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Irvin Gonzalez, a 33-year-old undocumented transgender woman, who was arrested at a courthouse in Texas while seeking protection from a violent ex-boyfriend is facing 10 years in federal prison because of her immigration status, reported The Huffington Post.
A federal grand jury indicted Gonzalez Wednesday with one felony count of illegal reentry into the United States. She has been deported five times dating back to 2011 and has six criminal convictions, reported federal authorities.
The Huffington Post reported that Gonzalez's arrest on Februrary 9 caused concern among immigration experts and advocates who work with victims of domestic abuse because they are afraid this will prevent more undocumented women from reporting abuse and could put their lives in danger. When Gonzalez was arrested she was living at a domestic violence shelter in El Paso. She had previously filed three police reports about her ex-boyfriend, who she said had punched, kicked and strangled her. She told police that he had chased her with a knife.
Gonzalez told The New Yorker she lived in fear because her ex-boyfriend, Mario De Avila, threatened her and said she could not report him to the police because they wouldn't believe her because she is undocumented and he is a citizen. According to the Huffington Post, federal agents say they picked up Gonzalez because she was under investigation alongside her ex-boyfriend for falsifying money orders, and she had allegedly told police about an upcoming court date regarding that case. Gonzalez believes it was her ex-boyfriend who reported her to immigration officials.
The 33-year-old has been in jail since the day she was arrested and her lawyer, Melissa Untereker, says that she is being denied hormone therapy, which she has been taking for the past two years. She was given her first access to it Tuesday after being denied access for two weeks. Gonzalez's lawyer told the Huffington Post that she did not feel safe living in Mexico as a transgender woman, and that she has plans to apply for a U-Visa, which is a visa for "victims of qualifying crimes who cooperate with law enforcement during an investigation."
Gonzalez's felony reentry charge usually carries a maximum sentence of two years but because of her criminal record, the sentence could be longer. In 2015, Gonzalez was "convicted of both illegal reentry and possession of stolen mail. She also has convictions for false imprisonment, domestic battery and probation violation," reported the site. Her lawyer told the site that she felt "local reporting had focused unfairly on her criminal history." "Gay and transgender people are more likely to become homeless, have problems getting employment and experience other forms of discrimination -- all leading toward more encounters with police," Untereker told the Huffington Post.