as the Trump administration is ramping up enforcement of immigration laws. Last week there were a series of raids executed across the country.
In Phoenix, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a mother of two U.S. citizen children, was deported after a routine check-in with immigration officials.
In a separate action in Seattle, a young man was detained by ICE despite the fact that he is registered with the government under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
In Denver, Jeanette Vizguerra, a mother of three U.S. citizen children, skipped a check-in with immigration authorities and has taken refuge in a church worried she will be deported.
“There’s a lot of fear and frustration,” said Andrea Mercado, chair of the We Belong Together campaign, a coalition of women’s organizations and immigrant rights groups. In a teleconference called to publicize the Texas courthouse case, Mercado said anyone in danger, regardless of their immigration status, should know that they can get help.
“More people die every year due to domestic violence than in any terrorist attack,” said Mercado.
The government affidavit in Gonzalez’ case includes her criminal history: several deportations, and arrests for assault, a probation violation, domestic violence and false imprisonment.
But the prosecutor said Gonzalez has no outstanding warrants. “A victim of serious abuse is entitled to a protective order and justice whether she has a criminal record or not,” said Bernal. “As a result of the actions of the immigration officials — violating the sanctity of the courthouse — there are going to be a lot of victims who are going to be afraid to come forward for fear of facing the same consequences as she did.”