The SUV had pulled over after a car activated its emergency lights behind it. But when federal immigration agents got out of the car, the undocumented couple in the SUV drove away, police said. They would end up dying in a fatal crash in the city of Delano.
Officers dispatched to the scene shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday found the SUV on its roof with two people inside, the Delano Police Department said in a statement.
Authorities said the vehicle was heading west on Cecil Avenue at a high rate of speed when it drifted onto the dirt shoulder and the driver lost control. The SUV then struck a utility pole and overturned before coming to rest.
Santos Hilario Garcia, 35, and Marcelina Garcia Profecto, 33, were declared dead at the scene.
The Police Department said it was investigating the crash and had no further comment.
According to ICE, Hilario was not the person the agency was looking for, though he matched the target's description.
ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said late Wednesday that deportation officers arrived at the home and saw a man get into a car. When they stopped the car and tried to contact the driver, the driver sped off, she said. Officers later came across the overturned vehicle and called local authorities.
Hilario, who was convicted in 2014 of driving under the influence, was voluntarily returned to Mexico three times between 2008 and 2017, Haley said. Garcia had no prior encounters with ICE.
The couple had been in the U.S since 2003, and were in the country illegally, according to the United Farm Workers of America. The farmworkers leave behind six children — the oldest 18 and youngest 8. The oldest daughter has a 1-year-old baby.
"Yesterday was an extremely sad day. We express our sincerest condolences to the family," said Arturo Rodriguez, UFW president.
The couple had been looking for work earlier in the day, Rodriguez said. "At some point ICE tried to detain them. Once the family realized it was ICE, they got scared, more than likely, and took off.... Now the six children are left without any parents as a result of these aggressive actions by ICE."
At least 26 Kern County farmworkers were detained earlier this month as part of a mass sweep across Central and Northern California that immigration officials said targeted convicted criminals.
Many of the farmworkers appeared to have no serious criminal background and were stopped on their way to work by immigration officers in unmarked vehicles, said Armando Elenes, a vice president of UFW, which has been trying to document how many people have been detained.
A total of 232 people were arrested in the statewide operation targeting "individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security," according to a statement from ICE. The four-day sweep stretched from Bakersfield to the Oregon border.
Of those arrested, 180 were either convicted criminals, had been issued a final order of removal or had been previously removed from the United States and returned illegally, ICE authorities said. One hundred fifteen had prior felony convictions for serious offenses — such as child sex crimes, weapons charges and assault — or had past convictions for significant or multiple misdemeanors, ICE said.
Following Tuesday's fatal crash, the ACLU of Southern California said in a statement that in recent weeks it had "received numerous reports from Kern County and other parts of the Central Valley of ICE staking out the roads farmworkers travel to get to work and pulling them over during early morning hours without any lawful basis, resulting in numerous unlawful arrests of residents."
The ACLU says ICE would often pull farmworkers over in unmarked vehicles and that drivers and passengers believed the officers were local police, according to Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants' rights at the ACLU of Southern California.
"This incident demonstrates just how dangerous ICE's unlawful practices are to our communities," Pasquarella said. "This horrible tragedy is the direct result of ICE's inhumane tactics and the fear it provokes in hardworking people who stand to lose everything if they are deported."
9:55 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from ICE.
4:55 p.m.: This article was updated throughout.
2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Rodriguez.
2:15 p.m.: This article was updated with details on sweeps conducted in Kern County earlier this month.