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U.S. deports Honduran man despite evidence of racial profiling

U.S. immigration officials Tuesday deported a Honduran man despite a Department of Homeland Security lawyer’s finding that he had been subjected to ethnic profiling by local police in Louisiana.

Jose Adan Fugon-Cano, 36, was flown back to Honduras by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Bryan D. Cox, an agency spokesman. Because he had been removed from the country before, Cox said, Fugon-Cano fit the department’s priorities for deportation.

Fugon-Cano and another man, Gustavo Barahona-Sanchez, 29, had been in detention since May, when a police officer in New Llano, La., arrested a group of five men who were standing in a motel parking lot waiting for a ride to a construction job. The Border Patrol took custody of Barahona-Sanchez and Fugon-Cano; the other three were released without being charged.

“He left -- he’s on his way [to Honduras.] I don’t know anything else,” Adan’s partner, Blanca Hernandez, said when reached Tuesday by telephone in Louisiana.

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Barahona-Sanchez, who has two children who are U.S. citizens, has been moved to another detention center in La Salle, La.; one of his lawyers said he was told Barahona-Sanchez is scheduled for deportation in a week. He also had been removed from the country before, Cox said. Neither man has a record of criminal convictions.

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Megan H. Mack, the head of the civil rights office for the Homeland Security Department, reviewed the cases after lawyers for the two men filed a complaint. In a Sept. 21 email to ICE Director Sarah Saldaña, Mack said the two men were apparently detained because they looked Latino. Because of the unfairness of the arrest, she wrote, they should be released.

“This is not a practice the department wishes to endorse or facilitate,” said the email, which was released inadvertently and first reported last week by the Los Angeles Times. The department has said that Mack’s report is not a formal finding.

A New Llano police official said there was no ethnic profiling in the case.

“No matter how egregious the violations are during an arrest, if they fit into a prior category, they can still be deported,” said Jolene Elberth, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans, an advocacy group involved in the case.

“For ICE, they obviously don’t want to set a precedent,” Elberth said. Advocates have filed civil rights complaints with the Justice Department and the New Llano Police Department, alleging a larger pattern of profiling, she added.

The incident highlights the debate -- even within the government -- on how the immigration agency should deal with people in the country illegally who are arrested by local police. Last year, President Obama scrapped a program called Secure Communities because of cases in which immigrants were deported after being caught on traffic offenses or other minor charges, then detained.

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Under the new version, called the Priority Enforcement Program, agents are supposed to focus their removal efforts on serious criminals, repeat immigration offenders and people who arrived after Jan. 1, 2014.

For more on immigration policy, follow @jtanfani and @ByBrianBennett.

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