Updated Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at 9:30 AM EDT: A lawyer for an undocumented man arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as he was driving his pregnant wife to the hospital for a planned cesarean-section says the arrest is a result of mistaken identity.
Following the controversial arrest, which was caught on camera thanks to surveillance videos at a San Bernardino, Calif. gas station, ICE said the man they arrested, Joel Arrona Lara, was wanted on an outstanding arrest warrant in Mexico for homicide charges. On Monday, a Mexican official speaking to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity confirmed the charges.
But Arrona Lara’s lawyer, Emilio Amaya Garcia, says ICE may have mistaken Arrona Lara for his brother.
From the New York Post, which ran the AP story:
Authorities might have mistaken Arrona for his brother, who has done jail time in Mexico, Garcia and [his wife] said.
His client “denies any criminal history in Mexico and he is unaware of any criminal proceedings in Mexico in which he is named as a defendant,” Garcia told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Garcia said Monday that he still had not seen any court documents from Mexico.
Earlier, Garcia told KCBS-TV that ICE’s treatment of Arrona Lara’s pregnant wife, María del Carmen Venegas, was troubling. Carmen Venegas, who has a pregnancy disorder that causes high blood pressure and could lead to organ damage, had to drive herself to the hospital after her husband’s arrest.
“For us, the issue is not so much the arrest, but the fact that ICE acted in total disregard for health and the well-being of the mother,” he said.
The Mexican official who spoke to the AP could not confirm when the homicide occurred.
The latest high-profile ICE arrest seemed unbearably cruel, even given the current standards. In San Bernardino, Calif., a 36-year-old undocumented man was arrested last Wednesday while en route to taking his pregnant wife to a hospital for a C-section. As they pulled into a gas station, multiple ICE SUV’s surrounded Joel Arrona Lara and his wife, Maria del Carmen Venegas, detaining Arrona Lara after he failed to produce an ID.
According to BuzzFeed News, not only was Carmen Venegas not given an explanation for her husband’s arrest, but she had to drive herself the rest of the way to the hospital despite having preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that results in high blood pressure and, potentially, organ damage.
At first, ICE didn’t give a clear reason as to why Arrona Lara was brought in, supplying this stock explanation to BuzzFeed:
Mr. Arrona-Lara, a citizen of Mexico illegally residing in the United States, was taken into custody Wednesday by ICE Fugitive Operations Team officers in San Bernardino, Calif. Mr. Arrona-Lara is currently in ICE custody pending removal proceedings with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
ICE continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. However, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.
But after a public backlash to the arrest, on Saturday ICE released a statement claiming Arrona Lara is wanted on homicide charges in Mexico, a claim that his wife and lawyer deny.
USA Today reports that ICE released no details related to Arrona Lara’s arrest warrant, and his lawyer, Emilio Amaya, says he’s been unable to find any legal proceedings against Arrona Lara in Mexico.
Carmen Villegas says her husband, who has been in the United States for the past 12 years, is the sole provider for their family of five, including their newborn boy, according to ABC Eyewitness News
“He’s never been in trouble, he’s never done any crime,” she told ABC.
While ICE detainment and deportations aren’t unique to Donald Trump’s administration, never before has American immigration policy been so stringently and aggressively enforced within the country’s interior, not just along America’s borders. New directives have also made every undocumented immigrant a potential target for deportation, as ICE itself wrote in their first explanation of Arrona Lara’s arrest.
In an interview with Univision, Amaya called out ICE for potentially endangering the Camen Villegas’ life, as well as that of her child. He also insisted that his client was “collateral.”
“He wasn’t the person ICE was looking for,” Amaya said.