Remember when Houston’s police chief and victims’ rights advocates across the country warned well over a year ago that the targeting by immigration authorities of crime victims would have a chilling effect on other people coming forward to seek justice?
Well, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) officers couldn’t care less about that.
The Charlotte Observer reported on Friday that on July 9, ICE agents arrested a mother and her 16-year-old son at a courthouse in Charlotte, NC, while they were attending a domestic violence hearing. According to the report, the mother, whose first name is Maria, said the ordeal was “one of the most humiliating and embarrassing experiences” of her life.
The newspaper did not publish Maria’s last name or her son’s name because it does not identify possible domestic violence victims. ICE, on the other hand, apparently did publish Maria’s full name in a statement it provided.
Referring to the arrests, which he witnessed, Assistant Public Defender Herman Little told the Observer that he had “never seen anything like it before.”
“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.”
The day she was arrested, Maria, who is from Colombia and reportedly overstayed a 2016 visa, actually was the defendant in the hearing over a misdemeanor complaint filed by her former fiancé. However, according to the Observer’s reporting, that charge appears to have been in retaliation to a previous domestic abuse complaint in which Maria’s teenage son accused the former fiancé of “severely beating him.”
The newspaper said that Maria also obtained a protective order against the man and had to move her family into a domestic violence shelter, including a 2-year-old son that is in the middle of a custody battle Maria is in with the ex-fiancé.
So, I wonder who could have reported Maria and her 16-year-old son to ICE, whose agents were more than happy to oblige by arresting the two just before the teenager was scheduled to testify against the ex-fiancé? Hmmm…
According to the report:
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told the Observer on Friday that Maria became an immigration target due to criminal charge filed against her.
“It is not in dispute. This person was not a victim or a witness. That day, she was showing up in the courthouse as a criminal defendant in a criminal case. It’s apples and oranges,” Cox said.
When Little came out of the courtroom to meet with his clients, he said he saw them being handcuffed by two men in plain clothes. Maria was hysterical and calling out for help in Spanish, he said.
“I literally ran up to them,” Little said. “I said, ‘What’s going on?’ (One of the ICE agents) said, ‘Get back, get back,’ and he tells me he doesn’t have to tell me anything. I said, ‘Yes, you do. She’s my client.’”
Maria’s 2-year-old son, who was in the courthouse’s daycare center at the time, was left behind.
Mother and teenage son were held for about six hours before they were released to be reunited with the 2-year-old, the Observer said.
Mecklenburg County public defender Kevin Tully told the newspaper, “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,” he added.
Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather added, “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,” the Observer reported.
Merriweather said his office is investigating the incident. A protest against the arrests was held on Friday in the city’s Marshall Park.