Fear Of Deportation Spurs 4 Women To Drop Domestic Abuse Cases In Denver

Mar 21, 2017
Originally published on March 21, 2017 7:57 am

The Trump administration's talk of cracking down on undocumented immigrants has frightened many people living in the country illegally. And it has deterred some domestic abuses victims from appearing in court for fear they'll be spotted by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson.

Bronson tells NPR's Rachel Martin that four women — victims of what Bronson calls physical and violent assault — have not pursued cases.

"We had pending cases that we were prosecuting on their behalf and since January 25, the date of the president's executive order [on immigration], those four women have let our office know they were not willing to proceed with the case for fear that they would be spotted in the courthouse and deported," Bronson says.

She says the fear comes from a video taken last month that shows ICE officers waiting to make an arrest at a Denver courthouse. The video, she says, "unfortunately has resulted in a high degree of fear and anxiety in our immigrant communities, and as a result, we have grave concerns here that they distrust the court system now and that we're not going to have continued cooperation of victims and witnesses."

Bronson says she has asked ICE agents to stay away from the courthouse and arrest violent criminals they're after somewhere else.

"We have made that request asking them to recognize the fact that there are sensitive areas," she says. "Federal guidelines from Homeland Security recognize schools and churches, hospitals as sensitive areas and we think courthouses should be recognized as well."

Bronson clarified via email that by asking ICE not to make arrests at courthouses, the intent is not to shield violent criminals from immigration enforcement. Bronson writes, "ICE could just as easily work through the local jail here in Denver to apprehend these individuals and avoid frightening people in our community."

Bronson says her office had to drop the four domestic abuse cases.

"Without victims willing to testify we've had to dismiss those charges and the violent offenders have seen no consequences for their violent acts," she tells NPR.

The video recorded in the hallway of Denver's main courthouse shows criminal defense and immigration attorney Whitney Leeds asking questions of men who tell her they're there to make an arrest. In an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Conrad Wilson earlier this month, Leeds said ICE made arrests at courthouses during the Obama administration. She says since the 2016 election, though, she expects more arrests and more fear.

"First, because Trump's executive orders call for thousands of additional ICE agents to be hired, and secondly because he has prioritized for deportation not only any person who is here without lawful status but also any person who's ever been arrested for a crime," Leeds says.

An ICE spokesman told NPR in a statement that while ICE does arrest people in courthouses, "generally it's only after investigating officers have exhausted other options."

"In such instances where deportation officers seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view; but this is not always possible," according to the spokesman.

Morning Edition producer Justin Richmond and editor Amy Isackson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's talk about cracking down on undocumented immigrants has scared a lot of people living in the country illegally. We've heard stories about immigrants afraid to venture out of their homes any more than necessary, people staying away from church or school.

Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson has noticed another effect. Women who are victims of domestic violence are afraid to appear in court. They're scared of being spotted by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Bronson understands ICE is going after violent criminals. She says she just wants them to arrest them somewhere else. Kristin Bronson joins us now from her office in Denver. Thanks so much for being with us.

KRISTIN BRONSON: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about these women? You say four of them have not pursued claims because they're afraid of outing themselves as undocumented.

BRONSON: That's correct. These are four women who were the victims of violent offenses here in Denver. We had pending cases that we were prosecuting on their behalf. And since January 25, the date of the president's executive order, those four women have let our office know they were not willing to proceed with the case for fear that they would be spotted in the courthouse and deported.

MARTIN: May I ask, how serious were the crimes they were reporting?

BRONSON: These are assaults, assault by strangulation. They don't result in significant bodily injury, but they are physical and violent.

MARTIN: These women are saying they're afraid that they could be spotted by an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an ICE officer. Have you seen evidence that substantiates these fears?

BRONSON: We had a video that went viral that was taken here in our Denver courthouses of ICE officers engaging in an enforcement action in the hallways and, unfortunately, has resulted in a high degree of fear and anxiety in our immigrant communities. And as a result, we have grave concerns here that they distrust the court system now and that we're not going to have continued cooperation of victims and witnesses.

MARTIN: And just so I'm clear, is it just this one case that was captured on video that has created all this fear?

BRONSON: We've been in communication with our county court judges, and we are aware of other instances where ICE has either been in the courtroom or in the hallways. But I have, personally, have not seen them myself.

MARTIN: This one video - were the ICE officers just around and then happened to notice a guy they were looking for?

BRONSON: My understanding is that that particular individual they had targeted had been the subject, as I understand it, of multiple felony arrests in the past.

MARTIN: Do the ICE agents know when certain cases are coming up?

BRONSON: I really couldn't speak to what ICE knows, but I can say that criminal court dockets are public records. And they are accessible through our public docket system.

MARTIN: Have you asked ICE agents to stay away from the courthouse?

BRONSON: Yes. We have made that request. Federal guidelines from Homeland Security recognize schools and churches, hospitals as sensitive areas, and we think courthouses should be recognized as well.

MARTIN: And finally, just - what's the status of those cases that the women had filed?

BRONSON: Well, without victims willing to testify, we've had to dismiss those charges. And the violent offenders have seen no consequences for their violent acts.

MARTIN: Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson, thanks so much for talking with us.

BRONSON: Thank you.

MARTIN: We should note an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson told us ICE does make arrests at courthouses, but it's generally only after exhausting other options. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.