U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested a known “Sureños 13” gang member who had been previously deported four times after he was released from the Travis County Jail. ICE says they were not notified of the release despite an immigration detainer, but the Travis County Sheriff's Office says otherwise.
ICE said in a release that Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero, 33, was arrested by Enforcement and Removal Operations officers arrested at an Austin residence on July 14, but did not provide details. The federal agency said it filed a detainer request with the Travis County Jail on June 16, and that he was released from the jail the same day without ICE’s knowledge.
In a statement, the Travis County Sheriff's Office said they notified ICE of the declined detainer request on July 16 at 2:41 p.m.
TCSO said a judge ordered that Mendoza-Caballero be released on a personal recognizance bond.
"He departed the Travis County Jail at 8:52 p.m., giving ICE a full six hours to provide a court order or warrant, indicating probable cause for his transfer to their custody. No such judicial documents were provided, though court ordered removal documents are currently provided on a routine basis and honored," the statement said. "It is unfortunate that once again, ICE has presented inaccurate information in what appears to be an effort to publicly shame agencies with which it disagrees. Open communication between the Travis County Jail and ICE is a daily, if not hourly occurrence. A simple phone call or email would have clarified their error privately and professionally."
On Wednesday, ICE released a statement challenging TCSO's claim. They said they placed the detainer on Mendoza-Caballero and TCSO declined the detainer. ICE said they asked TCSO to reconsider, emphasizing Mendoza-Caballero's criminal history, but TCSO released him without notifying ICE.
"TCSO ultimately released this criminal alien to the streets, thereby potentially compromising the safety of the community it has sworn to serve and protect," ICE said.
Mendoza-Caballero was convicted in 2008 in Hopkins County, Texas for stealing a firearm, and ICE said his most recent deportation was in 2013.
“As a nation, we must protect the integrity of our immigration system by removing illegal aliens, especially those with a criminal history — this is one of ICE's top priorities,” said Daniel Bible, field office director San Antonio, in a statement. “ICE officers and the individual neighborhoods are placed at risk each time an ICE officer is forced to pick up an alien who could have safely been turned over to us by the releasing law enforcement agency. In the interest of public safety, ICE continually strives to strengthen its relationships with local law enforcement agencies.”
Mendoza-Caballero is facing felony charges in U.S. District Court for illegally re-entering the United States after being deported, and is in the custody of U.S. Marshals. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
According to KVUE’s partners at the Austin American-Statesman, Mendoza-Caballero was booked into the Travis County Jail on a misdemeanor charge of assault causing bodily injury and violating a city ordinance. Jail authorities confirm to the Statesman that an ICE detainer was filed on him when he was arrested.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced in early 2017 that the jail will honor ICE detainers under certain circumstances.