New ICE tac­tic? Im­mi­grant is ar­rested at court­house

At­tor­ney: Client showed up for ap­pear­ance on mis­de­meanor charges.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Jankowski and Tony Plo­het­ski pjankowski@states­man.com tplo­het­ski@states­man.com

Fed­eral agents on Fri­day ar­rested an im­mi­grant sus­pected of be­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally at Travis County’s court­house in what ap­pears to be a new tac­tic by im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials.

De­fense at­tor­ney Daniel Betts con­firmed to the Amer­i­can-States­man that his client, Juan Coronilla-Guer­rero, was taken into cus­tody when he showed up for a court ap­pear­ance for two mis­de­meanor charges, as­sault-fam­ily vi­o­lence and pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana. He said Coronilla-Guer­rero was ar­rested in an el­e­va­tor at the Black­well-Thur­man Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Cen­ter.

Coronilla-Guer­rero was one of more than 30 im­mi­grants at the Travis County Jail who were re­leased in early Fe­bru­ary after Travis County Sher­iff Sally Her­nan-

dez im­ple­mented a new pol- icy greatly lim­it­ing co­op­er­a­tion with de­ten­tion re­quests from U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

Travis County has had an in­creas­ingly strained re­la­tion- ship with ICE in re­cent weeks over Her­nan­dez’s re­fusal to grant the ma­jor­ity of those re­quests — the sher­iff only holds in­mates for fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion checks if they are charged with one of four se­ri­ous felony crimes.

The court­house ar­rest reig- nited con­cerns about ICE op­er­a­tions in the Austin area and whether fed­eral immi- gra­tion agents would be­gin us­ing the court sys­tem as a net for peo­ple who might in the coun­try il­le­gally.

It also came at the end of the week when a hand­ful of lo­cal of­fi­cials met with ICE to ask if Austin is be­ing tar­geted for ex­tra en­force­ment be­cause of the sher­iff’s pol­icy, which led Gov. Greg Ab­bott to with­hold $1.5 mil­lion in grant money from Travis County ear­lier this year.

“We need agree­ment from ICE that ad­min­is­tra­tion of crim­i­nal jus­tice is presumed to be a higher pur­pose than ad­min­is­tra­tion of im­mi­gra­tion jus­tice,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eck­hardt said. “We need to­get agree­ment on a pro­to­col with ICE to in­form the judge, pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense in ad­vance so that we can bal­ance these com- pet­ing in­ter­ests of jus­tice.”

In mid-Fe­bru­ary, ICE agents con­ducted a ma­jor op­er­a­tion in the Austin area that led to the ar­rests of 51 peo­ple — 28 of whom were deemed “non-crim­i­nals” by the agency, mean­ing they had no crimi n al record. Oth­ers had con­vic­tions that ranged from drunken driv- ing to homi­cide.

Of­fi­cials said agents didn’t an­nounce their pres­ence at the court­house Fri­day or no­tify the judge pre­sid­ing over Coronilla-Guer­rero’s case of their in­ten­tions.

“It struck me as ex­traor- di­nary,” said Betts, who added that Coronilla-Guer- rero was in court ex­pressly to re­solve the mis­de­meanor charges so he wouldn’t run into prob­lems with im­mi­gra- tion en­force­ment. “I told my client a week and a half ago that I didn’t think ICE would be at the courts, but we see how that turned out.”

Fed­eral court doc­u­ments show that Coronilla-Guer­rero was de­ported from the U.S. in 2008. On Fri­day, agents filed a fed­eral charge of il­le­gal re-en­try against him; the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice asked that he be held with­out bail.

Coronilla-Guer­rero’s wife de­cried the ar­rest.

“He wanted to do the right thing, and he ap­peared at his sec­ond court date,” said Coronilla-Guer­rero’s wife, who wished to re­main anony­mous be­cause she fears reprisals from im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials. “He didn’t even get to say good­bye to me, or to his son be­cause now we don’t even know where he is go­ing to be.”

Coronilla-Guer­rero, 26, was atthe court for a rou­tine pre­trial ap­pear­ance, Betts said. While in the court­room, at­tor­ney Ge­orge Lobb spot­ted two men in plain­clothes whom he rec­og­nized as ICE agents. When he ap­proached them, they showed him pa­per­work in­di­cat­ing that they in­tended to de­tain Coronilla-Guer­rero.

“I have talked to var­i­ous judges to­day, and no one can re­mem­ber this type of oc­cur­rence ever hap­pen­ing with ICE agents be­fore — though con­sta­bles and deputies do some­times ar­rest peo­ple at the court­houses on out­stand­ing war­rants when they are here on other mat­ters,” state Dis­trict Judge Amy Clark Meachum said. “But they have al­ways done so (as far as I am aware) with first no­ti­fy­ing the sher­iff ’s depart­ment and the judge with what is hap­pen­ing.”

She wrote that she and other judges are hop­ing to meet with crim­i­nal court judges and Her­nan­dez to “de­ter­mine how we want to han­dle this in the fu­ture. We have to as­sume ICE is go­ing to show up again.”

As­sis­tant County At­tor­ney Dan Hamre said pros­e­cu­tors will re­view Coronilla-Guer­rero’s case in com­ing days to de­ter­mine whether they want to try to get him back in county cus­tody from ICE to move for­ward with the case.

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