A survivor of the 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting who was assisting law enforcement officials with the case has been deported by ICE following an arrest during a traffic stop, according to lawyers with the Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services (DMRS).
The woman, identified only as Rosa to protect her identity, was arrested at a traffic stop by El Paso Police for two outstanding 2015 traffic citations last Wednesday, DMRS said. She was booked into the El Paso County Jail and turned over to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The agency deported Rosa to Ciudad Juárez on Friday morning.
Rosa survived the mass shooting at Walmart in August 2019, where at least 22 people were killed. Police said at the time that the shooter admitted to targeting “Mexicans,” and described the shooting as a hate crime.
Rosa told KTSM that she and her sister witnessed the shooter attack the first victim outside the store, and she cooperated with the FBI and local authorities to provide information about the case.
Anna Hey, the deputy director and attorney at law for DMRS, which is representing Rosa, told BuzzFeed News in a Saturday interview that Rosa had received a certification from the El Paso District Attorney’s office that said she was helpful in the investigation around the shooting.
The certification would allow Rosa to apply for a U Visa, which allows victims of crimes who are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in investigations and prosecutions to remain in the United States for four years.
“Rosa is a survivor of one of the most horrific events to ever take place in El Paso. She came forward and presented herself to both El Paso police and FBI officials to give a statement of what she saw on that fateful day,” Hey also said in a separate statement, adding that ICE officials nevertheless deported her based on a years-old order.
Hey said that the coronavirus pandemic had slowed down the process of obtaining documents to apply for the visa, but they were moving forward with the application with the documentation they had.
“I’m hoping they’ll join us in advocating for her return,” Hey said of the district attorney’s office. “She was very nervous as an undocumented person going to the police to report what she knew. I offered to attend the appointment with her and both the El Paso Police Department and the FBI were present and asked questions, and I distinctly remember one of the agents that was there mentioning the information she had provided had not yet been previously corroborated.”
“Any witness that might have material information should be eligible to remain in the United States while the final entry of judgment against the person who committed this heinous crime is decided,” Hey added.
The El Paso District Attorney’s office is run by the newly-elected DA Yvonne Rosales, who has faced questions about the decrease in staff numbers at the start of her term. In a video posted in early December, James Montoya, a former Assistant District Attorney who ran against Rosales, said that 50 staff members at the office were expected to be let go by the start of 2021, 30 of them prosecutors.
Rosales also said that 25% of the staff would not return when she begins her term, the El Paso Times reported, and prosecutors were concerned about how that would impact pending cases like the 2019 mass shooting at Walmart.
The district attorney’s office and ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rosa’s arrest and deportation came after a Trump-appointed judge in Texas temporarily blocked the Biden administration from moving forward with a 100-day pause on deportations for many undocumented immigrants who have final orders of removal last Tuesday.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents Texas’ 16th congressional district, tweeted that she is “supporting” DMRS’ efforts in advocating for Rosa’s return the United States and that she’ll “do everything I can to bring Rosa home and fight to protect victims and witnesses from deportation.”
“I have my whole life [in El Paso]. I got there when I was little — I don’t remember anything about Juarez,” Rosa, who said she grew up in El Paso and attended high school there, told KTSM in an interview.
“This decision amounts to a re-victimization of this young lady, who only came forward to help build the case against the shooter in the racist attack,” Hey said about ICE’s decision to deport Rosa.
Hey said she expecting to hear from the district attorney’s office this week about Rosa’s visa application.
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