A man allegedly wanted in Mexico on homicide charges was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Wednesday while he and his pregnant wife were on their way to the hospital, where she was due to give birth, the woman and her husband’s legal representative told multiple media outlets.
“I never thought that they would take him like that, handcuff him, and that they would leave me stranded at the gas station,” Maria del Carmen Venegas, 32, told NBC Los Angeles in Spanish.
While en route to the hospital for a planned cesarean section, Joel Arrona-Lara, 36, and his wife Venegas were approached by agents after they stopped at a gas station in San Bernadino, California, she explained to USA Today.
In an interview with The New York Times, Venegas claimed that the ICE agents asked to see their identification, but her husband did not have his driver’s license on him at the time.
Surveillance video from the gas station shows Arrona-Lara taken away in handcuffs and Venegas breaking down in tears.
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, ICE spokesperson Lori Haley said that Arrona-Lara had been taken into custody because of “an outstanding warrant issued for his arrest in Mexico on homicide charges,” adding that he is “currently in ICE custody pending removal proceedings with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).”
Continuing, the spokesperson alluded to the Trump administration’s immigration policies: “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.”
Multiple outlets reported that ICE’s initial statement on the arrest did not mention the alleged homicide charges.
Emilio Amaya of the Community Services Center of San Bernardino, who is representing Arrona-Lara, told CBS2 that after getting in touch with the Mexican consulate, he has not been able to confirm ICE’s claim that his client is wanted on homicide charges, and that Arrona-Lara’s detention papers indicate he is in custody for being in the U.S. without documentation.
“According to the family, he has no criminal history in Mexico, and we did our own search through Mexican channels and we didn’t find anything under his name,” Amaya told the Times.
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ICE’s statement did not mention Venegas’ medical condition — which Amaya said was not a concern to officers during the arrest.
“Even though the officers knew that she was pregnant, they didn’t really care and they still proceeded to do the arrest,” Amaya told the Times. “So for us, on top of the unjustified arrest is the fact that they compromised the well-being of the child and the wife.”
By Sunday evening, a GoFundMe page set up to assist the family had raised $6,796, exceeding the $5,000 goal.
“[ICE agents] left her at the gas station to fend for herself,” Amaya told USA Today of Venegas. “The hospital is about two miles from the gas station. She actually ended up driving by herself to the hospital.”
Venegas later gave birth to a boy, whom Arrona-Lara has not yet met because the father of five is being held at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California, the Times reported.