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Undocumented transgender woman filing domestic violence claim arrested at El Paso courthouse by ICE, official says

EL PASO, Texas -- An undocumented transgender woman claiming to be a victim of domestic violence was arrested by immigration agents at the El Paso County Courthouse last week, reports the CBS affiliate here, KDBC-TV.

According to County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, the woman received a protective order for the domestic violence claim. Judge Joe Gonzalez granted that protective order. The woman filed three police reports in total, and the last incident involved a weapon, Bernal said. The first report was filed in October of 2016. Bernal said the violence escalated from that point.

“This is a woman who had suffered serious abuse,” said Bernal.

After the hearing, ICE agents followed the woman into the hallway, where she was arrested, Bernal said.

“We were stunned that ICE would go to these lengths for someone that is not a violent criminal,” said Bernal.

Bernal said this has not happened in the over 20 years that she has been serving in the El Paso County Courthouse.

“I cannot recall an instance where ICE agents have gone into the domestic violence court, specifically looking for a victim of domestic violence,” Bernal said.

Bernal said there were no state court warrants out for the woman and she is not a violent criminal. She said it appears 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.”

That information however, has not been confirmed.

“We hope that this is an isolated incident that will never happen again, and we call on ICE officials to do everything they can make sure this never happens again in our community,” said Bernal.

Bernal fears that this arrest could make undocumented immigrants hesitant to come forward. “I think an unfortunate consequence of some of the recent immigration actions that we’ve seen is that victims of all sorts of crimes will be scared to report. People whose children might even be victimized might even be afraid to report it for fear that the parent could deported.”

Bernal wants the community to know the El Paso County attorney’s office is committed to protecting crime victims and victims of domestic abuse regardless of immigration status.

“In our community everyone is protected,” said Bernal.

Bernal told KDBC her office plans to reach out to the federal government after an internal investigation is finished. She said she wants to establish a good relationship with local ICE officials and get assurance that this type of arrest won’t happen again.

The county attorney’s office said the woman who was arrested does not have a violent criminal past, but that she did come into the country multiple times.

KDBC obtained documents filed in federal court stating that Homeland Security Investigators (HIS)  Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST) Agents received information that an individual who had been previously deported was in the United States. The information stated that the individual was residing at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence. IT also stated that the individual had previously been arrested for possession of stolen mail and illegal re-entry into the United States and sentenced to 12 months and a day.

It also stateds HIS BEST Agents conducted surveillance at the county courthouse in attempts to see the individual.

According to the affidavit filed by federal agents, the individual has been removed from the United States six times and voluntarily returned to Mexico one other time.

Her alleged criminal history includes convictions for false imprisonment in 2013; assault, probation violation, domestic violence in 2011 and false imprisonment-minor-parental in 2010.

The victim is currently being held at the El Paso County Jail under a federal ICE detainer.

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