Just after she was granted a protective order for domestic abuse, an undocumented immigrant woman was arrested in El Paso last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
A criminal complaint filed on February 9 says that the woman was arrested outside the courthouse, but El Paso County attorney Jo Anne Bernal says there were six ICE agents waiting for her inside the building. "It has an incredible chilling effect for all undocumented victims of any crime in our community".
News of the woman's detainment has concerned many El Paso residents, who fear it will discourage undocumented victims of violence from seeking legal protection.
Bernal, who continues to investigate the incident, said her client is now in the El Paso County Jail under a federal immigration warrant. Nevertheless, El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said she was anxious that using protective orders to identify and deport people could scare domestic abuse victims away from coming forward.
Bernal said this has not happened in the over 20 years that she has been serving in the El Paso County Courthouse.
The arrest comes shortly after President Trump ordered a ramp-up in immigration enforcement.
"We hope this is an isolated incident", Bernal continued.
For ICE agents to act on tips that lead them to family court is essentially enabling the abuse. The woman who was arrested has been reportedly detained and is now being prepared for deportation.
The court documents refer to the victim using a male name, but Bernal told the El Paso Times that the victim is actually a transgender woman. Indeed, her office does not ask about citizenship status for that very reason. Agents identified themselves and questioned I.E.G., who admitted to being a Mexican citizen who was in the US without legal status.
She had previously been deported six times and arrested for stealing mail.
Even so, Bernal said "it's hard to imagine how they would justify the rationale" for staking out a courtroom that deals in granting protective orders. "We later learned there were up to 10 ICE agents in the courthouse looking for our client". Bernal said the violence escalated from that point.