On the same day that Mayor John Cranley declared Cincinnati a “sanctuary city,” a Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputy pulled over and detained a driver from Honduras who now faces federal charges and deportation.
The arrest of Dennis Flores-Carcamo, who uses several other aliases, reveals just how complicated the issue of deportation has become in the wake of a Donald Trump presidency as local leaders scramble to take sides.
A deputy pulled over a 1998 red Chevrolet on Highland Avenue at 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 30 for running a red light. The driver, Flores-Carcamo, did not have a driver’s license and the deputy brought him to the Hamilton County Justice Center, according to court records.
A federal immigration agent flagged the case, and a day later learned that Flores-Carcamo was an illegal immigrant from Honduras who had been deported in 2011 after serving a two-year prison term for trafficking heroin in Hamilton County, according to court records.
Flores-Carcamo now faces a federal charge of being a criminal alien who returned to the United States after deportation. He pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati and is awaiting sentencing.
On the same day as his arrest, Jan. 30, Cranley had hours before taken the stage at a packed news conference to announce Cincinnati as a “sanctuary city.” Flores-Carcamo was stopped in Columbia Township, which is policed by sheriff's deputies.
No new policy was announced, but leaders vowed to make the region more welcoming for immigrants -- including at the county jail – as more than 60 religious and nonprofit leaders, immigration proponents and Democratic lawmakers applauded.
Noticeably absent from that news conference was Sheriff Jim Neil, who is also a Democrat.
When WCPO contacted him afterward, Neil said the policies at the jail would remain the same.
“People are asking me whether I’m taking the conservative or liberal side, and I tell them I’m taking the side of the law,” Neil said in a statement to WCPO. “I was elected sheriff, and as sheriffs, we don’t write the laws like legislators; we enforce the laws, whether federal, state or local.”
There is no legal definition of a "sanctuary city," and the term has been used widely and loosely across the nation. But often, a sanctuary city is defined as an area that does not honor ICE detainer requests.
People arrested by Cincinnati police officers and deputies are typically processed through the Hamilton County jail.
If deputies are unable to identify a person in custody, they can contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement for help. ICE may then request the county jail detain the person to await immigration hearings, said Michael Robison, the media director for the sheriff’s office.
That’s apparently what happened to Flores-Carcamo.
Without a driver’s license to identify him, Flores-Carcamo was brought to the jail, where an ICE officer placed a detainer on him “as part of his routine assigned duties to interview suspected criminal aliens at the Hamilton County jail,” according to court documents.
The ICE officer found that he had previously been deported to Honduras in 2011 after serving a prison term for trafficking heroin in 2009.
Flores-Carcamo was accused of trafficking heroin in the vicinity of a school or a juvenile, according to court documents.
"He was treated exactly like we would any other individual we cannot identify, regardless of whether he was a natural-born United States citizen or an illegal immigrant," Robison said. "We have a responsibility to identify those who we encounter through the normal course of enforcing the laws. This individual was taken to the Justice Center in an attempt to figure out who he is ... As far as I can tell we followed our policies and procedures, and the law."
This is the second time in a month that an illegal immigrant and convicted felon has faced charges in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.
On Nov. 19, 2016, Cincinnati police arrested Benjamin DeLeon Hernandez for giving them the false name “Luis DeLeon.”
He later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in Hamilton County Municipal Court. Then federal prosecutors took the case and charged him with re-entry of a deported alien.
Now Hernandez, 36, a convicted felon, is facing his sixth deportation to Guatemala. He pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
That case is also highly unusual because Hernandez has been deported five times before – one time each from New Orleans and Mesa, Arizona, and three times from Houston. Yet he keeps returning to different regions of the United States from Memphis to Georgia, and most recently Cincinnati.
“He’s pretty much a poster child for illegal re-entry prosecution,” said W. Kelly Johnson, a former assistant federal public defender who now works at the Porter Wright law firm in Cincinnati. “He gets removed, and he comes back and he gets charged, over and over and over again … There’s probably not enough of a deterrent because obviously he just turns around and comes back.”