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Congresswoman Val Demings

Representing the 10th District of Florida

Reps. Demings and Rice to Demand ICE End Courthouse Detentions for Victims of Domestic Violence

February 22, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives Val Demings (FL-10) and Kathleen Rice (NY-04) are circulating a letter to House colleagues urging the Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to issue guidance making it clear to ICE personnel that victimof crimes should never have reason to fear that seeking justice in the court system could lead to detention or deportation. The letter comes after reports last week that ICE agents detained a transgender woman in an El Paso, TX court while she was seeking a protective order for alleged domestic violence. The agents reportedly conducted surveillance at the courthouse based on information from an unidentified source who provided the time and place of the hearing, as well as the fact that the alleged victim was living in a domestic violence shelter. In the letter, Reps. Rice and Demings note that a 2011 ICE memorandum advised personnel to exercise all appropriate prosecutorial discretion for cases involving victims and witnesses of crime in order to avoid deterring individuals from reporting crimes and pursuing justice in the court system.

 

“Domestic violence survivors, victims’ advocates, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers agree that fear is both a tool for abusers and a barrier to victims seeking refuge and justice,” write Reps. Demings and Rice. “Unfortunately, these recent actions only encourage fear and run counter to decades of work to build relationships between law enforcement and victims of violent crime. We respectfully urge you to issue guidance making clear to ICE officers, special agents, and attorneys that victims of crimes should have no fear of seeking justice in our court systems.”

 

Rep. Val Demings was a member of the Orlando Police Department for 27 years, and served as the Chief of Police from 2007-2011. Rep. Kathleen Rice is a former state and federal prosecutor, and the former District Attorney of Nassau County, NY

 

The full text of the letter is copied below. A final copy with a full list of signatures will be released in the coming weeks.

 

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The Honorable Thomas D. Homan

Acting Director

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Washington, D.C. 20536

 

Dear Acting Director Homan:

 

We are writing to express our serious concerns regarding reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel detained an alleged victim of domestic violence while she was seeking a protective court order.

 

We know you understand that the trust between victims and law enforcement officers is essential to ending domestic violence and bringing abusers to justice. Unfortunately, too often, many immigrant victims, particularly those with unauthorized status, do not report violence or exploitation because they fear detention or removal. Indeed, in a 2011 memorandum ICE Director John Morton advised officers, special agents, and attorneys to exercise all appropriate prosecutorial discretion for cases involving victims and witnesses of crime in order to “avoid deterring individuals from reporting crimes and from pursuing actions to protect their civil rights.” Additionally, DHS has encouraged victims to come forward through its U visa program, which provides lawful status to victims that assist in criminal investigations.

 

With this understanding, reports of ICE personnel entering a courthouse in El Paso, Texas—the very courtroom where this alleged domestic violence victim was seeking refuge from her abuser—is deeply disturbing. According to eyewitness accounts reported by the Associated Press on February 16, 2017 and video footage of the incident from the courthouse surveillance cameras, agents escorted the alleged victim from the courtroom to be detained outside the courthouse. The affidavit itself notes that agents “conducted surveillance” at the courthouse based on information provided by an unidentified source that included the exact time and place of the court hearing and that the alleged victim was living at a domestic violence shelter.

 

Domestic violence survivors, victims’ advocates, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers agree that fear is both a tool for abusers and a barrier to victims seeking refuge and justice. Unfortunately, these recent actions only encourage fear and run counter to decades of work to build relationships between law enforcement and victims of violent crime.

 

We respectfully urge you to issue guidance making clear to ICE officers, special agents, and attorneys that victims of crimes should have no fear of seeking justice in our court systems.