A group of protesters gathered at police headquarters Wednesday in support of a Guatemalan woman arrested by Deer Park Police and later turned over to Homeland Security. Supporters said Lucia Montes-Rodas was unlawfully detained for driving without a license, even though she had identification issued by the consular’s office.
Supporters of a Guatemalan woman arrested Monday by the Deer Park Police Department stated they have filed a formal complaint with the department after she was turned over to immigration authorities on outstanding Homeland Security warrants.
FIEL – Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle (Familias Immigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha) – say Lucia Montes-Rodas was arrested illegally before she was turned over to the Department of Homeland Security.
According to a DPPD press release, officers pulled over a black jeep at the 3000 block of Center Street at about 3:30 p.m. Monday for operating a motor vehicle without a front license plate. During the stop, officers determined Montes-Rodas, who was driving, was doing so without a driver’s license.
A computer check of the driver revealed that she had an outstanding failure to appear warrant issued through the Department of Homeland Security. Verbal confirmation of the warrant was obtained followed by a written detainer. Montes-Rodas was taken into custody for operating a vehicle without a license plate and no driver’s license.
The Department of Homeland Security took custody of Montes-Rodas from DPPD.
In a press release, ICE officials state Montes-Rodas was previously arrested by U.S. Border Patrol near Eagle Pass (Texas), after she illegally entered the United States in July 2003. When she failed to appear before an immigration judge in November 2003, she was issued a final order of removal. Montes-Rodas is currently in ICE custody pending removal from the United States.
Cesar Espinosa, FIEL Houston executive director, said Montes-Rodas was just passing through Deer Park and had a back license plate on the vehicle and provided identification.
“She did present a form of ID, which is her consulate ID,” he said. “We are getting mixed messages from Deer Park PD. They are saying that she was arrested for no driver’s license, but that doesn’t make sense because she did have a form of ID. We feel the stop should have just merited a ticket or tickets.”
“Then they bring her (to the Deer Park jail) and they find out she has an immigration hold, which she wasn’t aware of and the family wasn’t aware of. We believe it’s an unfair detainment that led to her being processed through immigration.”
Espinosa said he and the family are not sure of her whereabouts as she is still in process with immigration. Her family said they have not heard from her since she was taken by Homeland Security.
Montes-Rodas’ family and FIEL said they are filing a formal complaint regarding her arrest.
“We’re trying to figure out why she was arrested. We’re trying to make the community aware that they are going to be arresting people; there are people who are citizens who have consular IDs. We want transparency so that this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
“If you were stopped for driving without a driver’s license and you have another form of ID, you should be let go,” Espinosa said. “There shouldn’t be a distinction; all the law requires is to show a picture ID and the consular ID is a picture ID.”
DPPD Lt. Frank Hart said drivers found without a license are usually arrested for the charge. He said if the driver does not have a license, they often times are not insured, even though the vehicle may have insurance.
Complicating matters is if the unlicensed driver is released at the traffic stop, then the department is putting an unlicensed driver back on the street. In this case, Hart said, Montes-Rodas did not have a driver’s license issued from Texas or a Mexican state.
“A driver’s license from another state or country, that could have worked, but no form of identification can take the place of the driver’s license,” he said.
According to Espinosa, Montes-Rodas was transferred to immigration at about 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, which he said was close to 48 hours of unconstitutional detainment without a charge.
“Yesterday when we called, they said she no longer had charges here in Deer Park and she was being held for immigration,” he said.
While in custody of immigration officials, Espinosa said the family believes the process will begin for Montes-Rodas’ deportation back to Mexico. Once she begins processing through immigration, Espinosa said they will contact the Mexican consular’s office.
“She is a Mexican national, so we’re just waiting to see where she ends up,” he said.
“My fear is for to be deported and for immigration not let her speak to us beforehand,” said her daughter, Alejandra Garcia. “They can just send her off. When she gets there, she’ll be by herself. We just want her to be safe.”
Montes-Rodas’ family and FIEL filed the formal complaint with the department, but took issues with DPPD procedures, including allowing only her daughter to speak privately with police administrators.
“We feel that we were merited someone to come out and speak to us personally just because we deserve the same rights whether we are documented or undocumented as everybody. We’re taxpayers,” Espinosa said
He also said the group took issue with the complaint forms requiring the complainant’s social security number and place of employment.
“The form is very invasive. It asks many questions that if someone is undocumented, they may not feel comfortable or may feel they cannot fill it out,” Espinosa said.
Espinosa said the family’s supporters will follow up with an attorney before they make their next move. In the meantime, the group will be in contact with immigration officials to locate Montes-Rodas.