The couple was trying to flee.
Federal immigration agents had just shown up at the two farmworkers’ residence in Delano, Calif., on March 13, thinking it belonged to a Mexican citizen they wanted to arrest, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said at the time. And the man who had left the house had matched “the target’s description,” officials said.
The couple drove off in an SUV, so ICE agents went after them. What came next was a fatal car crash, and a narrative from ICE with discrepancies about what happened.
According to ICE officials, the agents attempted to stop the SUV. The driver at first pulled over, but then sped away once the agents exited their vehicle. As he was speeding, the driver lost control of the vehicle, veered into a dirt shoulder and rammed into a power pole, according to the Delano Police Department.
The SUV flipped onto its roof, and its two occupants — 35-year-old Santos Hilario Garcia and 33-year-old Marcelina Garcia Profecto — were pronounced dead at the scene.
ICE officials said Garcia wasn’t the man they wanted to arrest. But he was a Mexican citizen who returned to the country three times between 2008 and 2017, then was removed from the United States again last year. When asked if that meant ICE had an active final order of removal for Garcia, officials said that was not necessarily the case. They did not elaborate.
One month later, the couple’s deaths have become another battleground in a war between California and the federal officials cracking down on immigrants who live there illegally. And although ICE officials have maintained they weren’t looking to arrest the parents of six, police note discrepancies in their accounts of what happened.
In March, ICE officials told police that they did not have emergency lights activated on their respective vehicles. But video surveillance obtained by Delano police shows the agents’ vehicles speeding down West Cecil Avenue, traveling in the same direction as the couple’s vehicle, with their emergency lights on, police said in a statement Wednesday.
Based on the discrepancies in the ICE agents’ statements, the traffic collision report has been forwarded to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. Charges against the agents have been requested for their violation of California Vehicle Code section 31, which states, “No person shall give, either orally or in writing, information to a peace officer while in the performance of his duties under the provision of this code when such person knows that the information is false.”
ICE officials could not be immediately reached by The Post for comment. Spokesman Richard Rocha in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times Monday said, “Per routine protocol, at the time of the incident, the facts surrounding the encounter were referred for review and that review is ongoing.”
“While this was an isolated and extremely unfortunate incident, ICE wants to encourage all individuals we encounter to fully cooperate with our law enforcement officers,” Rocha said.
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.
Yet, since Trump took office, many immigrants who were previously allowed to stay found themselves swept up by ICE, as reported by The Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti.
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. In February, tensions between federal and state officials came to a head after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tipped off residents of the city to possible ICE raids.
Hundreds attended a memorial service for Garcia and Garcia Profecto last week, the Los Angeles Times reported. One Delano resident, Susana Ortiz, told the newspaper that she did not know the couple, but said that what happened to them “could happen to any one of us.”
“People are scared, because they’re leaving their kids and they don’t know if they’re going to come back,” she said.