Concerns for Victims of Crime Grow with Increased ICE Presence
WESLACO – A six-year-old immigration policy is a renewed point of concern for some Rio Grande Valley community leaders and officials.
The sensitive locations policies have existed since October of 2011. It details where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should generally avoid making arrests.
The Hidalgo County DA and a local advocacy center said they worry courthouses are not included on the list.
Casa de Proyecto Libertad executive director Rogelio Nunez said their services include offering assistance to people who are in the country illegally and are victims of a crime.
Nunez worries they will now stay quiet to any and all crimes.
“For us, it becomes very critical that we do not have ICE roaming around courthouses, police department and places where these survivors of domestic violence need to access,” he said.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said even though special protections are offered, he fears the agency’s involvement in courthouses will affect prosecutions.
“It does concern us that victims and witnesses are not, will not be stepping forward to our office because they’re afraid that they’re going to be arrested and deported,” he said.
He said his office is a place that offers assistance to victims, whether they are in the U.S. legally or not.
“The federal government can’t say that the DA’s office is or the courthouse is a sanctuary city. We’re just enforcing laws and complying with the due diligence and responsibility in the sense of helping victims, and obviously dealing with the witnesses and working with the witnesses on cases we have to prosecute,” he said.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS learned there are different legal protections people can apply for.
Women in the country illegally and who are victims of domestic violence may qualify for Violence Against Women Act.
An application called U visa is also available for people who are in the country illegally and who suffered substantial mental or physical abuse. They have to be willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the case.
Additionally, people in the country illegally who testify to a crime such as a murder case may also receive protection under certain criteria.
Arrests at courthouses by ICE have been legal for some years now. ICE released a statement in response to concerns, which reads in part:
“Courthouses are not considered sensitive locations, such as school, places of worship and hospitals. Ice added they’ll generally seek to arrest individuals at courthouses only after officers have exhausted other options.”
Both Nunez and Rodriguez said they want people who are in the country illegally to know they have rights given a situation where they are a victim of a crime.