Maria del Carmen Venegas was on her way to deliver a baby boy, her fifth child, by Caesarean section in a planned operation Wednesday afternoon. Her husband, Joel Arrona-Lara, was driving her car to the hospital.
Two SUVs swooped in to block the vehicle at a San Bernardino, California, gas station. They belonged to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the agents asked for Venegas’ identification, she later told CBS Los Angeles. She complied. The agents also asked for Arrona’s identification.
The couple was in a hurry when they left, and his ID was at home, Venegas told Univision affiliate KMEX. The agents searched the car and led Arrona away in handcuffs, leaving his wife stranded and frantic.
After a version of this story published Saturday afternoon, ICE officials released previously undisclosed details about Arrona’s arrest. He is wanted in Mexico under a warrant issued for homicide charges, ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said, which brought the attention of agents. Details about the homicide charges were not immediately available.
Venegas drove herself to the hospital and delivered her baby, she told local media. Surveillance video from inside the store shows her crying and distraught.
Arrona is a Mexican national illegally living in the country and has been detained pending removal proceedings, ICE Lori Haley told The Washington Post on Saturday.
"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," Haley said.
Arrona’s legal representative, Emilio Amaya García, told The Post he believed Arrona was not suspected of crimes within the United States, but did not say if he was suspected of crimes elsewhere. He is representing Arrona through San Bernardino Community Service Center, a nonprofit group.
His concern was how the arrest affected Venegas. She had preeclampsia, he said, a pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure. The couple explained the condition to the agents, he believes.
"They left her alone," he told The Post on Saturday. "They put the well-being and safety of the mother and baby at risk."
Garcia said Venegas remains in the hospital.
Haley declined to say whether the arresting agents considered delaying Arrona’s arrest until after the birth or could have escorted Venegas to the hospital, given her condition. She also declined to provide any regulations either allowing or prohibiting such agent-level decisions.
ICE has ramped up arrests under the Trump administration following executive orders that directed the agency to pursue any undocumented alien in the country. Given budget and resource constraints, ICE had previously used what it called "prosecutorial discretion" to bypass nonviolent offenders in favor of criminals and recent migrants.
That has changed since President Trump took office.
"If you’re in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable, then-ICE director Thomas D. Homan told lawmakers in June 2017. "You should look over your shoulder."
The Trump administration has also removed protections from certain classes to align with the executive orders. For instance, the administration in March rescinded an Obama-era directive that generally ordered immigration officials to release pregnant women from custody.