Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Saturday that they had arrested a man in San Bernardino, California -- allegedly wanted for murder in Mexico -- while he was driving his pregnant to the hospital.
But now, his family is saying that authorities arrested the wrong guy and that they may have been looking for his brother.
Surveillance video at a San Bernardino Arco station taken Wednesday and viewed by NBC News showed the moments before and after ICE agents hauled away Joel Arrona-Lara, 36, after he stopped for gas. He was with his wife, Maria del Carmen Venegas, who said they were on their way to a scheduled C-section operation when the arrest took place.
The agents asked the couple for identification, Venegas told NBC News, but Arrona-Lara did not have his papers on him at the time. She added that they told the couple the check would be done quickly and that they could soon continue to their destination.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it turned out, and her husband was arrested by ICE. Venegas, meanwhile, was forced to drive to the hospital solo and give birth without her husband present.
“I asked them why they separate good people, why they weren’t arresting people who do bad things, and I asked them to let us go,” Venegas told NBC News in Spanish on Saturday. “They told me they were only doing their job.”
In a statement delivered to NBC News, ICE said that Arrona-Lara, “a citizen of Mexico illegally residing in the United States … was brought to ICE’s attention due to an outstanding warrant issued for his arrest in Mexico on homicide charges.”
But his family, which now includes five children with the addition of the newborn, has disputed ICE’s claim, telling a local ABC affiliate in Fresno that agents arrested the wrong person.
“He’s never been in trouble, he’s never done any crime,” Venegas told ABC30 on Monday.
Arrona-Lara has been in the U.S. for 12 years, though he is undocumented. His attorney, Emilio Amaya Garcia, said on Sunday that he has been unable to confirm the existence of the Mexican arrest warrant ICE cited in their statement with the Mexican consulate.
“So far, we haven’t been able to verify anything,” he told CBS News on Sunday. On Monday, he maintained that he had still not seen any documents from Mexico.
Venegas and Garcia said that authorities could have actually been searching for Arrona-Lara’s brother, who has done time in jail in Mexico previously, the Associated Press reports.
Oxygen.com emailed ICE to inquire about the case but have not received a response at the time of publication.
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