Congressman Wants Answers on ICE Arrest in El Paso

(CN) — Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are investigating the arrest of a domestic violence victim at El Paso County Courthouse last week, according to El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

At a Friday meeting with the agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations and the deputy director of enforcement and removal operations, O’Rourke said he was assured that the arrest was an isolated incident and is not likely to happen again.

“This is not an order coming from the new administration, this is not a new directive,” O’Rourke said during a press conference Friday. “This is … an extraordinary, unique, individual event.”

Immigration agents arrested Irvin Gonzalez on Feb. 9 just after she was granted a protective order to shield her from an abusive boyfriend. The agents, apparently tipped off by the transgender woman’s abuser, arrested her at the courthouse on a felony charge of illegally re-entering the United States after deportation.

Although an arrest affidavit claims Gonzalez was arrested on the street outside the courthouse, video footage released by the county attorney’s office shows an immigration officer holding her arm as he escorts her from the courthouse.

O’Rourke said ICE officials will investigate the discrepancy in the affidavit, and also determine whether the agents violated the Violence Against Women Act.

O’Rourke, a two-term Democrat and native of El Paso, said ICE officials told him there are “lessons to be learned” from the incident, promised more training for immigration enforcement officers, and better coordination between immigration officers and county officials, including the county attorney.

“We never want to second-guess their work; we always want to support them and the difficult jobs they have,” O’Rourke said. “But we want to make sure that there’s accountability for their actions.”

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal also attended the Friday meeting with ICE officials. A county judge in Texas is the head of the County Commission, not a judicial officer.

Bernal, who called the arrest unprecedented, said that victims of violence, regardless of their immigration status, should feel comfortable reporting crimes and seeking help.

“What we heard today from federal officials was a real commitment to understanding that victims of this community need to be protected,” Bernal said. “And they will respect and honor the importance of places like the protective order court.”

ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said in a statement that Gonzalez had been deported six times from the United States, and has been convicted of false imprisonment, assault, larceny, domestic violence and illegal re-entry.

O’Rourke said the woman’s criminal record was “not relevant.”

“Nobody wants any special protection or safeguards for people who are breaking the law, but we do want to protect people who are abused by their partner,” O’Rourke said. “It’s imperative for the safety of this community that everyone, not just the person in question in this instance … feels comfortable working with law enforcement.”

Gonzalez, who is in El Paso County Jail, has received a flood of offers for pro bono representation in her immigration proceeding, Bernal said.

“I have every reason to believe that any issue that can be raised will be raised in her defense,” Bernal said.

Immigration attorneys said it was not the first such case abusive arrest outside a border courtroom. Back in the 1980s, a Salvadoran with a strong case for political asylum was arrested by immigration officers as he left immigration court, two attorneys with knowledge of the case said. The officers’ justification for the arrest was suspicion that he was in the country illegally — because he had been in immigration court.

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