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Woman arrested by ICE at Hidalgo County Courthouse will remain in federal custody

5 months 1 week 22 hours ago Saturday, February 01 2020 Feb 1, 2020 February 01, 2020 10:06 AM February 01, 2020 in News - Local
Erika Gonzalez Zuniga on June 14, 2014, when she was booked at the Hidalgo County jail. (Photo courtesy of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office.)

The woman arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Thursday waived her detention hearing and will remain in federal custody.

The Harlingen Fugitive Operations Unit arrested Erika Gonzalez Zuniga at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Thursday — minutes after her son, Orlando Zuniga Rodriguez, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The arrest caused a commotion at the courthouse and prompted a debate about whether or not ICE acted appropriately.

“Under ICE policy, courthouses are not considered sensitive locations,” according to a statement released Thursday by Nina Pruneda, an ICE spokeswoman. “In such instances where officers seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, for the safety of those involved.”

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, however, said the incident may damage the relationship between local law enforcement and people who aren’t legally present in the United States.

Many crime victims and witnesses aren’t legally present in the United States. If they’re afraid to appear in court — where ICE could arrest them for unrelated immigration offenses — prosecutors may be forced to dismiss cases.

Erika Gonzalez Zuniga went to the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Thursday because her son, Orlando Zuniga Rodriguez, was scheduled for sentencing in the 275th state district court.

State District Judge Marla Cuellar sentenced Orlando Zuniga Rodriguez to 20 years in prison. Minutes after he was sentenced, ICE arrested Erika Gonzalez Zuniga.

During the past two decades, Erika Gonzalez Zuniga had been arrested at least six times under different names. Hidalgo County jail records list her aliases as Sonia, Benita and Brenda.

In July 2014, she confessed to stealing four pairs of shoes from an Academy Sports + Outdoors store and pleaded guilty to theft of property worth less than $1,500. She had two prior convictions for theft, which made the charge a state jail felony.

Her criminal record also includes convictions for driving while intoxicated, failure to identify and tampering with government records.

She is now charged with re-entry by a deported alien.

“Record checks revealed the defendant was deported, excluded or removed from the United States to Mexico on September 29, 2014 via Laredo, Texas,” according to the federal criminal complaint against her. “The defendant was instructed not to return without permission from the Attorney General or the Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States.”

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