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13 Investigates: El Paso County murder arrest highlights deportation process in Colorado

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- The United States Customers and Border Patrol report that more than 12,000 undocumented immigrants with prior criminal convictions have been arrested in the U.S. in 2022. This comes as the debate over America's immigration policies stays at the forefront of concern for local and national legislators.

Of those previous offenders, 13 Investigates has learned three of the four people charged with the murder of a Colorado Springs man in June are undocumented immigrants.

An El Paso County Murder Arrest

The three men, accused of killing 30-year-old Manuel Hernandez-Uribe, all also have criminal records.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office arrested Ector Sarabia-Cabrera, Isidrio Sarabia-Gonzalez, and Braulio Barron-Rubio on murder charges. According to an arrest affidavit obtained by 13 Investigates, the three men took Hernandez-Uribe from his home at gunpoint. They're then accused of driving him to Cheyenne Mountain, shooting him, killing him, and then dumping his body along Old Stage Rd. in unincorporated El Paso County on June 10.

A fourth person, Yessica Cortes-Barcenas, was also taken into custody and charged with Murder in the Second Degree, Second Degree Kidnaping, and First Degree Burglary.

Federal immigration sources told 13 Investigates the three male suspects entered the U.S. without detection from immigration authorities sometime in the last 20 years.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ector Sarabia-Cabrera entered the U.S. without inspection by an immigration official on an unknown date. His criminal history includes a conviction in Arapahoe County, Colorado, in March 2022 for marijuana cultivation. He was also convicted in January 2022, in Denver County for possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute as well as vehicle theft. A warrant for his arrest was issued from Denver County for failure to comply with the terms of his probation stemming from a conviction on drug charges.

On Jan. 19, 2016, ICE reports Isidrio Sarabia-Gonzalez entered the U.S. through Sasabe, Arizona, where he was apprehended. Sarabia-Gonzalez was given an Expedited Removal and ultimately removed through Nogales, Arizona, the same day. However, he returned without inspection by an immigration official on an unknown date. On Jan. 3, 2020, he was back in Colorado at the Arapahoe County Jail where he was held for various misdemeanor charges that are still pending.

According to ICE, Barron-Rubio was arrested on Sept. 20, 2006, at then-Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora during an enforcement action looking at several companies contracted to provide construction labor. He admitted to entering the U.S. on Oct. 8, 2006, by wading across the Rio Grande River, about five miles west of the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas. He was granted a voluntary return to Mexico and left that day.

On Oct. 11, 2006, he reentered the U.S. and was found in an SUV taking suspected undocumented non-citizens near the Fabens (Texas) Port of Entry. He was granted another voluntary return to Mexico.

On Aug. 4, 2022, he was arrested in Jefferson County on misdemeanor charges and contempt of court. He was arrested again on Oct. 13, 2022, for vehicle theft in Denver County.

Despite having prior criminal charges and convictions in Colorado, none have been deported. This is one of many cases immigration reform advocates say serves as proof that change is needed, specifically to Colorado state law.

However, others believe immigration reform is solely a federal issue.

What the numbers show

If convicted on murder charges, the three men would join the 528 undocumented immigrants housed in Colorado Department of Corrections facilities throughout the state. ICE has placed civil detainers, or a promise from ICE to assume custody of someone in the U.S. illegally, on the hundreds of people serving their sentences in Colorado.

However, 13 Investigates found the number of detainers being placed on DOC inmates has been cut in half since 2009. The orange line in the graph below shows the number of ICE detainers on immigrants in DOC prisons.

Via Colorado Department of Corrections

Spencer Raley, Director of Research for FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), said these numbers are hurting legal immigration at the federal level. A 2018 study conducted by the Marshall Project analyzed the connection between undocumented immigration and crime in the U.S. The data analysis concluded there was no correlation between a rise in undocumented immigrants entering the country and rising crime.

"If we had a secure border, if ICE and CBP were empowered to do their jobs, then the likelihood is high that these individuals wouldn't have made it back into the country," Raley said.

Colorado's current law

13 Investigates asked federal immigration sources why the three murder suspects could have criminal charges or convictions in Colorado, but never be deported. The federal immigration sources said it's difficult to locate them and detain them because of the Colorado law passed in the 2018 legislative session.

The law titled "Protect Colorado Residents From Federal Government Overreach" prevents local law enforcement from placing people in their county jails on 48 holds at the request of federal immigration authorities. 13 Investigates spoke with Adrienne Benavidez, a House member from Denver. She was a prime sponsor of the legislation.

"If you've been arrested and you're being held on some charge and you're in custody of the sheriff's office in jail, you're not being held on immigration matters under an arrest," Rep. Benavidez said.

Before the law, the 48-hour holds, or "ICE holds," were used when an undocumented immigrant could bond out of jail on state charges or be released once they served their time or their case was dismissed.

This allowed ICE to detain undocumented immigrants and place them in the custody of the federal government and house them in ICE facilities until appearing before an immigration judge.

Raley claims the existence of this law is a frustrating point for local law enforcement across Colorado.

"They understand that these individuals are highly probable to go back into society and commit more crimes that of course, they don't want to see that on their watch," Raley said. "This kind of became a way for state officials to handcuff their own law enforcement and continue to protect those immigration lawbreakers."

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder is currently being sued by at least one undocumented immigrant for allegedly being placed on an "ICE hold" in 2018. Benavidez argues the holds constituted an "unlawful detainer" largely because they violated the due process of our criminal justice system.

"The request that were coming from ICE were just simply requests," Rep. Benavidez said. "They were not signed by a judge or anyone else, and that was a real distinction. We don't do this for civil law. That's not our role." 

Rep. Benavidez argues being in the U.S. illegally is a civil violation, and claims the responsibility for deportation falls on ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.

"They decide who is deportable or not and make those determinations. That's not something we do in the state, or that our local law enforcement ever does," Rep. Benavidez said.

Immigration sources told 13 Investigates they have the "desire" to deport individuals who are undocumented and commit crimes in Colorado. However, they say manpower shortages and a lack of cooperation from legislators in Colorado will likely lead to non-violent offenders evading deportation.

DHS (Department of Homeland Security) tells 13 Investigates they do not track crime numbers committed by undocumented immigrants in Colorado. We asked ICE for those numbers and are still working to confirm if and how the agency tracks the data.

ICE placed detainers on all three men charged with the murder of Manuel Hernandez-Uribe on November 4. They will be back in court for a preliminary hearing on the murder charges on February 3, 2023.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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