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Mother And Son Involved In Domestic Violence Case Are At Risk Of Being Deported

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In North Carolina earlier this month, Immigration officials arrested a mother and her 16-year-old son at a courthouse. They were involved in a domestic violence case. Now they're at risk of being deported. At the lawyer's request, we are only using the mother's first name, Maria. Her attorney is Lisa Diefenderfer with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. Welcome to the program.

LISA DIEFENDERFER: Hi, Ari. Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: First describe what happened when Maria and her son were detained at the courthouse.

DIEFENDERFER: Our office received a frantic phone call from the public defender's office. Her public defender reached out to my office because his client was being detained by ICE. He was terrified - didn't know what to do. ICE came into the courthouse and arrested her, and it was a pretty shocking ordeal. Maria was a victim of domestic violence along with her 16-year-old son. The abuser attacked her son earlier this year. She called the police, pressed charges against him, obtained a domestic violence protection order against him. The abuser also pressed charges against her.

SHAPIRO: He accused her of larceny because when she took her children, she took some of their toys, and he claimed that she stole those toys.

DIEFENDERFER: Yes, there were a few items - the baby's crib, a video game item, cellphones. And he charged her with larceny, but also said that he was a victim of an assault the day that he attacked her 16-year-old son. The charges against her were - according to the public defender and the district attorney - were going to be dismissed because clearly they didn't want to prosecute a case that was basically bogus. It's really important to note that her son in no way has a criminal record or was there under any sort of criminal charges. He was there solely as a witness to testify against the abuser who had attacked him and his mother.

SHAPIRO: I know you say this tactic of filing charges against a domestic abuse victim is a common one and that these were retaliatory charges that were about to be thrown out. But from the perspective of ICE, does it make it more complicated that your client is a criminal defendant?

DIEFENDERFER: Yes, I would say it does make it more complicated. But as any sort of professional, you should be doing your due diligence. All of these matters are public record. Anyone can walk into a courthouse and search a name and see that there were charges against the abuser, charges against her. You'd even be able to look up that a protection order was issued for Maria against her abuser. So all of these facts should have been considered when deciding whether or not she's a danger to society.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that - looking beyond the case of Maria - this has implications for victims of crimes who might not be in the country legally and might have hesitation about reporting those crimes?

DIEFENDERFER: Absolutely, 100 percent. My office has worked with domestic violence victims for years. And anytime there is large ICE activity, whether it's a big enforcement action or even right after the presidential election, we see a dip in the number of people seeking help for domestic violence issues.

SHAPIRO: If someone came up to you and said, I'm not documented, but my spouse or boyfriend or fiance is physically hurting me; I want to press charges - given what happened to Maria, what would you advise them to do?

DIEFENDERFER: I would still say please, please, please call the police. You are absolutely limiting your options, immigration and otherwise, if you do not do so. Without reporting the crime, there is literally nothing you can do. And I always tell all of my clients - your physical safety is the number one concern.

SHAPIRO: Even if that might lead to deportation.

DIEFENDERFER: Which is terrifying, but yes.

SHAPIRO: So where does Maria's case stand now, and what's the latest you've heard from her?

DIEFENDERFER: At this time, Maria is in deportation proceedings. She received a notice to appear, which means that she will be given an immigration hearing date. We will have to attend that hearing and defend her case.

SHAPIRO: Lisa Diefenderfer is an attorney with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. Thank you for joining us today.

DIEFENDERFER: Thank you so much for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And in a statement to NPR, ICE said that this arrest was a targeted enforcement action following Maria's court appearance as the defendant on misdemeanor criminal charges, adding that this courtroom arrest policy is not new. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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