Two teens arrested last week on charges stemming from a horrific murder in Maryland were supposed to be deported last year, but Prince George’s police refused to turn them over to ICE, the immigration agency said Tuesday.
Authorities say the teens, Josue Rafael Fuentes-Ponce, 16, and Joel Ernesto Escobar, 17, feared being ratted out for an April robbery so they and an accomplice made a 14-year-old suspected snitch strip, then beat her with a baseball bat and chopped her with a machete.
The girl’s body was found in a creek earlier this month.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in a pointed statement Tuesday, said the crime could have been averted but for Prince George’s County’s sanctuary city policy.
Both Josue and Joel were in county custody last year on attempted murder charges from another crime, ICE said.
The agency placed a detainer on them, which means it asked the county to notify deportation officers when the teens were to be released, so ICE could pick them up for removal from the country.
The county defied the request, ICE says.
“These individuals had demonstrated violent criminal behavior before, and because they were released in spite of the lawful detainer, they were afforded an opportunity to take a life,” said Diane Witte, director of Baltimore’s ICE Field Office.
ICE has placed new detainers.
Prince George’s Department of Corrections’ phone wasn’t answered when The Washington Times called to seek comment. An email sent to the director was answered by a spokesman who said he was looking into ICE’s claims.
ICE said Josue came to the U.S. in late 2015 with his family — part of the surge of migrant families from Central America who have overwhelmed the border in recent years.
Under the Obama administration the family was paroled into the U.S. to await its immigration case. Like many other families, Josue didn’t show for his hearing and was ordered deported in absentia — but he ignored the order, ICE said.
Joel entered the U.S. in 2016 as an Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC), the other part of the new border surge, ICE said.
Under the law he was quickly sent from Homeland Security to the federal Health Department, which released him to a relative in the Washington, D.C. area.
Immigration analysts say Prince George’s County is a sanctuary jurisdiction. Under a 2014 Department of Corrections policy it refuses to cooperate with ICE detainer requests.
The department says it would cooperate if ICE obtained a warrant. But since deportation is a civil matter and not a criminal matter ICE says there’s no avenue to get such a warrant, so communities that demand warrants are effectively shutting down cooperation.
The Washington area has long had a large Central American population, making it one of the top destinations for new families and UAC involved in the surge.
And Prince George’s County has led the region.
Over the last five and a half years the federal government has placed more than 5,650 UAC in the county, taxing community schools and, security experts say, creating a breeding ground for gang recruitment.
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