News Article Details

ICE drops detainer for Austin woman jailed after mental health call

Austin American-Statesman - 8/4/2018

Aug. 04--Federal immigration officials on Friday dropped their request to detain an Austin woman who was jailed and charged two weeks ago with assault on a public servant while she was experiencing a mental health crisis.

The American-Statesman first covered Tania Silva's case last month after she was arrested July 19. After several people reported Silva was having a mental health crisis, she told Austin police she wanted to hurt herself, court documents said. One of the officers who responded began calling local hospitals to find a bed for her, police said.

Officers handcuffed her based on previous aggressive behavior described by 911 callers, police said. After she was cuffed, she kicked one officer twice in the midsection, then dug her nails into the officer's forearm, causing a small cut, an arrest affidavit said.

As a result, she was charged with assault on a public servant, a second-degree felony, and booked into the Travis County Jail. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials then issued a detainer, or a formal request to continue holding an immigrant inmate who otherwise would be released.

Silva's family and friends declined to share her immigration status, but ICE officials said she is from Mexico.

After Silva's arrest, members of the Austin-based Workers Defense Project, a workers rights and immigration reform group, began urging state and local leaders to release her, saying they were concerned about how someone in the midst of a mental health crisis would fare in jail.

Dozens of organizations joined political leaders, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, in the campaign to demand that ICE drop the hold and get Silva into hospital care.

Silva, 21, was released Friday on a personal recognizance bond, which does not require payment, Travis County sheriff's office spokeswoman Kristen Dark said. Silva still faces the assault charge.

Her immigration attorney, former Texas House candidate Chito Vela, negotiated with ICE officials to drop the detainer, according to people with the Workers Defense Project.

Silva, who has schizophrenia, is now in an Austin hospital, where her immediate family got to see her for the first time since her arrest, said her 18-year-old sister, Pamela.

Tania is "mentally and physically in a bad space," but the family is still relieved she's out of jail, Pamela Silva said.

"What (Tania) needed was a hospital, not a jail," she said.

Emily Timm, a senior organizer with the Workers Defense Project, said she and others also were relieved to see Tania Silva released.

"This is a clear example of how people have the power to fight back against SB 4 and other attacks on immigrant families," Timm said, referring to Texas Senate Bill 4, which bans so-called sanctuary cities from restricting assistance to federal immigration agents.

Before SB 4 became law last year, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez had sought to limit cooperation on detainer requests to inmates charged with violent crimes such as sexual assault and murder. Hernandez would have challenged Tania Silva's ICE detainer had SB 4 not been law, Dark said.

Timm said her group was "grateful for the support of the community, and we applaud local elected officials like Sheriff Hernandez and Rep. Lloyd Doggett for standing up against these anti-immigrant policies that go against our local values."

Dark confirmed that Sheriff Hernandez did speak to ICE officials about Silva's situation.

Tania Silva graduated from Lanier High School in the top 10 percent of her class and is studying at Austin Community College to become a veterinarian, according to her sister and members of Workers Defense Project.

"Hopefully from here she can recover, go back to school and follow her dreams," her sister said.

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(c)2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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