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“This is something he always threatened me with": Abused trans woman targeted by ICE speaks out

“He would tell me that, if I report him to the police, they would only believe him, because he is a U.S. citizen"


Sophia Tesfaye
February 25, 2017 6:40AM (UTC)

El Paso resident Irvin Gonzalez was primarily concerned that her boyfriend would show up to the courthouse as she sought a protective order against him. At the Feb. 9 hearing, however, the citizen of Mexico was greeted by half a dozen Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who showed up to detain and eventually deport her.

In a new interview with The New Yorker, the 33-year-old transgender woman gave a harrowing account of her ordeal.

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“This is something he always threatened me with,” Gonazalez told Johnathan Blitzer. “He would tell me that, if I reported him to the police, they would only believe him, because he is a U.S. citizen and not me.”

Her boyfriend, Mario Alberta de Avila, had "kicked, punched [and] slapped" Gonazalez, according to court documents. "She had been chased around with a knife, she had a knife thrown at her," her lawyers claimed. The National Domestic Workers Alliance is supporting Gonzalez now.

“I felt very safe and protected in the court,” she told The New Yorker, recounting that her lawyer had reassured her that her boyfriend wouldn't be in court.

Instead, she left under arrest.

A criminal complaint states ICE agents took Gonzalez into custody outside the courthouse. Video shows Gonzalez was escorted by ICE agents out of the County Courthouse, but as The New Yorker points out, the criminal complaint makes no mention of the officers entering the courthouse:

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“I did not think this situation would be possible,” she said from county jail. It is county policy not to ask about citizenship status. “I am in shock."

El Paso leaders want to know why a sworn affidavit by Border Patrol agent John P. Urquidi stated that agents spotted and arrested Gonzalez on the street outside the courthouse.

"While leaving the courtroom our client (Gonzalez) was arrested, taken into custody, by ICE agents from the courtroom," County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told the local ABC affiliate. "We later learned there were up to six ICE agents in the courthouse looking for our client. 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. We will be reaching out to ICE officials to make sure that ICE agrees that it will never try to arrest the victim of domestic violence in a sensitive environment like a courtroom."

There is reason to believe that it was her boyfriend -- who recently bonded out of jail after he was charged with forgery of a financial instrument -- who tipped off ICE to Gonzalez's status.

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“This is really unprecedented,” Bernal told The Washington Post:

It was the first time in her 23 years at the courthouse, Bernal said, that she can remember ICE agents making their presence known during a protective order hearing. The agents had come to stake out the woman, identified by her initials I.E.G., because, Bernal speculates, they likely received a tip from the only other person who knew the time and place of the hearing — the woman’s alleged abuser.

The woman had a prior criminal record and had been previously deported, but, according to Bernal, had no current outstanding state warrants.

“It really was a stunning event,” Bernal said. “It has an incredible chilling effect for all undocumented victims of any crime in our community.”

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Despite the terrifying precedence potential set as President Donald Trump ramps up for massive deportation efforts, there looks to be plenty of community support around the Gonzalez's case. Bernal and El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke recently met with ICE and Department of Homeland Security officials to discuss Gonzalez's apprehension. Last week, the county attorney said Gonzalez's is entitled to legal representation.

“We need to know why there's a discrepancy between the affidavit and the courthouse video and whether agents violated the Violence Against Women Act," O’Rourke told the El Paso Times. "The arrest is really going to send a chilling effect to our communities and send a message, to not just victims of crime and domestic violence, but also witnesses to crime, that they themselves can't come forward to seek protection and report on crimes."

 

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Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

MORE FROM Sophia TesfayeFOLLOW @SophiaTesfaye

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