Irvin González was detained by ICE agents earlier this month on the 10th floor of the Texas courthouse where she had just been granted a protective order against an abusive ex-boyfriend. That this could happen at all was both shocking and not, she said.
“This is something he always threatened me with,” the 31-year-old undocumented trans woman told The New Yorker through her lawyer. “He would tell me that, if I reported him to the police, they would only believe him, because he is a U.S. citizen and not me.”
It remains unconfirmed if González's former boyfriend was the one to alert ICE agents of her whereabouts that day, but the timing is revealing.
As The New Yorker noted, "the ex-boyfriend, who had been released at the end of January, was re-arrested for violating his probation on February 2nd, the same day that, according to [Border Patrol Agent John] Urquidi’s affidavit, law enforcement 'received information' that González 'was in the United States.'” And because he had also been summoned to appear in court, he knew exactly where she would be that morning.
Even if the agents had been acting on their own instincts when they decided to make a very public arrest inside a courthouse where an undocumented woman was seeking a protective order, the incident remains a twisted kind of validation of abuser tactics.
“They make a lot of threats that they’ll report you. They’ll say that you can’t call the police or go to court, which are really big myths,” Rachel Goldsmith, assistant vice president of domestic violence shelters at Safe Horizon, a service provider in New York City, told me last week in an interview about this case. “They may tell you, ‘Oh I know the laws in this country and you don’t.’ It’s a common tactic of power and control.”
González is now awaiting a grand jury decision on whether or not she will be indicted on a charge of reentering the country illegally. If charges are dropped, she will be turned over to ICE, where she will likely face deportation.
Pushing back against the fog of misinformation that abuse victims are fed by their abusers—and reassuring women after high-profile cases like what happened to González—is difficult work, Goldsmith said. And it will likely get even harder under the current administration.
In a sweeping new set of regulations released earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security made it clear that it would be greatly expanding the scope of its deportations. "Everyone is a target now,” Fernando Garcia, the director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, told The New Yorker.
It's a move that in effect gives off the same message as an abusive partner, only this time it's coming directly from the state: Nowhere is safe.