A Southern California man who was detained by immigration officials while taking his pregnant wife to deliver their baby on Wednesday was wanted in Mexico on homicide charges, authorities said.
Joel Arrona-Lara, 36, was taken into custody in San Bernardino after stopping for gas with his wife and being questioned by two agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
His wife, Maria del Carmen Venegas, who was headed to a scheduled cesarean section, told Univision that her husband was taken away after failing to provide identification, which she said he had forgotten at home in their haste. She insisted that her husband had never been in trouble with the law before, including a traffic ticket.
“We don’t know what happened,” she said.
In a statement obtained by HuffPost on Sunday, a representative for ICE said that Arrona-Lara was the subject of an “outstanding warrant issued for his arrest in Mexico on homicide charges.”
“Mr. Arrona-Lara is currently in ICE custody pending removal proceedings with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR),” the statement said. “ICE continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”
Arrona-Lara is listed as one of three men wanted for a 2006 murder in Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday, citing a copy of the warrant.
The victim, Miguel Ángel Morales Rodríguez, also known as “El Garcia,” was fatally beaten in Leon, Guanajuato, according to a release from the Guanajuato attorney general’s office. The other two men listed as wanted for the man’s death are identified as Julio Cesar Arrona-Lara, or “El Chikis,” and Roberto Arrona-Lara, or “El Rigo.”
The arresting agents had been conducting surveillance on Arrona-Lara before taking him into custody at the gas station, according to the Times’ report. The agents said they were not aware the couple was heading to the hospital but that they were confident that Arrona-Lara’s wife was able to continue on her way after the arrest.
When reached by ABC News over the weekend, Arrona-Lara’s legal defense team said it will continue to seek his release and that he denies any wrongdoing.
“Mr. Arrona denies any criminal history in Mexico and he is unaware of any criminal proceedings in Mexico in which he is named as a defendant,” his defense team said in a statement. “The family denies allegations as well. In the charging documents he is charged with being in the country without documents. He is not in extradition proceedings.”
Venegas, speaking with The Associated Press from the hospital, said she came to the U.S. with her husband 12 years ago from the city of Leon in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato.
She said they do not have legal authorization to live in the U.S., and all five of their children are U.S. citizens. Her husband is the sole provider of the family.
This story has been updated to include confirmation of the arrest warrant in the LA Times’ report.