Feds scold state over undocumented immigrant’s release

Guatemalan national arrested for child sexual assault in Providence goes on the lam, re-captured by ERO Boston

Posted 2/20/24

UPDATED: The defendant has been identified by prosecutors as Manuel Garcia Dela Cruz.

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Feds scold state over undocumented immigrant’s release

Guatemalan national arrested for child sexual assault in Providence goes on the lam, re-captured by ERO Boston


UPDATED: A Guatemalan national was arrested last year in Providence for alleged sexual assault of a child. He was incarcerated briefly and then released last spring despite a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) order to keep him in custody.

He enjoyed nearly 10 months of freedom.

Last week, federal officials announced the man’s re-arrest via press release. And the press release headline contained a stinging rebuke for Ocean State prison and court officials: “Local jurisdiction ignored ICE detainer and released the Guatemalan national.”

Gov. Dan McKee’s office deferred comment on the case to the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC).

The Rhode Island State Senate Minority Leader has called for an immediate hearing with sworn testimony.

And the Ocean State’s Attorney General’s Office says the inmate’s 2023 release “should not have happened,” and called for a review of the incident by the DOC and the Department of Public Safety.

On Feb. 15, U.S. Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Boston announced the arrest of a “Guatemalan national charged with child sexual assault in Rhode Island.” ERO called out the Adult Correctional Institute (ACI) in Cranston, where the suspect had been detained, until the facility “ignored the ICE detainer and released him.”

Calls to ACI Warden Sergio DeSousarosa were referred to J.R. Ventura, Chief of Information & Public Relations, and Public Information Officer for the DOC, who provided an “official statement” on the ERO’s claims Monday afternoon.

“The inmate in question was discharged from court, not from the ACI,” according to Ventura. “When inmates leave our custody to go to court, they are remanded to the custody of the Sheriff’s Office for transport. We are exclusively responsible for custody at the ACI. The court decides what happens to inmates and their sentences.”

ERO made the arrest on Feb. 6. The agency didn’t release the man’s name, age or residing address at the time of arrest. Federal officials said only that the defendant is facing pending child molestation charges in Providence.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s office argued the case during a hearing, in an attempt to keep the defendant in custody. The AG’s Office provided a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“The issue of bail in this very serious matter was the subject of a full evidentiary hearing before the district court last year,” according to AG spokesman Brian Hodge. “At the conclusion of that hearing, this Office argued that the Court should order the defendant held without bail, on the grounds that the defendant posed a danger to the community and was a flight risk. The Court, not withstanding that it found that the state’s evidence established that the proof of guilt was evident and the presumption of guilt great, ordered that the defendant be released on surety bail of $50,000, over the objection of this Office. The defendant apparently posted that bail and was released directly from the courthouse notwithstanding the lodged federal immigration detainer. Plainly, that should not have happened and there should be a review by the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety of why it did.”

ERO Boston provided what little information it had on the suspect’s entry into the country.

“The Guatemalan national unlawfully entered the United States on an unknown date at an unknown location without being inspected, admitted or paroled by an immigration official,” according to the federal agency.

Providence Police arrested the man in March 2023. He was charged with felony child molestation and incarcerated at the ACI.

“Shortly after his arrest, ERO Boston lodged an immigration detainer against the Guatemalan citizen with the (ACI), where he was being detained,” according to the ERO press release. “The facility ignored the ICE detainer and released him in April 2023 by order of the Sixth District Court of Providence.”

The suspect’s case in Rhode Island is pending.

“This Guatemalan national has disregarded U.S. immigration laws and has been charged with horrific crimes against a Rhode Island child,” said ERO Boston Field Office Director Todd M. Lyons. “We will continue to apprehend and remove egregious offenders who prey on the most vulnerable in our society. The men and women of ERO Boston remain dedicated to the safety of the residents of our New England communities.”

According to ERO Boston, the suspect will “remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings before a federal immigration judge with the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). EOIR is a separate entity from the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. Immigration judges in these courts make decisions based on the merits of each individual case, determining if a noncitizen is subject to a final order of removal or eligible for certain forms of relief from removal.”

In 2014, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee set a new policy for the Ocean State, directing the RIDOC to no longer honor federal immigration detainers without a warrant. McKee’s office refused to clarify whether that policy remains in place eight years later.

According to Ventura, the DOC does still follow then-Gov. Chafee’s policy: “Yes, RIDOC follows the 2014 directive.”

The defendant has been identified by prosecutors as Manuel Garcia Dela Cruz.

On April 26, 2023, District Court Associate Judge Joseph Terence Houlihan “set bail at $50,000 with surety over the State’s objection,” according to Neronha’s office. “The defendant posted bail that same day and was released.”

Five months later, the case was presented to the Statewide Grand Jury.

“On Sept. 11, 2023, the grand jury returned an indictment charging the defendant with one count each of first- and second-degree child molestation,” according to a Sept. 13, 2023 press release from the AG’s office.

Rhode Island Superior Court Associate Justice Maureen B. Keough arraigned the defendant on Oct. 4, 2023, and released him on the same bail, according to prosecutors.

Republican Rhode Island State Sen. Jessica de la Cruz (District 23, representing Burrillville, Glocester and North Smithfield), the senate’s Minority Leader, has been making inquiries in an effort to learn more details of this particular case.

“I am appalled that a Guatemalan national was released from the ACI despite a lawfully lodged immigration detainer,” de la Cruz responded via email Tuesday. “We know his release wasn’t long after he was charged with a heinous crime against a child. At this point we do not know how this massive failure occurred. To that end, I have filed a public records request with the (RIDOC) as well as the RI Division of Sheriffs and I am conferring with the Senate Oversight Chairman about convening an immediate hearing with sworn testimony by the directors of both agencies.”

She provided screenshots of her public record requests.

“A federal immigration detainer serves as a request for advance notification of release and a request to hold the subject for period of time enabling ICE to take custody,” argues de la Cruz. “When criminal non-citizens are released from local or state custody despite a detainer, they have the opportunity to reoffend and the public is at risk. ICE lodges detainers on individuals who have been arrested on serious criminal charges who ICE has probable cause to believe are removable non-citizens. Thankfully the suspect was arrested in Boston the other day by ICE Enforcement & Removal Officers but it remains to be seen if the suspect preyed upon more children in the 10 months he was at large. I will do everything in my power to get answers.”


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