María del Carmen Venegas says husband Joel was handcuffed after they stopped for gas on the way for planned C-section
A woman from California said she had to drive herself to the hospital to give birth alone, after her husband was arrested by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or Ice.
María del Carmen Venegas told a Spanish-language TV station, KMEX-TV, that she and her husband, Joel Arrona–Lara, 36, were driving to the hospital for a planned C–section on Wednesday when they stopped for gas in San Bernardino, just east of Los Angeles.
Surveillance footage obtained by several media outlets showed two vehicles immediately flank the couple’s van after they pulled into the gas station. Ice agents questioned the couple and asked for identification, Venegas said. She was able to provide hers but said Arrona had left his at home. The surveillance footage showed the agents handcuffing Arrona and taking him away, leaving a sobbing Venegas alone.
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Venegas remains at the hospital, where she gave birth to a son, her fifth child, the oldest now 13.
Speaking to the Associated Press from hospital, holding her newborn son Damian as he cried, Venegas said: “I feel terrible. We need him now more than ever.”
Venegas told the AP she and her husband came to the US 12 years ago from the city of León in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. They do not have legal authorization to live in the US but all five of their children are US citizens, she said. Venegas said her husband was a hard worker and the sole provider of the family.
In a statement to KMEX-LA, Ice spokeswoman Lori Haley said: “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, California. Mr Arrona–Lara is currently in Ice custody pending removal proceedings with the Executive Office for Immigration Review.”
Haley later issued a statement in which she said Arrona “was brought to Ice’s attention due to an outstanding warrant issued for his arrest in Mexico on homicide charge”.
Though the Ice Fugitive Operations Team prioritizes arresting immigrants who are transnational gang members, child sex offenders and those with previous convictions for violent crimes, the agency’s statement said it “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,” the statement said.
Ice arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions have spiked 203% during Donald Trump’s first 14 months in office, NBC reported this week. Some cases have attracted national attention. In June, for example, pizza deliveryman Pablo Villavicencio was detained while delivering a bulk lunch order to the Fort Hamilton military base in Brooklyn, New York.
Shortly after taking office in January 2017, Trump signed an executive order that stopped exempting “classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement”. In April 2018, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, ordered federal prosecutors on the US-Mexico border to adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy towards undocumented immigration, a hardline approach that lead to the separation of thousands of families.
Venegas’s attorney, Emilio Amaya García, director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, did not immediately return a request for comment. But he told KMEX–TV Arrona–Lara was “not who Ice were looking for”.
“Both the mother and child’s life, who is a citizen of this country, were put in danger,” Amaya García told the TV station. “It reflects the ignorance and lack of common sense behind the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy, that does not consider humane reasoning.”
The lawyer said he will file a motion on Monday for an immigration court to set a bail hearing for Arrona and will ask that his removal proceedings be canceled.