EL PASO, Texas (CN) — A victim of domestic violence was arrested at an El Paso courthouse based on perjured testimony from a Border Patrol agent, her attorneys say in a habeas petition demanding her release.
Irvin Gonzalez, a Mexican citizen, was arrested at El Paso County Courthouse on Feb. 9, just after she was granted a protective order to shield her from an abusive boyfriend. She is charged with illegally re-entering the United States after deportation.
Gonzalez’s public defenders believe the Border Patrol was tipped off by her boyfriend, Mario Alberto de Avila, who had repeatedly threatened to have her deported if she reported his abuse to the police.
In a Feb. 22 habeas petition, assistant public defender Andrew Steed wrote that on Feb. 10, when he waived a preliminary hearing on immigration agents’ affidavit and criminal complaint, he “was unaware that the affidavit was based on perjured testimony.”
Specifically, Steed says in the petition, Border Patrol Agent John Urquidi swore to false allegations in the complaint that was presented to the U.S. magistrate who issued the arrest warrant for Gonzalez.
The complaint states that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents saw Gonzalez leave the courthouse, then approached her on the street and questioned her about her citizenship and immigration status.
But security video shows Gonzalez was arrested in the courthouse, then led out of the building by agents holding her arm.
Witnesses said agents had stationed themselves in and around the courtroom during Gonzalez’s protective order hearing.
The habeas petition states that agents “arrested her in the waiting area of the protective order court as soon as she exited her protective order hearing and took her out to a waiting ICE vehicle they had parked in front of the courthouse earlier.”
“It is beyond dispute that a prosecution based on the knowing use of perjured testimony violates the right to substantive due process,” the petition states.
Gonzalez, a transgender woman, is in El Paso County jail. The Associated Press reported on Friday that she began transitioning two years ago and is suffering from side effects of stopping her hormone therapy, to which she has not had access since her arrest.
“She’s very emotionally fragile right now,” attorney Melissa Untereker told the AP. “She’s afraid of her abuser, and she’s afraid of what’s going to happen to her going forward.”
Gonzalez has filed at least three police reports against Avila, who she said punched, kicked and choked her. After he allegedly chased her with a knife, she sought the protective order.
ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said Gonzalez has been deported six times, and has been convicted of false imprisonment, assault, larceny, domestic violence and illegal re-entry.
El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, however, said that Gonzalez’s criminal record is “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.”
El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza agreed with O’Rourke, saying the courthouse arrest sends a “horrible message to the victims of domestic violence on whether or not they’re actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse.”
The habeas petition asks that Gonzalez be released immediately and the government be restrained from “further unlawful detention of petitioner.”
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