A woman went to a Texas courthouse seeking a protective order against her boyfriend, who she said was abusing her. The woman had been staying at a domestic violence survivor shelter in El Paso, and one of the shelter advocates drove her to the courthouse to get legal help. But the woman was an undocumented immigrant, and six Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents showed up at the courthouse to arrest her.
“It really was a stunning event,” El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told the Washington Post. “It has an incredible chilling effect for all undocumented victims of any crime in our community,” stated Bernal, who referred to the incident as “really unprecedented.”
Bernal thinks the ICE agents had come to the courthouse after receiving a tip about the woman’s undocumented status, and presumes the woman’s abusive boyfriend clued them in, as he was the only other person who knew when and where the hearing would be taking place.
Bernal said the woman had a criminal record and had been deported before, but had no outstanding warrants at the time of her arrest. The attorney also explained that it’s county courthouse policy to refrain from asking abuse survivors about their citizenship status, because they want to make sure they feel comfortable with and protected by the legal system. “An incident like what happened in the courthouse last week really puts fear in people,” Bernal said. “One of the things that really worries me is that it only takes one isolated incident like this…It doesn’t make sense why the resources would be used to go after a victims of domestic abuse.”
Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, explains that threat of deportation is a common abuser’s tactic. “We have seen in this case why it is so effective,” she told SELF in a statement. “This tactic is also detrimental to the communities in which [victims of abuse] reside. When victims and survivors are unable to reach out to law enforcement to report abuse, violent perpetrators are allowed to go free.” District Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez agreed, telling the El Paso Times that ICE agents shouldn’t accept tips from abusers. “There’s no place for that, especially in a family court,” Gutierrez said.
Bernal is now setting up a meeting with the local ICE director to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and she has launched an investigation into the incident. The woman who was arrested has been reportedly detained and is currently being prepared for deportation.
Feeling motivated to act? There are plenty of ways to make your voice heard. SELF’s resources on finding activist opportunities and getting involved in policy decisions are great places to start. If you’re passionate about women’s access to reproductive healthcare in particular, you can also consider: donating to the Center for Reproductive Rights, volunteering for NARAL Pro-Choice America, donating to the Reproductive Health Access Project, or volunteering for Planned Parenthood. Other organizations can help families in need access affordable childcare, job training, and much-needed food and household supplies.
Also: Support at The Salon: How Abuse Victims May Find Help (from Newsy)