Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested a relative of a man sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday for killing a Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher.
ICE confirmed it arrested Ericka Gonzalez Zuniga, 42, a Mexican citizen, at the Hidalgo County Courthouse for being illegally present in the United States.
Sources indicate the arrest followed the sentencing of her son, Orlando Zuniga Rodriguez, who was convicted earlier this week of one count of intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle for the Dec. 9, 2018, crash that resulted in the death of Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher Sandra Coronado.
The arrest followed an emotional hearing where Sandra’s mother, Mary Coronado, broke down crying while reading a victim impact statement.
Zuniga Rodriguez’s mother and family were allowed some time with the man before he was taken away.
It’s not immediately clear how soon the arrest occurred after the family left the courtroom.
However, video published by KRGV-TV taken right outside the courtroom shows a young man in tears, saying “[Expletive] the system, it keeps taking my family, bro.”
The Monitor observed the young man sitting with Zuniga Rodriguez’s family during the sentencing.
In a statement, ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said the woman has multiple convictions for theft between 2003 and 2010.
“She was issued a final order of removal by a federal immigration judge on January 4, 2005, and has multiple illegal entries into the United States,” Pruneda said in the statement.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said his office had no prior knowledge of ICE’s plans to arrest the woman.
“I want to make it perfectly clear that the DA’s office had no participation in the arrest of the person at the courthouse,” Rodriguez said.
The DA stressed that point about having no knowledge of the plans to arrest the woman.
“And I want to make that very clear because again the fear that is put in individuals coming forward to participate in dispensing of justice makes it very difficult,” Rodriguez said.
He added that victims are protected under the federal law under in the state of Texas and here in Hidalgo County and he stressed that people should not fear coming forward and reporting a crime or coming to the District Attorney’s office to participate in the criminal justice system.
Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said his office, which runs security at the courthouse and transports prisoners, also had no idea ICE was going to conduct an operation.
While the sheriff’s department supports ICE’s mission, he said agency arrests at the courthouse cause problems.
That’s because Guerra said they want to make sure someone who is called to testify in a case who may have immigration issues, isn’t afraid to show up because ICE is arresting people at the courthouse.
Alternatively, Guerra said he doesn’t want someone’s immigration status being used against them in court proceedings.
Pruneda said in the statement that courthouses are not considered sensitive locations. Exceptions include schools, places of worship and hospitals.
“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,” Pruneda said in the statement.
The video published by KRGV was recorded in a corridor of the first floor of the Hidalgo County Courthouse, which gets a lot of foot traffic.
Like Guerra, Rodriguez said he’s not questioning the work that ICE does, but has concerns when it happens in the halls of the courthouse.
“I’m not questioning the work they have to do, it’s more of a concern where it was done, the place it was done, at the courthouse, as to the criminal justice system,” Rodriguez said, believing local law enforcement agencies are also affected in their attempts to bring in victims and witnesses in their investigations.
Monitor staff writer Michael Rodriguez contributed to this report.