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Case Study On Domestic Violence In Texas

Demonstrators march through downtown Austin, Texas, on Thursday. Protesters are targeting recent immigration raids around the country. Eric Gay/AP hide caption

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Eric Gay/AP

Demonstrators march through downtown Austin, Texas, on Thursday. Protesters are targeting recent immigration raids around the country.

Eric Gay/AP

Updated Feb. 17, 2017, 8:00 p.m. ET with comment from ICE

Federal immigration agents last week detained a woman in the U.S. illegally just after she received a protective order against an allegedly abusive boyfriend, in an El Paso County courthouse.

El Paso County Attorney Joanne Bernal said the ICE arrest inside a courthouse was "unprecedented and stunning."

"To my knowledge, and others I have spoken to, no one has a recollection of immigration officials acting like this in a courthouse," Bernal told NPR.

As a prosecutor, one of Bernal's duties is to seek and obtain protective orders against domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault. She said the alleged victim had been brought to the court hearing by an advocate from the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence in El Paso.

Bernal said one ICE agent was inside the protective-order courtroom, two more were guarding each exit door and other agents were staking out the 10th floor of the courthouse building. They detained the woman moments after a judge approved her protective order. Bernal said she believes that the woman was set up by her boyfriend who knew the details of her court appearance. According to the El Paso Times, the boyfriend is in custody on other charges.

A spokeswoman for ICE, Leticia Zamarripa, said the agents had been tipped off by another law enforcement agency and that the subject had already been deported six times.

The ICE detainee is a Mexican national identified in a criminal complaint as Irvin Gonzalez (aka Ervin Gonzalez). Bernal said she can't confirm that Gonzalez is transgender. "She presented herself to us as a woman," said Bernal.

The government released a copy of the complaint, including an affidavit in which ICE agents said they approached and arrested Gonzalez outside the courthouse. But courthouse surveillance video, provided by Bernal, appears to show the ICE agents inside the courthouse. They escort a woman identified by Bernal as Gonzalez down a hallway, into an elevator and out of the courthouse exit.

The case is gaining national attention, in part, because it comes as the Trump administration is ramping up enforcement of immigration laws. Last week there were a series of raids executed across the country.

In Phoenix, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a mother of two U.S. citizen children, was deported after a routine check-in with immigration officials.

In a separate action in Seattle, a young man was detained by ICE despite the fact that he is registered with the government under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

In Denver, Jeanette Vizguerra, a mother of three U.S. citizen children, skipped a check-in with immigration authorities and has taken refuge in a church worried she will be deported.

"There's a lot of fear and frustration," said Andrea Mercado, chair of the We Belong Together campaign, a coalition of women's organizations and immigrant rights groups. In a teleconference called to publicize the Texas courthouse case, Mercado said anyone in danger, regardless of their immigration status, should know that they can get help.

"More people die every year due to domestic violence than in any terrorist attack," said Mercado.

The government affidavit in Gonzalez' case includes her criminal history: several deportations, and arrests for assault, a probation violation, domestic violence and false imprisonment.

But the prosecutor said Gonzalez has no outstanding warrants. "A victim of serious abuse is entitled to a protective order and justice whether she has a criminal record or not," Bernal said. "As a result of the actions of the immigration officials — violating the sanctity of the courthouse — there are going to be a lot of victims who are going to be afraid to come forward for fear of facing the same consequences as she did."

Life just got a little bit worse for women in Texas -- and particularly for women in Dallas County. The Texas Council on Family Violence released a study on Tuesday that shows Dallas County has the highest number of female domestic violence deaths in the state. More telling, Dallas has the highest per capita rate of domestic violence homicides in the state, with Beaumont taking second place for the deplorable ranking.

"In addition to Dallas County, Tarrant County homicide rates doubled, and Collin County tripled," says Angela Hale, a spokesperson for the TCFV. "If you look at the metroplex as a whole, you have 38 out of 119 total deaths in the state. So it is a significant number."

Generally speaking, Harris County has taken the top spot in past years, most recently with 30 deaths in 2012. Now, Harris deaths have dropped to 20 in 2013, and Dallas County deaths have risen from 9 in 2012 to tie with Harris County for 20 deaths in 2013. Population-wise, says Hale, that puts Dallas in the top percentage spot for domestic violence homicides.

It's a demoralizing figure that Dallasites are eager to counteract. Judge Roberto Cañas is spearheading the local gun surrender initiative for domestic violence offenders. Under current federal law, those found guilty of domestic violence offenses must permanently surrender their guns. If offenders accept a plea bargain, state law says they are restricted from gun possession for five years.

The TCFV reports that 58 percent of domestic violence homicide victims are killed by guns, and most of abusers had faced previous domestic violence indictments in which they would have been forced to surrender their guns. In the murder of Karen Cox Smith in 2013, Smith was shot by her husband despite the prohibition against his possessing a gun.

Gun surrender for domestic violence offenders has been a seldom and hard-to-enforce law that has since gained momentum in local courts. "Domestic violence crimes can escalate so quickly, especially if guns are in the house, says Cañas. "If we take guns out of the picture, you cut down on that in the future."

Dallas passed a gun surrender financing ordinance in August. For now, it's not clear why Dallas County has seen the rise in deaths recently.

"It's hard to predict why this is, but we do know that there are tools that help," Hale says . "The number of deaths are historically between 100 and 150 in Texas, and three women are killed every day in America. So the numbers are pretty consistent."

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