Local outrage over an illegal immigrant's recent arrest in the elevator of a Texas county courthouse could soon give way to resignation, as the new normal of President Trump's tough new border policy sinks in in the Lone Star State and around the nation.
Juan Coronilla-Guerrero was appearing in an Austin court for what his lawyer described as a routine hearing on misdemeanor charges when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents nabbed him. Coronilla-Guerrero's charges might not have been serious, but he had been previously deported, was here illegally and was facing assault and drug charges.
Federal officials likely considered a courthouse the safest and easiest place to make an arrest.
“What if they have a weapon on them in the streets and there are kids around?" said Chris Harris, a veteran Border Patrol agent. "At least in the courthouse the individual would have gone through a metal detector, and it is a confined and controlled space that would actually enhance public safety."
Yet the incident touched off anger in Austin.
“ICE's presence in our courthouses will harm any trust our immigrant families place in the court system," Austin City Councilwoman Delia Garza said in a statement. “If families are fearful of attending any required court appearances, they could face dire consequences like losing custody of their children or obtaining a restraining order from an abusive spouse.”
Detaining illegal immigrants while they are in the courthouse -- or other places where they once felt safe -- has become a flashpoint in the country’s controversial immigration debate.
Critics see Coronilla-Guerrero’s arrest as an infringement on rights of the immigrant community.
Others see it as something else: the new reality.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to crack down on illegal immigrants with criminal records living in the United States. That pledge was the cornerstone of his presidential campaign.
But now that he’s carrying out his promises, illegal immigrant rights groups are crying foul.
“This will have a chilling effect on our judicial branch of government’s ability to operate effectively,” Garza said. “Because of actions like this, people will fear going to court dates as victims, witnesses or defendants. When families live in fear, we all lose."
All across the country, incidents like Coronilla-Guerrero’s have sparked national outrage among groups in favor of lax immigration enforcement. Some have even tried to block ICE enforcement efforts by helping immigrants who are on the verge of being apprehended.
An Oregon judge is under investigation for an incident in January where she allegedly helped an illegal immigrant evade ICE agents waiting for him to leave the courtroom. Multnomah County Judge Monica Herranz allegedly allowed Diddier Pacheco Salazar, 22, who was in her court for a DUI hearing, to leave through an employee exit.
Salazar was eventually arrested a few weeks later. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon is reportedly looking into the matter.
U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said in a CNN video interview last week that he was disappointed that someone whose job it is to enforce the law helped a suspected lawbreaker evade federal authorities.
“I felt that it was inappropriate,” Williams told CNN, “and delegitimizes the work of ICE agents who are out there doing their jobs.”
Herranz did not reply to a request from FoxNews.com seeking comment as to whether she advocates civil disobedience to obstruct ICE’s mission.
The recent immigration tactics have provoked a sharp divide in the immigration debate. While President Obama was criticized by immigration groups and even dubbed “deporter-in-chief” by many, his stance on the issue was far more lenient than Trump’s. Those with a tough stance on illegal immigration have trumpeted Trump’s moves -- but others are taking a much more introspective view of it.
Peter Treece, manager of the Magnolia Café in the liberal-leaning Austin, recently took a moment from the morning breakfast rush to ponder the president’s push to remove criminal immigrants from America’s streets.
“Of course we should remove criminals,” Treece said, “but that could be a slippery slope.”
When people think of criminal immigrants who would be targeted in the Trump administration, many may think of the case in Long Island, where 13 MS-13 gang suspects -- 10 of whom are illegal immigrants -- were recently indicted for the brutal murders of three teens.
But what does not seem so clear-cut is what other type of immigrants also will become targets.
Ray Mayo, executive director of the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens in Long Island, said he has seen firsthand how criminal immigrants can decimate a community.
Still, even his position is pragmatic.
“Most immigrants don't understand what ‘criminals’ ICE is attempting to round up,” Mayo said. “They know they are in the country illegally so they think they are considered criminals also subject to apprehension under the current guidelines.”
He said those who are hard-working and law-abiding should be more clearly distinguished from real criminals -- the killers or rapists.
Mayo said his organization has intervened with law enforcement on behalf of illegal immigrants who have been victimized by MS-13 members. He said this is a major concern among many in the community who feel that “good” immigrants will be alienated from law enforcement at a time when they are needed most to help break up the grip of MS-13 in their community.
Just last year, according to Mayo, ICE was doing a criminal sweep in Brentwood and word quickly spread via social media -- which forced many immigrants to go into hiding.
Mayo said there needs to be a better job to differentiate within the immigrant communities what type of “criminals” are being sought out for orders of deportation.
Harris, the former Border Patrol agent, also said the administration should clearly identify what type of illegal immigrants they are going after. Not outlining that, he said, could cause mass confusion.
He said immigration sweeps, or the perception of sweeps, are counter-productive and would alienate the entire community. Plus, he said, it would feed into the activists’ agenda.
“For the first six months we need to just go after the violent criminal aliens like gang members,” he said, “and people will hopefully see the benefit of enforcing the law.”