Federal immigration officials have relented on deporting a Los Angeles woman who called 911 to report that her boyfriend was beating her up.
Isaura Garcia, 20, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, made the desperate call for help in February, according to her lawyer, Jennie Pasquarella of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Garcia, who has a year-old baby daughter, Stacy, had endured repeated beatings at the hands of her boyfriend Ricardo Leos, 19, also an illegal immigrant, according to Pasquarella. He is now in jail in Los Angeles on a vehicular manslaughter charge stemming from a fatal DUI in March, according to the Los Angeles sheriff's office.
Leos had kicked Garcia out the house, the lawyer said, but while he was at work she returned to the building, where her mother also lives, to see her baby.
While she was there, Leos came back and Garcia "panicked" and called 911, Pasquarella said. Police came, but when Leos alleged that his girlfriend was the batterer and showed a scratch on his neck, "they took the handcuffs off Ricardo and put them on Isaura and at that moment she fainted."
Garcia was taken to the hospital where a doctor found bruises on her body. Two days later, the police charges against Garcia were dismissed.
But her arrest triggered deportation procedures under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Secure Communities program, which sends fingerprints of anyone arrested to the Department of Homeland Security for immigration checks.
After a press conference on the case Thursday, ICE backed down. "This action conforms with the policy (Immigration and Customs) is in the process of finalizing that would guide how the agency uses its prosecutorial discretion in removal cases involving the victims and witnesses of crime, including domestic violence," the agency said in a statement.
When Garcia learned the news, her lawyer said, "She said, 'I've been praying to God this would happen, and now he heard my prayers.'"
The Secure Communities program has sparked controversy in a number of U.S. states and cities. Illinois has pulled out, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the American Immigration Lawyers Association have asked President Obama to suspend the initiative.
"We are very concerned about the way this program is impacting the immigrant community in Los Angeles and around the country," Pasquarella said. "If people fear calling the police, it will significantly impact the ability of our police to fight crime."
But immigration officials say the two-year-old program has led to the removal of 72,000 undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes, a third of whom committed violent offenses.