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Domestic-violence victim calls 911 and is nearly deported

May 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A woman was placed in deportation proceedings after calling 911 for help, highlighting a conflict in public policy.

For decades, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department told the immigrant community to come forward if they witness a crime or are victimized in a crime, and they won't be questioned about immigration status.

But now there is processing procedure in the jails that sends suspect information directly to the feds, even if their detention turned out to be a mistake.

Isaura Garcia, a 20-year-old undocumented immigrant, described a living nightmare. She said she endured beatings from her live-in boyfriend, Ricardo, who is also undocumented. According to Garcia, he was so drunk one night that he was involved in a fatal DUI accident.

Ricardo is in jail facing charges of manslaughter. But because of recent immigration law, it was Isaura, not Ricardo, who first hit the radar of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Isaura was arrested in a confusing incident of suspected domestic violence.

In processing, just like everyone arrested now, her fingerprints were sent to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security as part of the ICE Secure Communities program. A match verified she was undocumented, and the deportation process began - even though she was cleared of any wrongdoing.

"The vast majority of those identified and removed as a result of Secure Communities in Los Angeles County had criminal records (77 percent), including 55 percent who had prior felony or aggravated felony convictions," ICE officials said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and immigrant rights organizations say that instant processing, regardless of the circumstances, violates trust long sought between the community and law enforcement.

"In order for all of us to be safe, local law enforcement must solicit the collaboration of the individuals who are those witnesses and those victims," said Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A. (CHIRLA).

Within hours of Isaura's news conference on Thursday, ICE announced a re-examination of Isaura's case and a turnaround - the agency will not pursue deportation.

Isaura's attorney, Jennifer Pasquarella, called her with the news.

"She said she has been praying to God that this would happen, so she feels that God has protected her now," said Pasquarella.

ICE said the agency has discretion in removal cases when it involves witnesses to crime and crime victims and is finalizing its guide on how to use that discretion.

Because of the trust issue, some leaders want to opt out of Secure Communities, including the city of San Francisco and the state of Illinois.


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