What should have been a day of joy ended up being filled with worry and uncertainty as a father has not been able to seen his newborn baby after immigration agents arrested him on the way to the hospital. Joel Arrona Lara, a 36-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was driving his wife, María del Carmen Venegas, to the hospital in San Bernardino, California on Wednesday. They were headed for a scheduled Cesarean section when they had to stop to get gas. At that point, officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) surrounded the car and asked Venegas for an identification. She gave it to them. But when Arrona said he didn’t have any ID on him, things quickly took a turn.
Venegas told Univision that she thought officers would understand she needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible, but that was far from the case. “They asked him to get out [of the car], that they would check him and that’s when they put him in handcuffs and took him away,” Venegas said, noting her husband doesn’t have a criminal record and has never been deported. She only found out they were ICE agents when they handed her their card with a number she could call for more information on the case.
(Update on Sunday Aug. 19 at 1:10 a.m.: On Saturday afternoon, ICE detailed that Arrona, a Mexican national, was wanted in Mexico under an arrest warrant issued on homicide charges. “Mr. Arrona-Lara was brought to ICE’s attention due to an outstanding warrant issued for his arrest in Mexico on homicide charges,” ICE said in a statement, without detailing the charges. The agency had previously not said anything about a warrant and his family disputes the claim. “Using the name and date of birth, we couldn’t find anything saying he was in any criminal proceedings,” Arrona’s lawyer, Emilio Amaya García, said.)
Security video shows Venegas visibly distraught but she had no other choice but to drive herself to the hospital and undergo the procedure, adding one more layer of worries to the birth of her baby after she had been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition. The couple have four other children aged between two and 13.
Arrona’s lawyer, Emilio Amaya García, noted that this was a perfect example of the “lack of sensitivity” in the “zero tolerance” approach to immigration that is espoused by the Trump administration. “In this case they didn’t just put at risk the life of the mother, but also that of the child, who is a citizen of the country,” he said. The lawyer described the detention as a “collateral arrest” because Arrona “wasn’t the person ICE was looking for.”
In a statement, ICE confirmed the arrest and never mentioned whether Arrona had any kind of criminal record but made clear that was not a reason to prevent officers from detaining a man who was driving his pregnant wife to the hospital:
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.”