A man who was arrested in Harvey on an immigration warrant last year and then released from custody after advocacy groups cited his case as an alleged example of racial profiling has been deported to his native Honduras, where he faces charges of murdering a family member.
Laureano Garcia-Zelaya, 36, who had been portrayed as having no criminal past by organizations petitioning for his release, first became a fugitive and so-called “priority” for removal in the eyes of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2004 when he allegedly entered the United States illegally near Eagle Pass, Texas, and later failed to appear before an immigration judge.
The judge ordered Garcia-Zelaya deported, though he remained at large for several years, immigration officials said. According to an arrest warrant issued by the authorities in Honduras, Garcia-Zelaya returned there at some point after his brush with the Border Patrol in Texas and fatally shot a young woman.
It was not clear how she was related to Garcia-Zelaya.
ICE officers arrested Garcia-Zelaya in April 2013 in a “targeted enforcement operation” in Harvey. They checked his criminal history but found no indication of an outstanding murder warrant in Honduras, said Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman.
It wasn’t until later that a warrant appeared in the database of Interpol, the global police body.
After his arrest, advocacy groups sought to persuade ICE to delay his removal proceedings, Cox said, adding that the support included letters from “multiple elected officials.” Garcia-Zelaya was released in May 2013, but the authorities noticed in September 2014 that he was a wanted man.
ICE deported Garcia-Zelaya by plane on Friday to Honduras.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will continue to focus resources on violent criminals and other high-priority aliens who pose the greatest threat to our communities,” David Rivera, the director of removal operations in ICE’s New Orleans field office, said. “Criminals will not be allowed to use the United States as a haven to avoid criminal prosecution in their home country.”
The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, citing “a pattern of aggressive, unconstitutional enforcement programs by ICE in the region,” had petitioned the Department of Homeland Security in May to afford Garcia-Zelaya and several other undocumented immigrants a five-year stay of deportation in hopes that they would gain a pathway to citizenship.
“He has no criminal record and has deep ties to his community, but he has a prior deportation order,” the group said, alleging Garcia-Zelaya had been arrested in a “neighborhood sweep in a predominantly Latino apartment complex.”
A spokesman for the Workers’ Center could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Groups who lobbied ICE to release Garcia-Zelaya said he had lived in the United States for a decade and was “the proud father of two Louisiana citizen children.” The names of elected officials who petitioned for his release weren’t available Wednesday.
One online petition seeking his release described Garcia-Zelaya as an “honest, hard-working father who has dedicated his life and effort to the well-being of his children.”
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