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Home | Tag Archives: deportations

Tag Archives: deportations

Critics: Arrest of Alleged Abuse Victim in El Paso Could Deter Immigrants from Reporting Crimes

Experts fear the undocumented community will be more reluctant to report crimes after immigration agents detained an alleged domestic abuse victim as she left an El Paso courthouse.

After an alleged domestic abuse victim’s arrest by immigration agents in El Paso gained national attention, advocates and attorneys said the case could set a dangerous precedent for immigrants who might decide against reporting crimes if faced with the possibility of deportation.

On Feb. 9, an undocumented, transgender woman was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials shortly after receiving protection from an alleged abuser in an El Paso courthouse. The woman, initially referred to only by her initials but later identified in an ICE statement as 33-year-old Irvin Gonzalez, was taken to a detention center.

Experts nationwide said the case set a dangerous precedent and might deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes to authorities. However, ICE authorities revealed Thursday that the woman is a previously deported felon with six deportations and at least eight convictions for crimes including false imprisonment, domestic violence and assault.

During a press call Thursday, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza confirmed that the woman had a criminal history but said his main concern in this case was not the victim’s status but the access federal law enforcement agents had to the courthouse. He said a domestic violence victim’s legal status should not matter when they’re reporting a crime or offering testimony.

“[Federal agents] came into the courthouse, and I think that sends a horrible message to victims of domestic violence on whether or not they’re actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse,” Esparza said. “We will work this out with federal authorities. They can do what they have to do, but not in the courthouse.”

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said Gonzalez had filed three police reports against her alleged attacker, who reportedly had kicked her, punched her and chased her with a knife. Gonzalez was being escorted out of the courthouse by an El Paso attorney when ICE agents stopped her and arrested her, Bernal said, adding that at least one ICE agent sat through Gonzalez’s court hearing before detaining her.

“In all our years, none of us can recall an incident where immigration authorities made their presence known inside a courtroom in this courthouse, and especially not in a courtroom that is reserved for victims of domestic violence,” Bernal said.

The El Paso Times had initially reported that ICE officers located the woman after receiving a tip, presumably from her alleged abuser. Bernal told reporters that she can’t verify that claim, but she said the only two people informed of Gonzalez’s court hearing were Gonzalez and her alleged abuser.

ICE Central Region communications director Carl Rusnok said in a statement that Gonzalez had been arrested after agents received a tip from another law enforcement agency “indicating that a previously deported felon had illegally re-entered the United States.”

If ICE did receive a tip from her alleged attacker, her arrest would violate certain provisions in the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that protects undocumented women when reporting perpetrators, said Denise Gilman, director of the University of Texas’ Immigration Clinic.

“Congress has said that victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes should be able to come forward and seek assistance and not fear that doing so will put them in danger,” Gilman said.

Gilman said she has seen instances in which individuals sought out assistance as a result of domestic violence and ended up tangled in immigration proceedings. These cases, she said, “absolutely have an impact” on the immigrant community, in terms of their willingness to report domestic violence or other crimes.

“I do expect this to have a very negative impact on women’s safety and on public safety,” she said. “If victims of crime aren’t willing to come forward, that really endangers the whole community.”

According to immigrant rights organization We Belong Together, immigrant women are three to six times more likely to experience domestic abuse than U.S.-born women. Lora Petty, a representative of Texas immigrant rights group American Gateways, said this is because abusers use deportation threats as fear tactics against their victims.

State lawmakers have already responded to the incident, including El Paso Sen. José Rodríguez, who in a statement said this case will prevent people from reporting crimes to law enforcement officers for fear of facing deportation.

The case also attracted the attention of national public figures, including Chelsea Clinton, who called the arrest “horrifying.”

Read more about recent ICE detentions here: 

  • Immigration officials arrested an El Paso woman who alleged she was a victim of domestic abuse. The tip that got her arrested may have come from her alleged abuser.
  • Undocumented immigrant Miguel Angel Torres was on his way to deliver Valentine’s Day chocolates to his daughter last week near Austin. Now, in what his family calls a case of mistaken identity, Torres is in an immigration lock-up near San Antonio.

Author:  MARIANA ALFARO – The Texas Tribune

In Apparent Case of Mistaken Identity, Father Caught in ICE Sting

Undocumented immigrant Miguel Angel Torres was on his way to deliver Valentine’s Day chocolates to his daughter last week near Austin. Now, in what his family calls a case of mistaken identity, Torres is in an immigration lock-up near San Antonio.

With Donald Trump in the White House and rumors of widespread law enforcement raids percolating throughout her heavily immigrant community in North Austin, Irma Perez said she decided to help pay off her brother’s unpaid tickets to help him avoid any trouble.

It would lead to her own family’s undoing.

On Friday, Perez got a call from a neighbor with disastrous news: Her husband — not her brother — got picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after dropping off their three daughters at school in Pflugerville.

What began as an apparent case of mistaken identity soon mushroomed into a full-blown family crisis. Their dreams of opening a food truck in North Austin were dashed, and the family abandoned their home because it was now on ICE’s radar. On Monday, their girls, all U.S. citizens, were on their way to an immigrant detention facility in Pearsall, 150 miles from Austin, to see their father.

Miguel Angel Torres, who has lived in Austin for 14 years as an undocumented immigrant, worked as a cook at an Austin restaurant. Perez, his wife, is also undocumented, and so is her brother, Jose Manuel Perez.

Torres was one of an undetermined number of people detained in Texas in the past few days as part of national ICE operations that sent panic through immigrant communities. In a written statement released to reporters Monday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that ICE, in “targeted” operations last week, detained more than 680 individuals nationwide, 75 percent of whom had criminal records, including homicide and sexual abuse.

“These operations targeted public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as those who have violated our immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives ordered removed by federal immigration judges,” Kelly said in the statement.

Torres’ family wasn’t expecting him to get caught up in the mix.

“[My husband] is a person who’s never done anything wrong and who complies with the law,” Perez said in her native Spanish. “We don’t know why they detained him. He was driving his own car, not my brother’s. He has nothing to do with my brother.”

On Friday morning, she said ICE officers wearing civilian clothes and driving an unmarked van detained Torres. She said he was on his way to deliver a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates to their youngest daughter when he was stopped by agents who asked if he was Jose Manuel Perez — her brother.

Dana Torres (8), whose father, Miguel Angel Torres, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaving her mother to care for their three daughters on Feb. 12, 2017. | Photo courtesy Martin do Nascimento for The Texas Tribune.
Dana Torres (8), whose father, Miguel Angel Torres, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaving her mother to care for their three daughters on Feb. 12, 2017. | Photo courtesy Martin do Nascimento for The Texas Tribune.

When he said he wasn’t, Irma Perez said, they forced him out of his car anyway and said, “Well, we’re detaining you.”

She says four days before her husband was detained, she provided her own address instead of her brother’s when submitting payment for her brother’s tickets in Manor, a town in Travis County just northeast of Austin.

Lawyers working on her case believe ICE officers waited outside the family’s home thinking Torres was Irma Perez’s brother, who she said had been previously deported.

The Tribune reached out to ICE about the Torres case, and the agency said it was still working on that request as of late Monday afternoon.

The ICE field office in San Antonio, which includes Austin, said Monday the agency detained 51 foreign nationals, 23 with criminal convictions, in the Austin area last week. The Mexican Consulate in Austin reported 44 Mexican citizens were picked up on Thursday and Friday in the Texas capital — a number that included a few whom Consul General Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez said happened to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Mark Kinzler, an immigration lawyer who has helped Irma Perez, told The Texas Tribune that “all kind of things look wrong” in the case against her husband.

“They were looking, apparently, for someone else, and he wasn’t that person but then they took him anyway,” Kinzler said.

ICE has criticized immigrant advocates for spreading “false” and “irresponsible” reports of widespread raids in immigrant communities. But Kinzler said the Torres detention fits a pattern of increased enforcement that goes beyond immigrants with criminal records.

“Even though ICE’s PR campaign is that they’re picking up criminals and picking up people with prior deports, and I’m sure some of them are, it already seems like a lot of them are not those people,” Kinzler said. “People who work every day and try to take care of their families are getting swept up [too].”

After the call from the neighbor alerting her to her husband’s detention, Perez said she immediately began looking for him. She and her parents spent hours trying to track him down before she finally got a call from a toll-free number. It was her husband telling her to go pick up the car he left behind.

Ever since, Irma Perez said she has remained close to a phone, waiting for more news from her husband.

“I’m in shock because we always saw this in the news and it only happened to other people,” she said. “It had never happened in my family, and it feels awful because it changes your life.”

Kinzler said they can expect at least two weeks of legal procedures to get Torres out of detention. However, the timing depends on how full the court is.

“Because of the time he’s been here, because he has a clean history and U.S. citizen kids, I will be able to get him out on a bond,” Kinzler said.

Perez said her family will have to start rounding up money to free her husband and pay for attorney’s fees as he fights removal from the country.

Irma Perez's husband, Miguel Angel Torres was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaving Irma to care for their three daughters Melani (12), Dana (8), and Jamilet (6). Martin do Nascimento for The Texas Tribune.
Irma Perez’s husband, Miguel Angel Torres was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaving Irma to care for their three daughters Melani (12), Dana (8), and Jamilet (6). Martin do Nascimento for The Texas Tribune.

Immigration lawyers advised Perez and her family to leave their home since ICE has their address on record. On Friday night, she moved her children and parents, who live with her, into her sister’s house.

Friday was the day Torres was going to open his own food truck, Sabor del Rancho, a dream his family said he’d nourished for years. Now, the trailer sits empty on North Lamar.

The family went to church Sunday and sang in the choir as they regularly do — without Torres, who was supposed to do his first solo performance at church. After mass, Irma and her daughters returned to her sister’s home. Sitting next to a candlelit altar with a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, they tearfully retold how quickly their lives had been turned upside down.

Torres’ 12-year-old daughter Melani — who is part of a college readiness program and hopes to become a computer engineer one day — said her father would always drop her off and pick her up from school, so she was surprised when her mother picked her up on Friday.

“I saw her with teary eyes, and she said, ‘You have no idea what happened,'” Melani said, speaking in both Spanish and English during the interview. “I thought she was kidding because my dad would never be caught by ICE, but then our neighbor confirmed the news, and my sisters and I started crying.”

Authors:   MARIANA ALFARO AND JAY ROOT – The Texas Tribune

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