In one recent case, after two previous deportations, a Mexican national returned to Harris County and for a third time was arrested and charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).
The Texan has confirmed that on December 8, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers lodged an immigration detainer with the Harris County Jail for Mario Cruz-Garcia, “a 40-year-old criminal alien and repeat immigration violator from Mexico, following his third arrest for DWI.” Cruz-Garcia has previously been convicted of DWI in Harris County, Texas on March 30, 2011, and August 29, 2016.
After his second arrest, ICE placed him into immigration proceedings.
According to the agency, an immigration judge from the Executive Office for Immigration Review then granted Cruz-Garcia voluntary departure from the United States and he returned to Mexico on December 22, 2016. He then illegally reentered the U.S. six days later near Hidalgo, Texas, where he was apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol (BP) and processed as an expedited removal. By January of 2017, he was removed to Mexico.
On December 7 of this year, Cruz Garcia was once again arrested, and since this was his third offense, he was charged with felony DWI. County records indicate that court-appointed counsel from the Harris County Public Defender’s office requested bail of $5,000, but the 185th District Court under Judge Jason Luong set bail at $10,000, and since Cruz Garcia has an ICE hold, personal bond was not approved.
Documents also indicate that on his second arrest, the suspect blew a 0.24 on a breathalyzer test; well above the Texas legal limit of 0.08.
Although ICE has issued a detainer, aliens processed for removal are eligible for legal due process from federal immigration judges in the immigration courts, which are administered by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). Immigration judges make decisions based on the merits of each individual case, and ICE officers carry out the removal decisions made by the federal immigration judges.
By placing a detainer with law enforcement agencies, ICE seeks to take custody of aliens if they are released from local custody for any reason (e.g., post bond, charges dropped, or released on their own recognizance).
Although Cruz Garcia is accused of DWI, the leading cause of traffic fatalities in the Houston region, gang and drug cartel members also take advantage of a more fluid southern border.
In anticipation of a shift in border security policies under a Biden administration, the Texas Public Policy Foundation recently conducted a multi-day simulation exercise to examine what the first nine months of 2021 might yield.
According to a report on the exercise released Monday, expectations of a softened approach will likely motivate new waves of immigrants to move across the southern border. TPPF predicts this could trigger an escalation in cartel violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and incentivize drug traffickers to shift to production of carfentanyl, an opioid 100 times as potent as fentanyl, with disturbing consequences for Americans.
“Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget the state of our southern border in early 2017 when President Trump took office—and easy to forget the hard work against much opposition to reduce the tragedy of human trafficking and the smuggling of deadly drugs,” said TPPF Executive Director Kevin Roberts in a written statement. “Our border crisis simulation showed how quickly those gains could be lost in the coming months.”
Last month officers with ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Houston arrested and deported an El Salvadoran national and documented MS-13 gang member who had been in the country for more than six years, and federal courts have sought to intervene in cases involving illegal immigrants engaging in more violent crimes.
It is unclear however as to how often ICE is notified when illegal immigrants are booked into the Harris County jail system. Although so-called “sanctuary” cities or counties are prohibited under state law, in 2017 Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez announced that his department would end the federal 287 (G) program under which deputies were trained to identify suspects with deportation orders.
Earlier this year, Harris County released a Honduran national with deportation orders on a $100 general order bond after his arrest for DWI and Failure to Stop and Give Information. After the suspect failed to appear for his January court date, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but his case is now merely listed as “inactive.”
Although Cruz Garcia is facing a third deportation, he may be eligible for taxpayer-funded legal defense in those proceedings due to a new program initiated by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. The county’s Immigrant Legal Services Fund will provide legal services to indigent individuals facing deportation, and the county is joining a network of cities and counties across the nation that are committed to providing representation to any immigrant regardless of their history with the criminal legal system.
Cruz Garcia remains in custody in the Harris County jail system at this time.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.