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McKee disputes ICE, Attorney General, accounts of migrant suspect’s release

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(The Center Square) — Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee is disputing federal and state authorities’ accounts of the circumstances that led to the release of a Guatemalan national accused of molesting a child.

In a statement, McKee’s office ripped what it called “false” claims by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Attorney General Peter Neronha that the state “ignored” an immigration detainer and released the man, identified as Manuel Garcia Dela Cruz, on bail.

“Far from ‘ignoring’ ICE’s detainer, the Division of Sheriffs notified ICE on April 26, 2023, that Mr. Garcia Dela Cruz had posted bail and would soon be released by the Rhode Island District Court,” the statement said. “The responding ICE agent said that ICE was short staffed and would not be able to pick up Mr. Garcia Dela Cruz.”

McKee, a Democrat, said the sheriff’s office holding Garcia Dela Cruz “had no choice but to honor the court’s bail order” to release the man, whom ICE says entered the U.S illegally and committed “horrific crimes” against a Rhode Island child.

The governor’s statement also criticized Neronha’s comments blasting the man’s release despite the ICE detainer as “unfounded.”

“They gave the false impression that Mr. Garcia Dela Cruz’s release was as a result of some act or omission on the part of either DOC or the Division of Sheriffs, rather than as a result of Constitutional constraints and ICE staffing problems,” McKee said.

Earlier this week, Neronha issued a statement saying he requested that the man be held without bail, but a state judge overrode his concerns and let him go on bail. He demanded a review of the decisions that led to his release.

Providence police arrested the Guatemalan national in March 2023 and charged him with felony child molestation, according to the AG’s office.

Federal immigration officials say shortly after his arrest, the Enforcement and Removal Operation Boston filed an immigration detainer with the Adult Correctional Institute in Cranston, Rhode Island, where the man was being detained. But they said the facility “ignored” the ICE detainer and released him under a court order last April.

ICE said the man unlawfully entered the United States on an unknown date at an undisclosed location “without being inspected, admitted or paroled by an immigration official.” He has since been apprehended and will remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings before a federal immigration judge, authorities said.

Rhode Island has been a sanctuary state since 2014, when then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee made the official declaration. That policy, which has never been codified in state law, instructed the state Department of Corrections to stop honoring immigration detainers without a warrant.

McKee’s statement also pointed to a 2014 federal court decision that held that Rhode Island cannot hold a person in custody based upon an ICE detainer. The ruling said that would violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and expose the state to liability.

Neronha was the U.S. Attorney at the time of the federal court decision, and the Department of Justice defended the individual ICE officials implicated in the lawsuit.

“As such, Attorney General Neronha was undoubtedly aware of the decision’s impact on federal and state law enforcement,” McKee’s statement said.

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