EL PASO, Texas - ICE agents arrested a transgender woman, a convicted criminal in the country illegally, while she was filing a protective order at the El Paso County Courthouse.
A criminal complaint states ICE agents took the woman, identified in court documents as Irvin Gonzalez, into custody outside the courthouse. Video obtained by ABC-7 shows the woman was escorted by ICE agents out of the County Courthouse.
ABC-7 has learned Gonzalez, an alleged victim of domestic violence, had an extensive criminal history and had been deported from the U.S. seven times. Gonzalez's criminal history includes convictions for Illegal Re-Entry, Larceny/From Mail, False Imprisonment (three times), Assault, Probation Violation, and Domestic Violence.
The document states Gonzalez was at the county courthouse to file a protective order against Mario Alberta de Avila, who recently bonded out of jail after he was charged with Forgery of a Financial Instrument.
"She (Gonzalez) had been kicked, punched, slapped, she had been chased around with a knife, she had a knife thrown at her. So she came to our office seeking a protective order and seeking protection from her partner," County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said.
A complaint affidavit filed against Alberto de Avila, states he stole a $500 money order from a mail box. The money order had been mailed by an elderly woman paying her rent. Investigators said Alberto De Avila presented the stolen money order in his name at a Rapid Cash store, where he allegedly cashed it. Police arrested Alberto De Avila because he allegedly presented his ID to cash the money order. Investigators also obtained surveillance images allegedly showing Alberto De Avila cashing the money order.
ARREST PHOTO: Mario Alberto De Avila
Gonzalez, who served a combined 12 months in prison for the convictions, was "residing at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence located at 580 Giles Road," the court document states. Cesar Campa, with the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, told ABC-7 the facility at 580 Giles is not a shelter, rather, a resource center. Campa said the location of the actual shelter is undisclosed.
Bernal disputes the account in the court document that Gonzalez was taken into custody outside the courthouse.
"While leaving the courtroom our client (Gonzalez) was arrested, taken into custody, by ICE agents from the courtroom," Bernal told ABC-7. "We later learned there were up to six ICE agents in the courthouse looking for our client. This is a situation which has never happened before in the courthouse and we were all pretty stunned and we are hoping this isolated incident never happens again. We will be reaching out to ICE officials to make sure that ICE agrees that it will never try to arrest the victim of domestic violence in a sensitive environment like a courtroom."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement released the following statement: "On Feb. 9, task force agents assigned to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) El Paso's Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) arrested Irvin Gonzalez, aka Ervin Gonzalez, on a felony charge of illegally re-entering the United States after having been previously deported. Agents arrested Gonzalez after receiving a tip from another law enforcement agency indicating that a previously deported felon had illegally re-entered the United States."
According to ICE's website, a courthouse, unlike a school or a church, is not considered a "sensitive location."
Bernal is concerned "immigration consequences" will be used to keep victims of domestic violence from reporting alleged abuse. "We hope this isolated incident doesn't scare people to come forward and report crime," Bernal said, "If people are too scared to report crime, then someone is eventually going to get hurt."
"The fact that this woman is transgender only further highlights the diversity of vulnerable people who will be swept up in these raids. Transgender women of color are disproportionally more likely to die violent deaths," State Senator José Rodríguez said, "This further illustrates the ongoing attack on many different communities, and the need for us to unite in the face of laws that single out specific groups for discrimination."
El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke said Thursday he received a call from the county judge, who relayed the story. Thursday, O'Rourke addressed the arrest from the House floor in Washington:
"A woman (referring to Gonzalez), an undocumented Mexican national had gone to the Center Against Family Violence out of fear for her life after being abused, she alleged, by her boyfriend. Center Against Family Violence escorted her to the courthouse to receive a protection order. The judge granted that order. But in that courtroom where the judge granted that order were, according to the county attorney, the county judge and the judge who presided over that trial, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement who escorted the domestic abuse survivor out of the courthouse and into detention and, perhaps, to deportation into Mexico. We will not continue to be the safest city in America, we will not continue to contribute to the safety of the United States and the State of Texas if people don't feel comfortable reporting domestic abuse, reporting crime, serving as witnesses, working with law enforcement. I urge this administration to send an unequivocal message that it is imperative that we respect all people of all communities regarding their immigration status."