EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) — A transgender woman claiming to be a victim of domestic violence was detained by ICE agents in an El Paso courtroom in what county leaders said sends a “horrible message” to the community and victims of domestic violence.
In a conference call Thursday, county leaders spoke with the media about concerns raised by the arrest, which was made by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents.
County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said the woman arrested was a victim of domestic violence and had filed three reports about the alleged abuse, with the most recent occurring when her partner allegedly chased her with a knife and threw it at her.
On Feb. 9, the woman received a protective order for the domestic violence claim before being detained by ICE.
Bernal said a federal agent was inside the courtroom and sat through the proceedings. That agent, along with another outside the courtroom, waited for the proceeding to end before arresting the woman.
The woman was escorted from the courtroom and out of the building and was placed into custody, Bernal said.
The affidavit states that the woman was detained on San Antonio Street outside the courthouse.
County officials said they will meet with Congressman Beto O’Rourke on Friday and will bring up this issue because they said there was video proof of the agents waiting for the victim in the courtroom and escorting her out of the building.
District Attorney Jaime Esparza said it is difficult for victims to reach out, and he wants to make sure they know that their status in the country doesn’t matter and that they have “the right to live in a safe community.”
Esparza said he is concerned that the ICE agents came into the courthouse, and that it “sent a horrible message to victims of domestic violence.”
Bernal said the arrest happened after ICE received a tip that the woman would be in court that day.
“I’m suspicious that the tip may have come from the abuser, who knew precisely where the victim would be at that time and date since he had received notice to be in that courtroom as well,” Bernal said in an interview Wednesday.
County Judge Veronica Escobar said that the El Paso community, “documented or undocumented,” has been able to enjoy a positive relationship with law enforcement, and she was concerned about their relationship after the arrest.
“This departure from that collaboration and communication – we see as very dangerous,” Escobar said. “When we meet with the congressman (and ICE) tomorrow, we would like to acknowledge this was a onetime mistake.”
Stephanie Karr, the executive director of El Paso's Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, said her office has received several phone calls from clients asking if they were safe and what they should do.
“(We’re) telling them we are there to support them, protect them. We have the support of the county and the district attorney’s office. We will do everything in our powers to make sure they are safe and protected,” Karr said.
In a statement separate from Thursday’s conference call, Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez said in part, “Under no circumstance should a person trying to escape an abuser have to fear that if she tries to get help, then the abuser can call ICE. What an awful choice to make: stay with someone who hurts you, or get a protective order and run the risk that ICE agents will grab you while you're in court.”
County officials said that the woman is being held in the El Paso County jail under a federal ICE detainer, and that she is maintaining a positive attitude about the situation.
According to an arrest affidavit filed by federal agents, the woman was removed from the United States six times and voluntarily returned to Mexico during another incident.
The woman’s criminal history includes convictions for false imprisonment in 2013; assault, probation violation, domestic violence in 2011 and false imprisonment-minor-parental in 2010. She was also previously arrested for possessing stolen mail.