The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A couple died in a car crash while fleeing ICE agents in California, authorities say

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are seen during an early-morning operation in this 2015 photo. (LM Otero/AP)

Two farmworkers were killed in a car crash Tuesday after trying to flee from federal immigration agents who had appeared at the couple’s residence in California’s Central Valley, authorities said.

Just before 7 a.m. Tuesday, deportation officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived at a house in Delano, Calif., thinking it belonged to a Mexican citizen they wanted to arrest, ICE spokeswoman Jennifer D. Elzea said.

A man “matching the target’s description” emerged from the house and got into an SUV, according to Elzea and local police.

When the agents attempted to stop the SUV, its driver pulled over at first — but sped away after the ICE officers got out of their vehicle, Elzea said.

The driver of the SUV, who apparently lost control of the car as he was speeding, veered onto a dirt shoulder and rammed into a power pole, according to the Delano Police Department.

The ICE agents came across the vehicle, which had flipped onto its roof, and called 911 immediately, Elzea said.

The SUV’s two occupants, 35-year-old Santos Hilario Garcia and 33-year-old Marcelina Garcia Profecto, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

ICE said Garcia was not the man they had originally wanted to arrest.

Fact Checker: Trump’s claim that sanctuary cities ‘breed crime’

ICE said Garcia was a Mexican citizen who was voluntarily returned to the country three times between 2008 and 2017, then removed from the United States again last year. When asked to clarify if that meant ICE had an active final order of removal for Garcia, the agency said that was not necessarily the case but did not give more details.

Garcia Profecto did not have any previous encounters with ICE, the agency said.

Delano, an agricultural city about 30 miles northwest of Bakersfield, is known for having been the focal point of historic strikes in the 1960s by Filipino and Latino farmworkers pushing for better working conditions.

On Wednesday, the day after the deadly crash, photos showed about two dozen mourners gathered on the dirt shoulder where the couple had died.

A small cluster of flowers and prayer candles had formed by the side of the road, just in front of acres of farmland.

Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers labor union, identified the deceased couple as farmworkers who left behind six children, ages 8 to 18.

“What occurred was a tragic accident,” Rodriguez told reporters as he stood near where the couple had died.

In the background, the rush of passing traffic could be heard.

Defiance, resistance: The front lines of California’s war against the Trump administration

“Marcelina and Santos left their home yesterday morning, just going out and looking out for work,” he said. “They wanted to provide for their six children.”

Rodriguez said relatives of the Garcia family were discussing how best to take care of the surviving children.

“It’s extremely sad when you see the women and the men that work so hard every day to harvest our fruits and vegetables being exploited by our government and by people who don’t value and don’t respect the contributions they make to our county, our area, the state and this country,” he said.

As The Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti reported, left-leaning California has become the epicenter of resistance to the Trump administration and its policies, particularly with regard to immigration.

Shortly after he was elected, Donald Trump vowed to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants right after his inauguration, saying the focus would be on those with criminal records.

Since Trump took office, however, many immigrants who were previously allowed to stay found themselves swept up by ICE.

ICE named in lawsuit filed by ACLU over asylum seekers

Several California officials, from representatives to mayors across the state, have since spoken out against Trump and vowed to fight back against such immigration sweeps, in part to protect its economy, the sixth largest in the world.

“California thrives because we welcome immigrants and innovators from across the globe,” Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, wrote to the White House in a letter criticizing Trump’s proposed border wall.

Tensions between federal and state officials came to a head last month after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tipped off residents of the city to possible ICE raids.

Last week, the Justice Department sued California for allegedly violating the Constitution with “sanctuary” policies that protect undocumented immigrants.

On his first visit to California as president, Trump slammed officials there for allowing the state to go “totally out of control.”

“You have sanctuary cities where you have criminals living in sanctuary cities, and then the mayor of Oakland goes out and notifies when ICE is going in to pick them up,” Trump told reporters in San Diego Tuesday as he visited border wall prototypes. “People are going to start to move pretty soon. If you don’t have this kind of wall, drugs are pouring through in California. Can’t do it.”

The White House has said they are focused on deporting undocumented immigrants who "pose a threat to this country." (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Read more:

A chemistry professor got his kids ready for school. Then ICE arrested him on his front lawn.

ICE planned to deport a man whose child has leukemia. So he took sanctuary in a church.

A government worker says he didn’t want to help ICE deport immigrants. So he quit.