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Home | Tag Archives: ice

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1,600+ Migrants Released in El Paso Since Sunday, More Expected

The Christmas week surge of migrants released by ICE into El Paso was somewhat to be expected. However, to understand what happened this week, you have to understand the process.

For the last three months, Annunciation House, the non-profit organization that houses migrants after their release from ICE custody as they work their way to their final destination, has seen a record number 2,000 releases a week.

Late on the night of December 22, ICE officials dropped off 211 immigrant families who had passed through custody at a Downtown Greyhound station without notifying Annunciation House, which is the procedure that has been honored in the past by the government.

Currently, asylum-seeking migrants are turning themselves in to Border Patrol in mass numbers. The San Diego Border Patrol sector is still holding a tight line on entries after the highly publicized “migrant caravan” made its way to Tijuana in early December.

In contrast, the El Paso Border Patrol sector has been allowing what they call ‘metered entry’ at local ports of entry.

Typically taking about 60 asylum seeking migrants into processing per day. Other migrants will turn themselves in to Border Patrol in desolate areas where ports are not accessible for hundreds of miles.

Once in custody, adults are vetted to ensure they have no prior removal orders from the U.S. Government, and have no known criminal ties to gangs in Central America. Those who are suspect because of tattoos or other markings are separated from the asylum-seekers and kept in long term detention at area prisons, jails or Border Patrol custody.

Single men are also separated and detained in this manner.

Those who are entering with children, whether they are men or women, are allowed to be released into the custody of a “sponsor” after they are fitted with ankle monitors. The sponsors are everywhere in the country and are typically family members or close friends.

On one recent visit to an Annunciation House shelter, the Herald Post met with Honduran and Guatemalan families who were heading to Nebraska, South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, and other locations across Texas.

Typically, the asylum seekers are held in ICE detention for a maximum 72-hour period before being released to a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO); in El Paso, that’s Annunciation House. In recent weeks, the population has surged in ICE detention centers and migrants are now being held anywhere between 4-8 days.

In the case of Felix Alonzo-Gomez, the 8-year-old Guatemalan child who died in ICE custody Christmas Eve in Alamogordo, the El Paso-area detention centers were so overpopulated that his family was moved to a Border Patrol Station outside of Alamogordo, NM.

Once released by ICE, the migrants are housed anywhere from 24-48 hours by Annunciation House in El Paso while their sponsors can secure bus or plane tickets to get them to their final destination. Once there, they will check in with a local office and await court proceedings. It acts as a sort of an underground railroad through the Sun City.

The hospitality sites are known to many, but revealed by few. Safety is a top concern to Annunciation House and their volunteers.

What became apparent in El Paso this week is the overwhelming number coming in to seek asylum is overwhelming ICE at their detention facilities and local NGO partners like Annunciation House, who are struggling to get migrants on to their final location before more are released the following day.

Ruben Garcia with Annunciation House said they received 522 migrants on December 26, an all-time record number for the center in his 40-plus year history with the organization. Thursday, Annunciation House received an additional 322.

In a statement to the El Paso Herald Post, ICE blamed inaction by Congress and attempts to stay in compliance with federal laws for detaining families as a reason for this sudden action.

“After decades of inaction by Congress, the government remains severely constrained in its ability to detain and promptly remove families with no legal basis to remain in the U.S. To mitigate the risk of holding family units past the timeframe allotted to the government, ICE has curtailed reviews of post-release plans from families apprehended at the southwest border. ICE is redoubling its efforts to work with local and state officials and NGO partners in the area so they are prepared to provide assistance with transportation and other services,” the statement read.

Congresswoman-elect Veronica Escobar has been in contact with ICE officials, including several phone calls on Christmas Eve to help coordinate transfers from ICE into Annunciation House custody. In the past, she said ICE worked to locate additional emergency detention space in order for NGOs to have room for the released family units. That practice is no longer an option, ICE told her.

As a result, more than 1,600 migrants have been released into the streets of El Paso since Sunday afternoon, with more expected in the coming days. Annunciation House has activated 15 hospitality sites including four hotels in El Paso and an additional 5 hospitality sites in Las Cruces, according to Garcia.

In an effort to mitigate the high population in detention holding cells by ICE, Garcia is working to increase capacity to 3,000 per week in El Paso. The increase represents a 50% increase in population housed by Annunciation House in the El Paso area.

During one of this week’s massive releases of migrants in Downtown El Paso, the Herald Post encountered many children who were battling colds or fevers. One child had pink-eye. Organizers on the ground tell us they have been seeing an increase in these sorts of illnesses when migrants are being released.

Most of the children had been in ICE custody for over a week before coming down with illnesses. Annunciation House is working with volunteer nurses and doctors to provide basic medical care and screening at each hospitality site.

Annunciation House operates 100% off of donations and is not funded by any government funding. Anyone wishing to make financial donations is asked to do so on their website.

At this time, Annunciation House is asking local organizations or church groups who are able to volunteer as a group to feed migrants at one of their hospitality sites contact them at

ACLU Claims ICE Still Detaining Some Asylum-Seekers for No Reason Despite Court Order

Despite a federal judge’s order preventing immigration officials from arbitrarily holding asylum-seeking immigrants in federal detention, attorneys representing some of the detainees said Tuesday that the majority of the immigrants are still locked up for no reason.

Last month, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from denying parole to asylum-seekers without an individual determination as to why. The lawsuit includes as defendants the El Paso, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia ICE field offices. The El Paso office covers West Texas and New Mexico.

Michael Tan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the lead lawyers on the case, said that as of last week ICE had granted parole to about 25 percent of the asylum-seekers included in the lawsuit.

It’s a far cry from the 90 percent rate that existed before President Donald Trump took office, he said, which leads the attorneys to believe that ICE continues to detain people without cause.

“There are reasons to believe that the government continues to ignore its own parole policy,” he said. That policy states that a person seeking asylum who has established his or her true identity should be released if they are not a flight risk or a threat to the public at large.

Tan said he understands that ICE officials aren’t required to grant parole to everyone, but he said that after speaking to attorneys working on the ground in the five field offices, ICE agents are still “checking boxes” for the sole purpose of denying the relief.

“To be clear, I am not saying there is some magic number,” he said. “[But] they are being denied parole based on a boilerplate checklist.”

From July 2, when Boasberg issued the order, through August 17, 145 out of 563 asylum-seekers had been granted parole. That includes 78 of the 286 El Paso cases.

A spokesperson in the El Paso ICE field office did not respond to a request for comment.

Kristen Greer Love, an attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico who is representing some of the asylum-seekers being held in El Paso and New Mexico, said ICE officials don’t explain the reasons a person was denied parole once their case is reviewed.

“It is sort of a blanket statement that the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community, or hasn’t presented adequate evidence to prove their identity,” she said. “ICE appears to be using, for example, the flight risk [excuse] even when people have presented robust evidence of having a sponsor who is either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident in the United States who has the means and commitment to make sure the person has the means to show up at the immigration proceedings.”

Love added that most of the people she’s spoken to have been detained since they arrived at the port of entry and sought asylum, which makes it impossible that they have a criminal history in this country.

Tan said the ACLU will ask the judge to grant its motion for more discovery to see if ICE can show it is complying with the order. The judge also asked the agency to submit a monthly report of parole determinations until further notice.

“It’s basically a fact-finding process where we can investigate whether the government is in fact complying the court order. If it’s not … we’ll ask the court to order additional remedies,” he said.

Read related Tribune coverage

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Op-Ed: Fear, Credible Fear and Damned Fear

Before you dive into this one, fair warning, it’s got a couple of seemingly odd asides, and a good old movie reference, since we as Americans love to compare everything to the big screen.

Over a hundred years ago, the great American writer, humorist and speaker Mark Twain popularized a very British saying.

Twain in his Chapters from My Autobiography, wrote: “Figures often beguile me…particularly when I have the arranging of them myself…there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

The phrase illustrates the idea that statistics can be used to bolster weak – or untruthful – positions.  It’s an interesting proposal, especially here in the ‘post-truth’ era that we find ourselves in, where any point of view can be substituted as fact and backed up by any number of statistics (or websites, or network) depending on one’s particular slant.

With that in mind, I began to think of the ‘reality’ we all share, here in the second decade of the 21st Century.  A reality where where truth is fluid, where things previously proven true – without challenge – are subjected to the most outrageous interpretations, conspiracies and alternate facts; where lies, damned lies and statistics are now held on high, diminishing the truth daily.

And that’s when it struck me. The only thing that can possibly top the truth may be the most powerful tool of all.  An old tool of politics, and of the mob mentality: Fear.

But not just one type, as its offspring have mutated and taken root.  So let’s take a look at the three types of fear that now exist.


Fear, which one of our greatest Presidents – Franklin D Roosevelt – warned us about, is easy to understand.  It’s the feeling of dread that something, or someone, may cause harm.

The monster under the bed, crowds, speaking in public; and the darker ones: loss of a job or status, loneliness, death.  Each one of us knows this level of fear, even wrapped in our seemingly safe cocoon of first-world America, this is an across the board, shared feeling.

Then there’s credible fear.  The phrase that’s been tossed around like a political frisbee of late.  This is where there is a threat, and it isn’t the cucuy.  On one level its the meth-soaked abandoned home next door, with drug-addled zombies stumbling in and out at all hours of the night. On the opposite end, it’s slums populated with roving gangs, bribed officials, daily shootouts and death – all with no arrests.

It’s a level of fear most Americans will never know- while at the same time – some fellow humans in far away places live in daily.  It’s the fear that makes the headlines – from Long Island to Chicago to Los Angeles – and scares the average resident of our country, even if they’ve never been a victim.  More on this in a bit.

And now there’s damned fear.

Damned fear is taking credible fear, injecting it with steroids and nitro, dusting it off, selling it to millions of Americans who’s regular fear has been gnawing at them.

In the face of the numbers that violent crime is at the lowest level in years, damned fear tells Americans that MS-13 is right down the street, sharpening their machetes and coming for you.

While research shows the clear advantages of speaking more than one language – be it French, German or Spanish – damned fear tells Americans that the other groups are discussing, plotting and most likely ridiculing them by not speaking English in this country.

And while for over 200 years, we’ve respected the rights of others to peacefully assemble and pray to the deity of their choice, damned fear confirms to those Americans that Sharia Law is now in effect in several cities and towns and will be the end of America.

Damned fear propagates the myth that America is lost, and the best way to rescue her lies in her past.  A return to law and order.  The way things used to be in the ‘good ol’ days.’

It also posits that America is some sort of ‘zero-sum’ game, and the arrival of any immigrants – illegal or otherwise – will somehow damage existing resident’s lives or livelihood. As if the immigrant’s quest for a safer life and security actually removes the same for the believers in the damned fear.

The damned fear directly leads to ugliness, coarseness and decidedly un-American behavior.  Behavior that’s been visited upon different versions of the ‘fear-bringers’ across our history: Native Americans, Irish, LDS, Chinese, Sikh, Muslims, Italians, Japanese, Mexicans.

We’ve seen it first hand now, out in public – captured by cell phones or social media feeds.  Damned fear is rolling across the country.

And about those immigrants coming here for asylum, under credible fear for their lives.

The purveyors of the damned fear – those who rail and rage that we need to get tougher on criminal immigrants – such as members of MS-13 who are roaming the streets, threatening our safety, they are the very same who deny the credible fear that leads scores of women and children to escape their countries where those gangs actually run rampant.

Worse yet, those who repeat the damned fear, revel in it and egg it on, and those who voted because of the damned fear, have now set the machinery of government in motion.

Like a ponderous boulder pushed off a ledge, the actions of the government are now picking up speed; and like a boulder are crushing lives and sending people scurrying for safety.  All the while, those who set it in motion gleefully peer over the edge, yelling “good riddance and you deserve what’s coming to you!”  The damned fear, lording over the credible fear.


There’s a scene in Steven Speilberg’s much-overlooked movie from 2001 – A.I.  It’s a film he completed after his friend – and movie legend in his own right – Stanley Kubrick passed away.

In my viewing of Kubrick’s films, it seems that he had this idea that man, either in space or in an authoritarian future, was this creature who lived in and among various stages of fear, and reacted accordingly.

From A Clockwork Orange, to 2001, to Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, fear and credible fear are the uncredited stars of the films.

But in A.I., a story of a machine-boy built to fill the void left when a family must place their son in stasis until his disease can be cured, Kubrick/Speilberg tapped into this damned fear.

Set in an America where global warming has submerged scores of cities, where wealth can buy a permanent respite from the troubles of the world, and where androids now handle most jobs, leaving regular citizens lost between poverty and escapism.

The family, well-off, but not wealthy by any means decides that the boy is the most logical replacement for their quazi-dead son.  And they activate his bonding program, basically allowing the boy to love his new parents unconditionally.  That is, until a cure for the stasis-set real son is found and used.

Now the family, freed from the credible fear of their son’s death, has to deal with the damned fear of what to do with this robot that loves them unconditionally, but will never age.  The son turns on the robot, begins torturing it, prodding it, making it look like the robot wants to do harm to the family.

In a final, desperate scene, the mother drives out to the country and dumps the robot boy the wilderness, like a pet that’s been outgrown.  He can’t fathom why the person and family he loved so much would now want him gone.

He quickly falls in with another outcast android, an escaped gigolo, who is running not only from his past, but groups of hunters who seek retribution on all androids.  Hunters who have been told, just like the population of the movie America, that all their ills were visited upon them by these robots.

Loss of status, loss of jobs, loss of their way of life.  And the androids must be punished for it all to go away, to feel better and to rid the land of them so that real people can again take their rightful place in America. All the while, they partake of the android’s benefits both social and carnal.

The damned lie.

Common Americans, taking out their frustrations on their one-time assistants, waiters, janitors, and even doctors with glee. Degrading comments and jeers served with hooting and hollering in unison. All the time, ignoring the real crumbling going on around them.

But at least they felt good about ridding the country of their ‘problems.’

It was a difficult movie for me to watch, and by the time they reach the point where the androids are ‘punished’ in a country-fair-meets-monster-truck-rally-meets-lynching (only halfway through the movie, by the way) it’s nearly unbearable.  A disturbing scene to watch unfold.

One I thought  ‘can’t happen here.’


Then 9/11.  Then the Wars.  Then Homeland Security.  And now, ICE raids in neighborhoods and businesses. Agents stalking courthouses and front lawns after church.  Texas DPS Agents sharing Traffic Stop information with Immigration officials. Customs agents turning away asylum seekers at the bridge. “We’re full…”

All the while believers of the damned lie, common Americans, taking out their frustrations; degrading comments and jeers served with hooting and hollering in unison…either in person or via their on-line personas.

It’s for the good of America.  The Damned Lie.

Now we have tent camps going up on military bases and near ports of entry to house the children we’ve removed from those seeking a better life; abandoned Walmarts converted into ‘holding areas’ with chain-link fences; flat screens with Spongebob playing above their heads.

Do not give us your tired, your poor, or your huddled masses.  They will be turned back, families ripped asunder and shipped back to their teeming shore.  They are now ‘our’ credible fear – the ones responsible for our situation.  Our damned fear.


It speaks volumes that a mother and her child, or father and his family would need to make a journey of thousands of miles to escape a life that most Americans can hardly fathom.  That their first action to get to a better place would have to break a law and risk everything.

Credible Fear.

It speaks volumes that this administration has chosen to flout, and pick and choose the laws that they so vehemently wrap themselves in at every chance, for the good of the republic.

Damned Fear.

This country now finds itself at a very dangerous point.  Damned fear reigns, and true believers applaud.  Credible fear is ignored or perverted to make a political point. And sides are being chosen – either by free will or by the push of the crowd.


Man is a very dangerous creature when pushed by fear. Decisions made under that duress rarely turn out for the good of anyone.

It’s time to stand up to the fear.  To remove the tarnish that covers our golden door and relight the torch.  Not just for the good of those immigrants we’re abusing, but for the good of the abusers who are ‘following orders,’ their cheerleaders, and our children as well.

And for the good of our shared American soul.

ACLU Lawsuit Alleges El Paso ICE Field Office Among Those Holding Asylum Seekers Without Cause

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the El Paso field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with four other ICE field offices, for allegedly holding asylum seekers in detention without cause.

The ACLU stated in the suit that all of the plaintiffs passed their initial “credible fear” exams – the first step in the asylum process to determine if an applicant has a legitimate case. But despite having sponsors in the U.S. willing to provide housing, the federal government has continued to hold them instead of granting them humanitarian parole, according to the suit. They are represented by the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, Human Rights First, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and Covington and Burling LLP, a law firm based in Washington, D.C.

The plaintiffs in the case include a Cuban national who fled that country’s communist regime; a Haitian ethics teacher fleeing political persecution; a Honduran national who alleges persecution for being gay; and a Venezuelan who was beaten by armed groups seeking “to eliminate opposition to the Venezuelan government.” Others plaintiffs include several fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, including a man who’s been detained for nearly two years, and three Mexicans fleeing cartel-related violence in that country.

“The Trump administration wants to make life so miserable for asylum seekers that they give up and return to their home countries, even at the risk of torture or death,” Michael Tan, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “The administration is wielding indefinite detention as a weapon to deter future asylum seekers, which is both cruel and unconstitutional.”

Other field offices named in the lawsuit include Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia. The El Paso office covers West Texas and New Mexico. The ACLU states that in just those five offices, more than 1,000 asylum seekers have been denied parole since President Donald Trump took office.

“It’s ICE policy not to comment on pending litigation,” ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa wrote in an email to the Tribune.

The legal action comes as the administration seeks to fix what it has claimed are loopholes in the current system that open it up to abuse and fraud. In October, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged Congress to change the current process of seeking asylum.

“The system is being gamed.  The credible fear process was intended to be a lifeline for persons facing serious persecution,” he said during a speech to the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Virginia. “But it has become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States.”

The El Paso-based Borderland Immigration Council, a group of attorneys and community organizers who advocate for immigrants, said the case could offer relief to about 2,000 more detainees being held in El Paso and Sierra Blanca, Texas, or in the New Mexican counties of Otero and Cibola.

The lawsuit also charges that the asylum seekers are being held to deter others from coming to the United States. The filing states that the D.C. district court previously issued an injunction against deterrence-based policies.

The El Paso field office has been under the national spotlight recently after the detention of Mexican reporter Emilio Gutiérrez and his son Oscar in December. The pair had been living and working in the county legally since first seeking asylum in 2008. But during a visit with ICE officials while Gutiérrez’ asylum appeal was pending that their attorney describes as routine, the two were detained and have been in detention in El Paso ever since. The National Press Club and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, have since asked ICE officials to release the Gutiérrez family.

Martin Mendez Pineda similarly fled Mexico after reporting on corruption. He arrived in El Paso and sought asylum last April, but his prolonged detention eventually forced him to give up on the case and return to Mexico, his attorney said.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Mexican Journalist’s Case Suggests Changes to Asylum Process under Trump

A Mexican reporter who sought asylum in El Paso after receiving death threats has been detained by federal officials —despite having passed an initial test to determine whether he faces a “credible fear” back home, his attorney said.

When Martin Mendez Pineda fled the Mexican state of Guerrero in February, he escaped a living hell where being a reporter meant he had a constant target on his back. Yet he walked into a new nightmare after seeking asylum in El Paso, according to his attorney.

Mendez Pineda, 26, has been in a detention facility in the Texas border city even after American authorities agreed the reporter had a credible fear of returning to his country. His attorney, Carlos Spector, said it’s symbolic of a change under the Trump Administration where prolonged detention — even for people with no criminal history — is the latest tool in the White House’s effort to discourage people fleeing violence from seeking help in the United States.

Spector’s immediate concern isn’t the asylum process that could lay ahead but instead the continued detention of someone who would normally be released while his case is meandering through the long and complicated series of hearings and interviews. He fears the detention will become a pattern and be used against other foreigners seeking safe harbor after Trump issued his Jan. 25 executive order on immigration.

“This process of incarcerating immigrants seeking refuge in the United States has been a policy that has existed that has just gotten worse under Trump,” he said. “We’re here to demand his freedom and to denounce the criminalization of the political asylum process as a political tool.”

The federal Department of Homeland Security indicates it is just vetting asylum applicants to make sure the revamped process is fair.

“The goal of DHS is to ensure the asylum process is not abused,” the agency explains on its website. “The asylum officer shall make a positive credible fear finding only after the officer has considered all relevant evidence and determined, based on credible evidence, that the alien has a significant possibility of establishing eligibility for asylum, or torture protection.”

Mendez Pineda fled the resort city of Acapulco after he was attacked by Mexican federal officers and later threatened at gunpoint by six armed men, according to case documents provided by Spector’s office.

The attacks were in retaliation for his watchdog reporting on abuses committed by Mexican government officials and occurred in a city considered the second-most-violent in the world behind Central America’s San Salvador. (The homicide rate in Acapulco is 108 per 100,000 people, compared to San Salvador’s 137 per 100,000, according to an analysis by The Economist.) Mendez Pineda’s case caught the attention of Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, who wrote Mendez a letter of recommendation to help bolster his case. The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, has also taken note.

After Mendez Pineda passed his “credible fear” interview, Spector sought to have him released on parole while his client’s case was pending. The documents from Spector’s office indicate his client was denied a release because he didn’t have significant ties to the community and because he was a flight risk. Spector said both excuses are laughable because Mendez Pineda has never been convicted of a crime anywhere and because he sought entry on his own and turned himself in.

“To deny a reporter release, who had no criminal history, no threat to the community who presented himself lawfully at the bridge with a strong letter from Reporters Without Borders, to deny that, I think is throwing down the hatchet,” Spector said. “This is a message that if he can’t get out, then no one else will either.”

An El Paso-based spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in an email that each asylum is decided on a case-by-case basis and the agency takes into account several factors, including safety considerations and any other sensitive issues involving the case.

When asked specifically about Mendez’s case, ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa would only confirm the reporter’s arrival and subsequent transfer into custody.

“Martín Méndez Pineda, 26, from Mexico, entered the United States Feb. 5, 2017, via the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas,” she wrote. “On the same day he was transferred to ICE custody, and then was transported to the El Paso Processing Center in El Paso, Texas.”

Spector, who has represented several dozen Mexican immigrants seeking asylum, knows that even if the parole were to be granted, Mendez Pineda would still face an uphill battle in winning his asylum case and being granted legal status. Despite more than a decade of raging violence in Mexico due to warring cartels and the federal government’s attempts to quell the problem, American immigration officials have been reluctant to grant Mexicans asylum.

Of the 12,831 asylum requests from Mexicans received during the 2016 fiscal year, only 464 – fewer than 4 percent – were granted while 2,624 were denied and thousands more either withdrawn, abandoned or may be pending, according to federal statistics.

The percentage of Mexicans granted asylum is far less than the 13.3 percent overall rate of approved asylum claims in the United States during the same time frame.

Read more:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

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

National LGBTQ Organizations Denounce Arrest of Transgender Survivor of Domestic Violence by ICE El Paso

On Thursday, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and Transgender Law Center denounced the arrest by immigration authorities of an undocumented transgender woman who is a survivor of domestic violence, and call for her immediate release.

She was detained last week in an El Paso courthouse immediately after she was granted a protective order against her abusive partner.

NCAVP’s data shows that transgender women experience high rates of domestic violence and often experience discrimination and violence when attempting to access services. Additionally, transgender women in immigration detention often experience sexual violence, maltreatment, and other forms of violence.

Because of these realities, this arrest and detainment is an utterly deplorable and harmful response to her request for help.

This January, Transgender Law Center launched an emergency response project, the Trans Immigrant Defense Effort (TIDE), devoted to expanding legal support for transgender immigrants in the face of new attacks.

“Our government’s actions send the message to transgender people that we are disposable and do not deserve dignity or safety,” said Isa Noyola, Director of Programs at Transgender Law Center. “The community already has limited access to resources when we face violent attacks, particularly by intimate partners. At a time when we grieve murder after murder of transgender women of color, it is unconscionable that a transgender woman would be detained and punished for seeking safety for herself. The community, now more than ever, needs to organize to protect our most vulnerable, in particular transgender immigrant women who are surrounded by violence on a daily basis.”

“Arresting survivors when they are accessing domestic violence protections will only continue to discourage survivors from reaching out for support, especially if they are undocumented,” said Emily Waters, Senior Manager of National Research and Policy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “All survivors, including undocumented transgender survivors, deserve to be able access safe and affirming resources without the additional fear of reprisal by abusive partners and criminalization by state authorities.”

Violation of Protections for Undocumented Survivors

According to the County Attorney, Jo Anne Bernal, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers received a tip that the woman who was detained would be in the courthouse that day. Bernal also stated that she was arrested while still in the courthouse.

Bernal suspects that the tip came from Gonzalez’s abusive partner. Both of these actions by ICE violate the confidentiality protections laid out in the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. VAWA provides explicit confidentiality protections for undocumented survivors, including preventing immigration officers from using information provided by abusive partners and preventing officers from making arrests in courthouses if the survivor is there in connection with a protection order case.

“The actions taken by ICE officials to detain a transgender immigrant while she was at the courthouse getting a restraining order against her abuser, based on a “tip” to ICE possibly from her abuser, are not only outrageous, they violate the law,” said Terra Russell Slavin, Esq., Deputy Director of Policy & Community Building at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

“The Violence Against Women Act contains specific prohibitions on these type of immigration enforcement actions. The LGBT community, its advocates, and domestic violence activists throughout the country will work tirelessly to ensure that immigrant survivors of domestic violence are able to take legal actions to protect themselves from their abusers. We call on our representatives to immediately investigate the actions of ICE officials in this case and to do everything in their power to ensure this travesty doesn’t happen again.”

VAWA protections are vital for the safety of undocumented survivors of domestic violence. Many undocumented survivors face the threat of deportation when accessing protections that are available to all survivors of domestic violence and this threat is often leveraged by abusive partners.

Domestic Violence and LGBTQ Communities

 According to the most recently released report by NCAVP, of the 13 documented intimate partner violence related homicides of LGBTQ people in 2015, 46% were transgender women, all of whom were transgender women of color.

 From 2014 to 2015, there was an increase in the percentage of LGBTQ undocumented survivors reporting to NCAVP from 4% to 9%.

 Many LGBTQ survivors experience violence and discrimination when accessing intimate partner violence resources. Of those seeking shelter in 2015, 44% were denied with the most common reason being gender identity. Nearly one in three survivors who interacted by police were arrested.

To read NCAVP’s toolkit for the LGBTQ and HIV Affected Intimate Partner Violence, click HERE.

Immigrants Picked Up, but No Massive Raids, Authorities Say

U.S. and Mexican authorities are pushing back against reports of widespread raids that have sown panic in immigrant communities. But the “targeted operation” launched in recent days by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appears to be the largest of its kind since President Donald Trump took office.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune on Saturday, Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, the consul general of Mexico in Austin, shot down social media reports suggesting that ICE had set up traffic checkpoints or was rounding up immigrants indiscriminately. ICE called the reports of massive round-ups “false, dangerous and irresponsible,” the New York Times reported.

In Austin, a liberal enclave with a brand new “sanctuary” policy at the local jail, Gonzalez Gutierrez said the raid was the most extensive he’d seen since he arrived in the Texas capital almost two years ago. He said some of those apprehended by ICE were not the original targets of the U.S. operation. All told there were 44 Mexican nationals apprehended in the Austin area on Thursday and Friday, he said. Typically the agency picks up a handful per day. It’s not clear how many immigrants from other countries may have been picked up in the operation.

Gonzales Gutierrez said ICE officials informed the consulate that they “are looking for specific persons that… have to be detained because they have failed to honor a deportation order or because they have a DWI-related warrant or because of domestic violence. It’s a wide range of issues.”

In some cases, he said some of the Mexican nationals who were with the targeted immigrants also got detained; he said that has happened in past operations.

“Whenever they find their target, for example in their vehicles, if in that same vehicle there [are] more people who are undocumented or who they presume are undocumented, then they detain everybody,” he said. “And so there [are] a few of our nationals that were caught up because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

While Gonzalez Gutierrez expressed concern about the specter of a large operation targeting immigrants, he said it’s important to let people know that is not what’s happening now.

“This is not the widespread massive raids that are sometimes described in social media,” he said. “We have found no evidence of those workplace raids, or school raids, [or] massive raids outside of hospitals that people were talking about in social media.”

Central Texas was prominently featured in several national news stories with unconfirmed reports of immigrant raids, vehicle checkpoints and random ID checks.

And in the last two days, immigrant lawyers and advocacy groups have sounded alarms in multiple cities over what they called unusual enforcement activity by ICE. In Los Angeles, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted: “URGENT: ICE conducted multiple raids of homes across the city.” Protests erupted soon after.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said at a news conference in California Friday night that the reports were flat wrong, according to local media reports.

“They’re not rounding anyone up,” Kelly said. “The people that ICE apprehend are people who are illegal, and then some.”

According to an ICE statement released to the news media in California, at least 160 people were apprehended over five days in the region as part of a routine “enforcement surge” targeting undocumented immigrants wanted by the agency. Of those, 150 had criminal records and five had removal orders, according to the reports.

KABC-TV in Los Angeles reported that 95 percent of the people detained in Southern California by ICE were men. Included were an MS-13 gang member from El Salvador, a Brazilian national wanted for cocaine trafficking and an Australian convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child, the station said.

Texas Tribune reporter Cassandra Pollock contributed to this story.

Author:  JAY ROOT – The Texas Tribune

Reports of Immigration Raids Whip across Texas, but Details are Sparse

Immigrant communities in Texas and nationwide are swirling with reports of large-scale immigration enforcement by federal agents, but so far details are scant and ICE says its activities are routine.

Reports of immigration raids swept across Texas and the rest of the nation Friday, sparking protests and press conferences. But in Austin and elsewhere, it was difficult to find hard evidence of actual raids, and federal officials insisted their agents were simply conducting routine enforcement.

Immigrant lawyers and advocacy groups have sounded alarms in multiple cities over what they called unusual enforcement activity by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted: “URGENT: ICE conducted multiple raids of homes across the city.” Protests erupted soon after.

The Washington Post reported sweeping immigration raids in at least six states, including Texas. Quoting immigration activists, the Post reported raids in Austin, Dallas and Pflugerville, and said there were also reports of an ICE checkpoint in Austin that targeted immigrants for random ID checks. But it provided few details about specific cases.

Details have also been scant in Austin, where a pair of arrests following traffic stops by ICE agents led to a downtown protest and a press conference denouncing ICE activities. The Mexican Consulate told the Austin American-Statesman that ICE detained 44 Mexican immigrants Thursday and Friday — compared to four or five a day typically — but it didn’t indicate the circumstances surrounding the detentions.

Following reports that an immigration officer suffered minor injuries after arresting an undocumented immigrant in North Austin, Austin City Council members Greg Casar and Delia Garza spoke to reporters outside the Little Walnut Creek public library, joined by representatives of the Worker’s Defense Project, Education Austin, and the Texas chapter of the AFL-CIO.

“This is something very different than what we’ve seen before,” Casar said. “[Donald] Trump and allies will do everything they can to divide Americans and demonize communities. It’s clear people like Trump try to get political gain by creating fear and hostility — these ICE actions magnify that fear.”

In a statement on Facebook Friday morning, Casar said his office had confirmed “a large amount of [ICE] actions in Austin in the last 24 hours.”

Casar said he’s received several calls from constituents expressing fear about the situation, but he couldn’t offer details on ICE actions beyond a Friday arrest in North Austin. Austin police told the Austin American-Statesman that an ICE agent made a traffic stop and was trying to arrest a person in the vehicle when the suspect’s family members tried to intervene.

“We don’t understand it,” Garza said, “but the ripple effect is… it’s invited fear in the community.”

The other reported arrest happened in East Austin, where a Honduran woman called an immigrant support group to report that ICE agents had pulled over and detained her husband on Thursday; a protest followed at a downtown federal building, the Statesman reported.

ICE spokeswoman Adelina Pruneda told the Tribune that the agency doesn’t conduct random sweeps and its enforcement actions are based on investigative leads. “By removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety,” Pruneda said.

San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro said Friday that ICE had confirmed to him that the agency was conducting a “targeted operation” in parts of Texas. 

“I have been informed by ICE that the agency’s San Antonio field office has launched a targeted operation in South and Central Texas as part of Operation Cross Check,” Castro said in a written statement. “I am asking ICE to clarify whether these individuals are in fact dangerous, violent threats to our communities, and not people who are here peacefully raising families and contributing to our state. I will continue to monitor this situation.”

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said it was “outrageous” that two elected officials in Austin publicly backed undocumented immigrants over law enforcement.

“Not only does questioning law enforcement put our communities at risk,” Buckingham said in a written statement, “it paints a bull’s-eye on the backs of the brave men and women sworn to protect us under extremely challenging circumstances.”

Tensions in Texas immigrant communities have risen since Trump became president — after campaigning on promises to build a border wall and deport undocumented immigrants en masse — and the state Legislature began debating bills to ban so-called “sanctuary cities.” Earlier this week, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 4 that would penalize local governments that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws.

Separately, newly-elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez launched a policy last month to reduce the county’s cooperation with federal immigration officials, and Gov. Greg Abbott soon after carried out his threat to strip $1.5 million in criminal justice grants from Travis County.

Author:  CASSANDRA POLLOCK – The Texas Tribune

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