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Democratic congressman 'disturbed' by ICE courthouse arrest of illegal immigrant with multiple criminal convictions

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He says the arrest 'may have a detrimental impact on our local justice system'

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A Democratic House member said he was "disturbed" by Immigration and Customs Enforcement's arrest of an illegal immigrant with multiple criminal convictions because it happened at a courthouse.

"I was disturbed to learn that ICE arrested Ericka Gonzalez Zuniga at the Hidalgo County Courthouse yesterday," Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) said in a statement Friday. "While lawful, this lacked forethought, incites fear in our community, and may have a detrimental impact on our local justice system."

Gonzalez went on to say that he would work with ICE and local officials in order to "develop appropriate protocols that prevent this from happening again."

Zuniga's arrest became a point of controversy because it was conducted at a South Texas courthouse after her son was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2018 drunk-driving death of a Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office dispatcher, the Monitor of McAllen, Texas, explained.

ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said in a statement to the Monitor that Zuniga "was issued a final order of removal by a federal immigration judge on January 4, 2005, and has multiple illegal entries into the United States" and that she had multiple convictions for theft between 2003 and 2010 as well.

Also, KRGV-TV reports that in July 2014 she confessed to stealing stealing four pairs of shoes from a sporting goods store and subsequently pleaded guilty to property theft charges, which was made a felony due to her prior theft convictions. The outlet also notes that she has been arrested over six times under multiple names over the course of the last two decades.

ICE's arrests of illegal immigrants at courthouses have become one of several hot-button enforcement issues amid the Trump administration's immigration enforcement efforts in recent years. In response to ICE's efforts, officials in multiple states and lower jurisdictions around the country have been trying to keep immigration agents from doing their jobs at courthouses for some time now. Critics — such as the American Civil Liberties Union — say that such arrests spread fear among illegal immigrant communities and hinder judicial operations.

ICE has repeatedly asserted that, per current policy, courthouses are not considered "sensitive locations" such as churches and schools, where enforcement operations are typically discouraged. Additionally, acting ICE Director Matthew Albence has said that courthouses are often the only place where immigration officials can catch illegal immigrants when local law governments won't cooperate.

"The fact that we have to arrest people in courthouses is largely necessitated by the fact that law enforcement agencies will not honor our detainers," Albence explained at a September press briefing. "Four or five years ago, before this whole sanctuary city issue exploded, we didn't really have to go into court rooms because we'd be able to get the individual while they're sitting in the custody of another law enforcement agency."

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