Feds looking for undocumented convicted felon

There is more fallout from Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’ policy on immigration holds.

As Fox 7 has reported, more than a dozen people charged with violent crimes, including crimes against children, were able to bond out of the Travis County Jail on February 1 as their crimes were not on Sheriff Hernandez’ list of offenses that qualified for a federal immigration hold request.

Fox 7 has confirmed a convicted felon who is undocumented and had been deported 3 times was also able to bond out on February 1, as he did not qualify for an ICE detainer either.

Immigration officials have confirmed  an 8 USC 1326 federal warrant was issued for Santos Cruz-Garcia’s arrest on February 3. They say he had illegally re-entered the US after deportation. A timeline of Cruz-Garcia’s history in Texas is listed below:

  • Immigration officials confirm Cruz-Garcia was not documented when he entered the US at least 7 years ago
  • He was charged with Aggravated Assault with a deadly weapon in 2006, but was not arrested by Austin Police until October 24, 2009
  • January 22, 2010: Cruz-Garcia takes a plea deal, in exchange for a lesser charge: Class A Assault
  • February 12, 2010: immigration judge orders deportation
  • February 17, 2010: removed to Mexico
  • Date unknown: attempts to re-enter Texas
  • June 4, 2012: removed to Mexico
  • Date unknown: returns to Texas
  • August 7, 2014: Austin Police arrest Santos-Cruz Garcia, charging him with Assault with Injury, a 3rd degree felony
  • January 15, 2015: Cruz-Garcia waives a trial and pleads guilty to Assault Family violence-enhanced, a 2nd degree felony and is sentenced to 2 years in TDCJ
  • August 15, 2016: removed to Mexico
  • Date unknown: returns to Texas
  • January 7, 2017: Travis County Deputies arrest Cruz-Garcia for Burglary of a Building, a state jail felony
  • Bond set at $10,000; Immigration hold request issued
  • February 1, 2017: Detainer request denied
  • February 1, 2017: Cruz-Garcia released on a Personal Recognizance bond
  • Febraury 3, 2017: 8 USC 1326 federal warrant issued, for illegal re-entry into the US after deportation
  • March 2, 2017: Cruz-Garcia not in custody

“It still comes down to the fact protect your citizens do what you are supposed to do and the field of professional law enforcement,” says Jackson County Sheriff Andy Louderback. He’s also the Legislative Director for The Sheriff’s Association of Texas. Louderback is one of many elected officials calling on Hernandez to do away with her policy and honor all Immigration hold requests.

When Cruz was initially arrested, and a detainer request was issued, Cruz-Garcia’s bond had been set at $10,000. But once the detainer was denied, he  was released on a Personal Recognizance bond. “There’s no dollars, there’s no surety involved in that simply that you promise to appear back as a person,” Louderback says, fearing Cruz-Garcia may be much harder to find. “This is a classic example of a bad policy that's allowing criminals into the community into Travis county and I'm not sure he's still in Travis County. He could be in any part of Texas or the rest of the country,”

A federal warrant was issued for Cruz-Garcia's arrest on February 3. On Thursday, Immigration Officials confirmed ICE is now working in conjunction with agents from the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force to track Cruz-Garcia down.

“Now ICE has to send an ERO team to get him into federal custody,” says Louderback, adding that because she didn’t honor the request, unnecessary additional resources are being used to find him. “You also have contributed to resources here in your own county. Austin Police Department, Travis County Sheriff's Office. The DPS troopers who are here in your county working if they come across this person.”

And Louderback adds that because she isn’t honoring the requests, law enforcement must go into the community to actively search. “It’s true that there are collaterals are being picked up. There are people associating with a criminal that ICE has a warrant for they are picking up,” he says adding, “if you are going to release them here, then what other, what would you have ICE do? They are going to have to come to the county and try pick those folks up. That’s a public safety issue, that’s a criminal issue that they are now dealing with. A cause and effect of a policy can certainly have a negative outcome in your community and this is what we are seeing here in Travis County.”

“I find it hard to believe that our Sheriff would not honor an ice hold for someone that's charged with a felony,” says Thomas Esparza, junior. A former judge and an immigration expert, Esparza has been practicing immigration law for more than three decades.

While he isn't sold on the idea of Hernandez honoring all detainers, he does think there are flaws in her system.

“She should review her policy because these folks need to be reviewed individually,” he says. And he says especially suspects charged with major crimes. “It’s incumbent upon us to protect the victims in Travis county, to protect the integrity of our justice system to scrutinize each and every one of those, especially charged with a felony.”

After Fox 7 was first to report a detainer was denied for a man charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl, Sheriff Hernandez added crimes against children or elderly to the list of charges that qualify for an immigration hold under her new policy. Previously, detainers were only honored for Capital Murder, Murder, Aggravated Sexual Assault, and Human Trafficking.

Hernandez also says she is reviewing each detainer request on a case by case basis and will “exercise discretion in any individual case to ensure that justice served,” as per item 9 in the TSCO ICE Policy.

Esparza says it’s also incumbent on other decision makers to ensure the proper bar is set to fit the charges. “It's not just the Sheriff,” he says, highlighting, in his opinion another important issue, “it's the people who sign the bonds, it's the judge's that need to be more demanding.”

But Louderback maintains is starts in the jail, and he has one message for Sheriffs in Texas: do your job and follow the law.

“It still comes down to the fact protect your citizens,” he says adding, “do what you are supposed to do and the field of professional law enforcement.”

Sheriff Hernandez sent the following statement to Fox 7 about the Cruz-Garcia’s case:

"Travis County is proudly one of the safest counties in our country.  As with any other county, it is not the job of the Sheriff to set bond amounts or conditions. That is the role of magistrates/judges.  No warrant for Mr. Cruz-Garcia was sent to our agency by ICE.  If we had received a warrant, we would have honored it as we do with any other law enforcement agency." 

Santos Cruz-Garcia is scheduled to appear in a Travis County court on March 28, 2017, at 9am. His attorney has not returned Fox 7’s requests for comment.

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