ICE drops deportation of Charlotte mom nabbed after she turned up for court

ICE detained a domestic violence survivor inside Charlotte courthouse

Comunidad Colectiva, an advocacy group for immigrants, details the situation inside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse where a domestic violence victim was detained in July, 2018.
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Comunidad Colectiva, an advocacy group for immigrants, details the situation inside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse where a domestic violence victim was detained in July, 2018.

The deportation case of a Charlotte immigrant mother arrested after she turned up for a court hearing has been dropped.

The woman, who the Observer agreed to identify only by her first name of Maria, was arrested in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on July 9 by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Her 16-year-old son was also taken into custody.

Immigration officials said at the time that Maria had entered the country legally but that her visa had expired in November 2016.

She was in the courthouse that day to face misdemeanor assault and larceny charges filed by her former fiance. Those charges have since been dismissed, county prosecutors say.

The fiance had sworn out the warrant against Maria after he had been arrested on assault charges filed by Maria’s son, who alleged that the fiance had severely beaten him, Maria’s attorneys said at the time

The ICE arrest occurred after Maria had moved herself and her two children out of the fiance’s home and into a domestic-violence shelter, her attorneys said.

On Nov. 21, she was to appear before a Charlotte immigration judge for a deportation hearing. That day, however, she received a letter from ICE saying her case had been dismissed, said Stefania Arteaga of Comunidad Colectiva, a Latino-advocacy nonprofit in Charlotte.

According to a statement this week from Maria’s attorneys and other groups involved in her defense, the deportation case had been closed “with the support of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Charlotte attorney Lisa Diefenderfer confirmed in an email that Maria also has applied for a “U visa,” which is available to crime victims or those helping law enforcement agencies in criminal matters.

“This is a great win, not only for Maria, but immigrant victims of domestic violence everywhere,” Diefenderfer, a staff attorney for the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, said in the statement.

“We are very appreciative that ICE was willing to work with us to come to this result ... We know, however, that this does not solve the problem of (courthouse arrests).”

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman in Atlanta, said Tuesday that he could not discuss Maria’s case. But he added that he would not dispute reports “that the agency is no longer seeking to remove her from the United States.”

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Under federal law, immigration officials cannot discuss the cases of persons who had applied for U visas or other forms of protective status, Cox said.

In July, Cox said Maria had been picked up by ICE because she was in the country illegally and had been accused of committing a crime.

Her arrest drew national headlines and led to a rally in Marshall Park against the ICE policy of making arrests inside courthouses, a practice that critics say makes immigrant victims of crime fearful of coming forward.

In a statement, Arteaga called for a countywide policy “to keep ICE out of the courthouse.”

“Everyone regardless of their immigration status deserves to have access to the criminal justice system,” she said.

Cox also said that while ICE officers “do not troll courthouses” for undocumented immigrants, the agency does not treat courthouses as “sensitive” locations, a designation reserved for schools, hospitals and churches.

A district attorney spokeswoman said the criminal charges against Maria were dropped in July after “prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The absence of criminal charges was “a critical factor” in the decision by immigration officials to drop the deportation, said a person familiar with case who was not authorized to speak and did not want to be identified.

The charges against the fiance also were dropped in September after he completed a diversionary program available to first-time offenders, the district attorney spokeswoman said.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095; @MikeGordonOBS