AUSTIN, Texas — Six federal immigration agents went to the El Paso County Courthouse last week and arrested an undocumented woman who had just received a protective order alleging that she was a victim of domestic violence.
The detention has alarmed officials who fear that that the arrest will scare undocumented victims of domestic abuse into staying with their abusers for fear of being deported and separated from their children or other family members.
“Our clients come to us at the lowest point in their lives,” said El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, whose office represents domestic-abuse victims when they seek court orders against their abusers. “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.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to questions about the incident.
But it raises concerns that under the Trump administration, ICE is expanding who it tries to deport and how it goes about deporting them.
Under former president Obama, ICE prioritized serious offenders, gang members, national-security threats and repeat offenders for removal.
But in the case of the woman arrested in the El Paso court — known by the initials IEG — her offense appears to be re-entering the country illegally after being deported, Bernal said. The woman is being held in the El Paso County jail under a federal ICE detainer, Bernal said.
Her arrest came to light after news that ICE conducted sweeps in numerous states recently.
Especially concerning is that ICE made the El Paso arrest apparently acting on a tip from IEG’s alleged abuser, Bernal said.
Bernal, whose office is conducting an investigation into the incident, said the ICE agents said they went to court after receiving a tip. IEG’s live-in boyfriend had earlier been detained by ICE, Bernal said.
“We suspect it’s the (alleged) abuser” who tipped off ICE about the woman, Bernal said.
It’s common for abusers to seek to control of undocumented partners by threatening to refer them to immigration authorities, said 65th District Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez, who oversees the court that issued IEG’s protective order.
“This was a victim of horrible domestic violence,” Gutierrez said.
The woman made three police reports late last year, alleging that she had been punched, kicked and chased with a knife, Bernal said.
Gutierrez said ICE agents should avoid effectively assisting domestic abusers by acting on their tips against their partners.
“There’s no place for that — especially in family court,” she said.
Follow Marty Schladen on Twitter: @martyschladen
El Paso Times