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Local News


Men Convicted of Raping Santa Barbara Woman Placed On ICE Detainers

Two men who were convicted of raping a homeless woman at knifepoint in Santa Barbara have been place on detainers by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, signaling they may have been in the country illegally at the time of the crimes, which took place last year.

Juan Carlos Herrera-Romero, 31, and Gabino Andres Romero, 27, who are cousins, each had a jury during the trial, in which both men were accused of sexually assaulting a woman on East Beach in the early hours of July 16, 2014.

Juries convicted the men, and Herrera-Romero faces a maximum sentence of 54 years to life in state prison, while Romero faces a maximum sentence of 36 years to life.

The immigration status was not brought up at the trials of the two men, but Noozhawk confirmed that both men are on immigration detainers.

Lori Haley, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Western Region, said that the two men did not have any other contacts with the agency in the past.

She could not share their country of origin.

Both men are on ICE detainers, Haley said, and Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover confirmed last week that both men were still in custody at the Santa Barbara County Jail.

The detainer means ICE must be notified before the men are released from prison.

"It means we have a reason to believe they are potentially deportable," Haley said. "These people will serve out their cases. After that is when we would step in and determine next steps."

Law enforcement's process for undocumented immigrants who commit a crime has been under scrutiny since the shocking death of a Santa Maria woman in July.

Marilyn Pharis was attacked in her home and died from her injuries, and one of the men arrested in connection with Pharis’s death is an undocumented immigrant with prior arrests, which has led to questions about why the man was in the country in the first place after being detained by law enforcement.

On Tuesday, a hearing was called by Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who requested an overview of the policies after Pharis’s death.

Local law enforcement have said the problems stem from conflicting federal and state laws, such as the California TRUST Act, which states that counties could be financially liable for detaining people on Immigration and Customs Enforcement orders, Noozhawk reported from the meeting Tuesday.

ICE will place a detainer on someone who is in the country illegally and who has been convicted of a crime.

However, ICE doesn't have a representative in the Santa Barbara County Jail 24 hours a day, and people could slip through the cracks if they are able to post bail immediately, according to authorities. 

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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