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This sends a horrifying message: a woman seeking help escaping an abusive relationship was instead arrested by the ICE.

According to the Washington Post, the woman had been driven to the El Paso courthouse by a victim’s advocate from a local shelter for a hearing to obtain a protective order against her abusive boyfriend. Instead, she was arrested by six Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officials.

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The El Paso Times writes that the woman is trans and an undocumented immigrant.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told the Washington Post that the ICE likely received a tip from the woman's abusive boyfriend. The woman had a prior criminal record and had been previously deported, but had no outstanding state warrants; Bernal said that it was the first time in her 23 years at the courthouse that ICE agents have staked out a protective order hearing. According to New York magazine, the woman is currently being held at the El Paso County Jail under a federal ICE detainer.

“It really was a stunning event. It has an incredible chilling effect for all undocumented victims of any crime in our community,” Bernal said.

Bernal also told the El Paso Times that undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence are already reluctant to seek help and that this will make things even worse.

“Our clients come to us at the lowest point in their lives,” she said. “Many of them are so frightened of coming to us because of possible immigration concerns.”

District Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez oversees the court that issued the woman’s protective order. She told the El Paso Times that it isn’t uncommon for abusers to threaten to report their undocumented partners to immigration officials as a means of control and urged ICE to stay out of family court.

The ICE’s actions mean that victims of domestic violence now have to choose between staying in an abusive relationship or risking being deported.

top photo via ice.gov

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Erika W. Smith is BUST's digital editorial director. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erikawynn and email her at erikawsmith@bust.com.

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