In yet another example of how the Trump administration’s harsh immigration tactics are sweeping up vulnerable populations, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) officers reportedly arrested a mother and her 16-year-old son at a courthouse while they were attending a domestic violence hearing.
According to the Charlotte Observer, a mother of two from Colombia, identified by her attorneys only by first name Maria, was handcuffed at the courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, along with her son.
The woman in question was reportedly embroiled in a nasty domestic violence dispute with her ex-fiancé. Maria came to the U.S. legally in January 2016 on a fiancé visa that expired in November of that year when she called off the marriage because of abuse, according to legal attorneys.
"She became a victim very early on and decided to finally leave [him] in January when the physical abuse reached a new level," Stefania Arteaga, a community organizer with Comunidad Colectiva, told BuzzFeed News. "Her son also became a victim and suffered two black eyes and a bloody nose."
Last month, Maria, along with her teenage son and the 2-year-old whom she had with her ex, moved into a domestic-violence shelter. Recently, a judge granted the woman with a protective order against her ex-partner for beating her son.
Subsequently, her ex-partner filed misdemeanor larceny charges against her, which her attorney claimed to be a “bogus” retaliation brought about in response to her ending the relationship.
According to Becca O'Neill, the attorney directly working on the case, the charges against Maria prompted ICE's involvement in the case. As following the misdemeanor complaint, immigration officials filed documents against her for staying in the country illegally after her visa expired.
"They were definitely tipped off, and we think it was by her ex. This woman had never been booked or fingerprinted so she was not in any systems,” said O’Neill of ICE agents who tracked her down in the courthouse.
According to the reports, Maria, described being led handcuffed from the courthouse as “one of the most humiliating and embarrassing experiences” of her life.
“That walk, being handcuffed like a criminal with my son, was one of the most humiliating and embarrassing experiences I’ve ever endured. Having to endure the stares of people around me, around the street, and looking incredibly shocked at us — looking at us as though we were criminals. And that was incredibly painful, because as I was walking, I was leaving my 2-year-old son behind,” she told a small gathering of about 30 supporters who gathered at a local park to protest the harsh treatment.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Mecklenburg Assistant Public Defender Herman Little, who witnessed the arrests, told the Observer. “How in the world is anybody going to get justice if both the victims and the defendants are not going to come to court because they’re all afraid of being deported? This is crazy.”
According to Little and Lisa Diesenderfer, an attorney for the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, the duo were taken into custody shortly before the son was scheduled to testify against his mother’s ex-fiancé.
On the other hand, ICE didn’t reveal how the agency learned Maria would be in the building that day.
"We remain focused on criminal offenders and safety threats, so when criminal charges were filed against her it triggered our involvement,"said the agency’s spokesperson Bryan Cox. “The agency did not keep Maria or her son overnight or in a detention center and had kept her in custody the minimum amount of time required to process the paperwork.”
Despite attorneys and activists’ repeated claims that the charges placed against her were a mere act of revenge, Cox said the agency doesn’t distinguish between criminal charges filed against undocumented immigrants.
"Unfortunately we have nothing to do with the local charges. She was there as a defendant facing criminal charges and it is not our position to speak to the legitimacy of those charges," Cox added. "From ICE's perspective, this is a person in violation of federal immigration law."
Regardless, the county’s attorneys denounced the agency’s action of further distressing a victim who already had a lot on her plate.
“The message is very clear: Come to the courthouse at your own risk of being arrested and caged by the federal government. If they are victims of crime, their willingness to participate with police, from the outset, is going to disappear,” said Mecklenburg County public defender Kevin Tully.
“What I can tell you is that the protection of domestic violence victims is a priority for my office, and any attempt in the courthouse to detain a domestic-violence victim clearly frustrates our ability to protect them,” stated county attorney Spencer Merriweather.
Such instances of ICE targeting the crime victims is bound to have a chilling effect on other people coming forward to seek justice and would subsequently divert attention from the real criminals.
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